The State Security Service (SSS) on Saturday morning again refused to release Omoyele Sowore from illegal custody.
On Friday night, the SSS said in a statement that Mr Sowore was still held because no one had turned up to collect him from detention.
The statement came two days after a federal judge signed Mr Sowore‘a release order after the activist satisfied stringent bail conditions imposed on him as part of his ongoing trial for purported treason and defamation of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The SSS was widely condemned as a lawless agency by Nigerians who were enraged by the effrontery of the institution to brazenly disregard the order of a federal court.
“Since the receipt of the order, no person has turned up” to “take delivery” of Mr Sowore “from custody,” spokesperson Peter Afunanya said Friday night. “This becomes imperative for reasons of accountability.”
The statement prompted a flurry of comments from Nigerians who described it as awkward and ridiculous. Supporters also indicated plans to turn up at the SSS headquarters in Abuja where Mr Sowore is believed held, to pick him up.
PREMIUM TIMES joined in the efforts to see whether or not the SSS will live up to its promise to obey the latest court order for Mr Sowore’s release.
Starting at 7:00 a.m. Saturday, PREMIUM TIMES began placing calls to officials and lawyers of the SSS, including Mr Afunanya, who signed the press release Friday night.
At exactly 8:00 a.m., PREMIUM TIMES’ Editor-in-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, accompanied by the paper’s breaking news coordinator, Samuel Ogundipe, arrived at the SSS headquarters seeking to take delivery of Mr Sowore as the secret police requested.
On arrival, SSS officers at the front reception said there was no one inside the facility that could attend to inquiries relating to Mr Sowore.
Calls were then placed again repeatedly to Mr Afunanya to help facilitate Mr Sowore’s release to PREMIUM TIMES, but he did not answer. He also did not answer text messages.
PREMIUM TIMES also called Emmanuel David, the lawyer to the SSS in charge of Mr Sowore’s case, to request Mr Sowore’s release. He said he could not comment or help in any way on the matter, directing all contacts back to Mr Afunanya.
Several telephone calls were also placed to Bassey Eteng, the SSS director of operations, but he declined to answer and comment on Mr Sowore’s release.
The failure to release Mr Sowore as of Saturday morning further established public cynicism about the agency’s ability to turn a leaf in its history of rights abuses and apparent disregard for court orders.
It was the second time Mr Sowore would be deprived freedom despite court order. He previously secured a bail in September, but it was not honoured by the SSS, whose agents subsequently filed new charges that were used as excuse for disregarding the first order.
Mr Sowore secured a second court bail on October 4, but the stringent terms, which included depositing N50 million in cash, left him still in SSS jail.
After weeks of efforts by his lawyer, including pleading successfully to get the judge to relax the bail terms, Mr Sowore was finally able to meet the conditions on November 6.
Taiwo Taiwo, the presiding judge, subsequently endorsed the conditions as fulfilled and directed the SSS to release Mr Sowore immediately.
But when Mr Sowore‘s lawyers and associates attempted to serve the order on the SSS at about 3:30 p.m., the agency drove them away, saying it had closed for the day.
On Thursday, the SSS acknowledged receipt of the court order and said its compliance was underway.
Still, the secret police continued to keep Mr Sowore in its custody, which lawyers said had become effectively illegal from the moment the judge signed the release order.
On Friday night, amid biting commentary from the public about its illegality, the SSS released a statement, saying it was set to release Mr Sowore but no one had appeared at its office to collect the Sahara Reporters’ publisher.
“I am not sure Nigerians believed the SSS statement that they were looking for someone to collect him,” Ini Effiong, a member of Mr Sowore’s legal team, told PREMIUM TIMES Saturday morning. “It was just a distraction.”
A fiery newspaper publisher and and good governance advocate, Mr Sowore was first arrested in August on allegations of plotting to overthrow the government by organising a protest.
Mr Sowore, however, said the protest, tagged #RevolutionNow, was aimed at compelling the government to prioritise an end unbridled corruption, mass under-education, poverty and other challenges.