The manner in which Department of State Security [DSS] agents staged the re-arrest of Sahara Reporters publisher Omoyele Sowore inside the premises of Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu’s Federal High Court in Abuja on December 6, 2019 caused shock and consternation all across the country. It did serious damage to the country’s human rights and rule of law record and desecrated the sanctity of courts.
Even though DSS later denied that it re-arrested Sowore in the courtroom only hours after he was released on bail the previous night, video evidence produced by witnesses to the drama spoke otherwise. The service’s spokesman Dr Peter Afunanya later said Sowore was re-arrested in order to forestall a plot to destabilize the country. He said, “It should be noted that Sowore is facing trial not as an activist, journalist or a politician but for his resort to call for violence, forceful takeover of government and suspected transnational illegal activities.”
Afunanya added,“It is most unfortunate that Sowore, shortly after being released from custody based on court order, resorted to acts inimical to security… The Service is committed to the discharge of its mandate of detecting and preventing threats against the internal security of Nigeria…”We fully support DSS’s desire to detect and prevent threats to internal security of Nigeria. However, this task should be undertaken strictly within the boundaries of the law.
After his first arrest, DSS detained Sowore for 125 days and it serially defied court orders for him to be released on bail. That period was long enough for the service to have carried out a thorough investigation and assemble the necessary evidence to prosecute the suspect for treason or any other offence. Under the Terrorism Prevention Act 2013 (as amended), the purpose of such long detention is to enable security agencies carry out in-depth investigation for evidence against a suspect. His re-arrest within hours of release on bail inside the premises of a court that had just adjourned his trial did not portray DSS and the government in good light.
We welcome the decision by Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice [AGF] Abubakar Malami to takeover prosecution of the case. from the DSS. The ministry’s involvement should ensure that due process is followed in this matter. The AGF reportedly asked DSS to forward the case file to him for further prosecution in line with Section 174 Sub-section 1(a-c) of the Constitution.
The section states, “The Attorney-General of the Federation shall have power (a) to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court of law in Nigeria, other than a court-martial, in respect of any offence created by or under any Act of the National Assembly; (b) to take over and continue any such criminal proceedings that may have been instituted by any other authority or person; and (c) to discontinue at any stage before judgement is delivered any such criminal proceedings instituted or undertaken by him or any other authority or person.”
It is important to now streamline and consolidate the prosecution’s case in accordance with the law. Initially, Sowore was accused of treason over the planned #RevolutionNow protest and for insulting President Muhammadu Buhari. Three months later, it was reported that he was being questioned over links with Boko Haram, Shi’ites and IPOB. What is required is for DSS and Ministry of Justice to assemble evidence in support of these charges and present it in court.
In all cases they should respect subsisting court orders in the matter. The courts are created by the Constitution and are part and parcel of the administration of justice. It is wrong to assume that they do not appreciate the seriousness of criminal charges. If Sowore violated bail conditions as DSS later alleged, the right thing to do was to go back to the court and ask it to revoke the bail. No agency of government should take the law into its own hands.