Nigeria: How SSS Deceived Court, Rearrested Sowore

Omoyele Sowore was rearrested in court by agents from the Department of State Security (DSS) the day after he was released on court order.
7 December 2019

On Thursday, a federal judge ordered the State Security Service to release Omoyele Sowore, the Sahara Reporters publisher, and Olawale Bakare, his co-accused, within 24 hours.

Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu gave the order following the agency's disobedience to court orders to release them.

The Federal High Court had ordered the immediate release of Messrs Sowore and Bakare from prison on October 21.

After Thursday's order, the judge adjourned to Friday for lawyers in the matter update the court on the compliance or lack of it.

On Thursday night, the SSS released Mr Sowore, 124 days after he was first arrested in Lagos.

Mr Bakare, an activist, who was arrested and charged alongside Mr Sowore, was also freed on bail Thursday night.

Mr Sowore's lawyer, Femi Falana, while confirming the development to PREMIUM TIMES, said the SSS also paid N100,000 fine to Mr Sowore as ordered by Justice Ojukwu.

With this development, the lawyers were expected to appear before the judge and report the SSS compliance to the order of the court.

Court session

At the resumed hearing on Friday, the SSS lawyer, Hassan Liman, informed the court that the security agency had already complied with the order of the court.

The lawyer also asked for an adjournment to February 11, 12 and 13 to enable lawyers in the case respond to applications filed.

On his part, the defendant's lawyer, Mr Falana, confirmed to the court that his clients were released to him on Thursday evening.

"My Lord, at about 5 o' clock yesterday, I received a call from my respected colleague to send our lawyers to receive our clients," he said.

"I am happy to tell you that our clients were released and the N100, 000 costs was also paid.

"On account of this, on behalf of our defendants, we wish to express our profound appreciation for your leadership and for standing up for integrity and for standing for the rule of law in Nigeria.

"I also thank my colleague for impressing it on their client to obey the court order.

"I hope my learned friend will allow the defendants to get their freedom notwithstanding the charges," he told the court.

Prior to this, Justice Ojukwu commended the SSS for obeying the order of the court and said everyone must be ready to allow the law to take its course irrespective of the position one holds.

"It is obvious that the DSS has demonstrated its commitment to the rule of law," the judge said. "No one is above the law."

"The DSS has earned the respect of Nigerians for this," the judge said.

The judge then adjourned to February 11, 12 and 13 for definite hearing.

SSS invasion

As everyone tried to leave the courtroom, at least 15 armed officers of the SSS, who had laid an ambush for the defendants, made their way towards Mr Sowore and his co-accused.

The court experienced a commotion as the officers cocked their guns scaring people away.

Messrs Sowore and Bakare resisted being rearrested and moved back into the courtroom to seek refuge.

This led to the disruption of the court sitting as Justice Ojukwu hurriedly retired to her chamber while the court registrars, lawyers and journalists dispersed for safety.

While addressing some journalists in the courtroom, Mr Sowore accused the SSS of trying to kill him after his release.

The publisher said the SSS action had shown that they had no respect for the law, the court and the citizens.

After a stalemate that lasted over an hour, Messrs Sowore and Bakare were led out of the court by their team of lawyers, friends, surrounded by the armed SSS officers.

The security agents, who remained adamant, refused to listen to anyone, including Mr Falana. They did not give any reason for their action.

As Messrs Sowore and Bakare walked out of the court premises, the SSS operatives drove their vehicle to accost the defendants but they refused to board the vehicle.

Mr Falana, who was visibly angry, cautioned the SSS not rearrest his clients in the court premises.

The rights lawyer then insisted that if the defendants must follow them, they must go in his car.

Mr Sowore and his co-accused later joined Mr Falana in his car, and were conveyed to the SSS office with security operatives escorting them.

As at the time of filing this report, the SSS is yet to release any information on why they rearrested the newspaper publisher.

The two accused persons are facing a seven-count charge of treasonable felony, fraud, cyber-stalking and "insulting President Muhammadu Buhari".

Mr Sowore and Mr Bakare was arrested for initiating the #RevolutionNow protest, calling for good governance and accountability.

They pleaded not guilty to the charges when they were arraigned on September 30.

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