There are strong indications that the legal teams of the Convener of #RevolutionNow protest, Omoyele Sowore, and that of the Federal Government will return to court this week, about two months ahead of the February 11, 2020 date the Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu-led Federal High Court Abuja had adjourned the case to.
Sunday PUNCH findings revealed that aside from the plan by the Department of State Services to file fresh charges against Sowore, the legal team of the Publisher of Sahara Reporters had concluded plans to take the secret service up in a new legal battle.
A source close to the defence team said the team would meet to file a contempt charge against the DSS and its Director-General, Yusuf Bichi.
The legal team, led by Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, according to the source, will meet on Sunday (today) to put finishing touches to their court papers.
It was learnt that the meeting would help them launch a fresh attack as it engages the DSS to enforce the fundamental human rights of the activist.
The source added that the outcome of the meeting would determine the next move of the legal team.
“The legal team (for Sowore) will meet on Sunday (today) to determine the next line of action. Though it is not yet sure what action they will take, but I can assure you that one of the issues that will come up is the possibility of filing contempt charge against the DSS and its director-general.
“We may also ask the court to rescue itself from the jaws of the anti-democratic forces and make sure that its laws are obeyed. The legal team is not leaving anything to chance. I can assure you,” the source said.
The source noted that the legal teams’ meeting could last about two days.
Officials of the DSS had on Friday invaded the Federal High Court in Abuja and rearrested Sowore, who was released alongside his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare, on Thursday after they had spent over three months in the DSS’ custody.
The DSS had also defied the court order that granted them bail, even after meeting their bail conditions and in spite of several appeals and protests to secure their release.
Sowore was arrested on August 3, 2019 over a planned protest, which he tagged ‘#RevolutionNow’. The DSS accused him of planning to overthrow the government with his planned protest, the basis upon which he had been detained.
Meanwhile, less than 24 hours after they were released, Sowore was rearrested by about 15 DSS officials after the close of Friday’s proceedings, which the judge, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, had adjourned till February 11.
Before the fresh arrest, a stampede occurred as Sowore and his supporters tried to resist the officials of the DSS. The ensued commotion made court officials, lawyers, journalists and others to run for safety. DSS agents pulled their guns in a show of force in the court premises, causing confusion.
The development disrupted the proceedings, which Justice Ojukwu was conducting after Sowore’s case was adjourned. The judge was therefore forced to suspend sitting, directing that the remaining cases on her list for the day be adjourned.
However, the DSS on Saturday night denied reports making the rounds that it invaded the Federal High Court, Abuja to arrest Sowore on Friday.
The Public Relations Officer of the service, Dr Peter Afunaya, said this in a statement he signed in Abuja on Saturday.
He said the statement was imperative because of the need for the service to respond to what he called “the serial misinformation” being circulated in the media about its involvement in the incident that occurred on December 6, 2019 at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The statement read in part, “It is instructive to note that during the court proceeding of the day under reference, defence counsel, Femi Falana (SAN), called the attention of the judge to a suspicion that the service was planning to rearrest Omoyele Sowore immediately after the court session.
“The court discountenanced his alarm and asserted that the service was law-abiding and would not engage in such and subsequently adjourned to February 2020.
“However, when Sowore stepped out of the court and sighted operatives of the service within the premises, he ran back into the courtroom. In a bid to shield him from an imaginary arrest, his uncontrollable supporters mobbed him while chanting ‘you can’t arrest him, thus the pandemonium that ensued.”
The statement further read, “A critical look at the videos in circulation would convince any objective viewer that there was no DSS personnel during the entire period the Sowore crowd acted out its orchestrated drama.
“Its personnel were never, at any time, involved in the incident. In actual fact, it was his people who seized him. And from the latest development, it has become obvious what the intent for such mischief was meant for – simply to serve a propagandist purpose as well as bring the service to disrepute.
“Eyewitness and several media accounts have disclosed that the court had adjourned peacefully without an untoward incident when suddenly the unruly crowd imported into the courtroom went into a frenzy on the mere suspicion that DSS (officials were) was sighted at the court premises.”
He explained that the eventual rearrest of Sowore by the DSS was effected outside the courtroom. This, the DSS spokesman said Sowore’s lead counsel, has affirmed.
The DSS, he further explained, was a professional, responsible and law-abiding organisation, and could not have invaded a courtroom, including the one presided over by a respected judge, who is not only handling its case but whose order was unconditionally obeyed within a 24-hour ultimatum.
The service, he said, holds the judiciary in utmost respect and will continue to work with it for national peace and public safety in Nigeria.
Afunaya drew public attention to comments made by the defendant at various times prior to his arrest and subsequent arraignment and his dislike for the rule of law.
He said, “In this regard, public attention may be drawn to the July 25, 2019 statement of Sowore that ‘I’m not talking of protest. I’m embarking on revolution… Don’t tell me about legal implications or what a judge will say. I don’t care …’
“On December 5 when Sowore was released, he had, at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, addressed a group of persons, who he reassured of his cause to create anarchy in the country.
“It may be recalled that the service had on December 3, 2019 raised the alarm about a plot to destabilise the country. It is quite remarkable that the plot has already started playing out.
“To ensure this objective is further achieved, some persons and groups are scurrying to use the opportunity of the misleading court incident and the wrong narrative against the DSS to organise an insurrection in the country.
“They have continued to falsely curry and mobilise international sentiments and attention, through clear misrepresentation of the facts, for their selfish ends.”
He noted that Sowore was not on trial as an activist, journalist or a politician, but for his resort to call for violence, forceful takeover of government and suspected transnational illegal activities.
The DSS said it was most unfortunate that Sowore, shortly after being released from custody, based on court order, resorted to acts inimical to security. This, he said was largely responsible for his rearrest.
The service urged Nigerians and the international community not to be gullible or even vulnerable to the machinations of groups desirous of misleading them.
Reacting to the matter on Saturday, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe, said he believed that Sowore’s “robust legal team”, led by Femi Falana, would know what to do.
Adedipe condemned Sowore’s rearrest in court, saying the trial judge should fish out and try the DSS operatives who invaded the court on Friday.
The SAN said, “What happened in the court on Friday was clearly contemptuous and the learned trial judge, in my humble opinion, can exercise her full jurisdiction to commit the people who invaded her court for trial because she has the full jurisdiction to do so; then let those who invaded her court disobey her order and the whole world would have seen that the DSS is telling the whole world that it is above the law.
“What these DSS guys don’t understand is that DSS is in existence because the law decreed it into existence and you cannot therefore play pranks with the law because if the law were to be repealed, they would cease to exist. What happened on Friday was most unfortunate.”
The President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, also asked that the trial judge commit the DSS operatives who invaded the court to prison, saying the judge would not need Forms 48 and 49 to do so.
He, however, suggested that “political action, both locally and internationally, should be stepped up, to mount pressure for Sowore’s release; because his temporary release was because of political pressure”.
Also, it was gathered that the Federal Government and the DSS were jolted when the news of government officials’ visit to Sowore at the secret service detention was leaked to the media.
Sources close to the government said the Presidency had thought that the visit would remain a secret and that it would use it to secure the confidence of the detained activist before getting him out of custody.
Those who took part in the botched negotiation included a close political associate of the President, Isa Funtua; Publisher of Vanguard Newspapers, Sam Amuka; Publisher of Thisday Newspapers, Nduka Obaigbena; and Presidential spokesmen, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu.
A source, who spoke with one of our correspondents said, “I think the government had felt that the visit, which was very secretive, would be used to talk to Sowore on the need to ease up on in his criticism of its activities.
“The officials felt that having being in detention for a long time, Sowore would be happy to negotiate his release and that he would do that with those sent to talk to him. But the government was jolted when the visit was reported in the media.
“So, it was after this that the government decided that Sowore would not be released. But when the pressure of not obeying the order of the court was becoming unbearable, he was let go with a resolve to pick him up the following day. That was what happened.
“You may need to also know that he was under serious monitoring the evening he was released until he returned to court the following day when he was picked up.”
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Bar Association has asked the National Assembly to commence impeachment proceedings against President Muhammadu Buhari if he fails to sack the Director-General of the DSS, Mr Bichi, with respect to the desecration of the court by DSS operatives on Friday.
Through its official Twitter page, @NigBarAssoc, the association said a “responsible National Assembly” should pass a resolution requesting the immediate sacking of Bichi.
However, if the President fails to sack Bichi, the NBA said the National Assembly would need to start impeachment proceedings against Buhari.
“The DSS is under the direct control of @MBuhari. A responsible @nassnigeria should pass a resolution requesting the immediate sacking of the DSS DG and other agents found culpable.
“If the President refuses to abide by the same, NASS should commence impeachment proceedings. #SoworeInDanger,” the NBA wrote.
Sowore is facing charges of treasonable felony and cyber-stalking brought against him by the Federal Government. His rearrest is against a subsisting court order and is to be arraigned on fresh charges.