Sunday, December 8, 2019 5:46 pm
Mr Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, has reacted to what he called the self contradictory press release of the State Security Service, SSS, in which an “unsuccessful attempt was made to absolve itself of responsibility for the armed invasion of the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division, in general, and the desecration of Court No 7 of Hon. Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu in particular as well as the illegal rearrest of Omoyele Sowore.”
First, pretending to forget that the abominable desecration of the Federal High Court was covered live by domestic and international media outfits and journlists, some of whom were also direct victims of the gangsterism, barbarism and brutalisation displayed by officers of the Service on the 6th day of December 2019, the Service, as Falana argued, has conducted “eye witness” accounts of what transpired “with the aim of showing that officers of the Service were not involved in the rearrest of Sowore.”
Second, Falana said the Service argues on the one hand that the arrest of Sowore was “stage managed” by his supporters in order to give the Service a bad name whilst also admitting at the same time that officers of the Service arrested Sowore outside the Court. Having declared that the Service arrested Sowore “outside the court”, despite the “stage managing” argument, what the Nigerian people want to see happen, as the lawyer put it “is the immediate release of Sowore, pending his trial as ordered by the court.”
Falana continued thus:
“INDUBITABLE FACTS CONFIRMING DESECRATION OF COURT AND RE-ARREST BY THE SERVICE
However, the following facts underscore our insistence that the Service was solely responsible for the desecration of the hallowed chambers of the court:
By the advantage of information technology, the whole world has placed responsibility for the gangsteric desecration of the court on the SSS. The SSS cannot extricate itself from the abominable acts of 6th December, 2019.
When I informed the court that fresh charges were being filed against our clients and that they could be re-arrested, the prosecution denied any such plan.
As soon as the case was adjourned, the SSS pounced on Sowore and caused a disruption of the proceedings of the court. Having taken over the court room vi et armis Justice Ojukwu hurriedly rose and asked the Registrar to adjourn all other cases. After the learned trial judge had risen for the day, she summoned the heads of the prosecution and defence teams to her chambers.
When the lead prosecutor, Dr. Liman Hassan SAN denied knowledge of the invasion of her court, she directed him to invite the head of the sss team in the court. When challenged to justify the invasion of the court, the officer could not. He apologised to Justice Ojukwu on behalf of the SSS. The judge then directed the officer to withdraw the SSS operatives from the court room. The directive was complied with as the operatives withdrew from the court room but rushed out to join their colleagues who had taken over the entire court house.
Notwithstanding that the SSS could not produce any warrant of arrest for Sowore, the defence team decided that I should accompany him to the SSS headquarters in view of his physical brutalisation inside the court room and the open threat to his life. I did and ensured that he was driven in my car to the SSS headquarters where I handed him over to the officers on duty. Thereafter, I requested for a meeting with the head of the SSS but I was informed that he was not in the office.
Though, ordinarily, officers of the Service do not wear any uniform, on the 6th day of December, some of them were in mufti, many were not only armed but also masked, while others disguised in lawyer’s black and white suit. Regardless of the form of appearance, the officers of the Service inside Court No. 7 were identifiable by their roles and acts of seizing Sowore and pinning him down. It is an utter poor reasoning to say that Sowore’s supporters were also those bent on injuring him in order to arrest him. The argument of the Service in this respect is as unfortunate and pitiable as the earlier argument of the Service in respect of the Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi who was once accused of wanting to set ablaze his own house.
If Sowore’s supporters subjected him to such brutalisation in the presence of SSS operatives, why were they not arrested for contravening the provisions of the Anti- Torture Act, 2017? Or were the SSS operatives expecting the supporters of a defendant wanted by the State to kill him in their presence?
Before submitting himself for arrest, Sowore had rightly demanded for a warrant of arrest and detention order but the SSS operatives were unable to produce either.
ON RATIONALISATION OF RE-ARREST OF SOWORE BY THE SERVICE
In rationalizing the re-arrest of Sowore, which is denied in the same press statement, the Serivce alleged that Sowore held metings with some people. Assuming without conceding that Sowore held meetings with some people in Transcorp Hotel as alleged by the SSS, why did the Prosecution not inform the trial court that the defendant had breached his bail condition?
ON THE CLAIM OF THE SERVICE THAT IT IS LAW-ABIDING
The sss says it is a law abiding institution. But why did it refuse to comply with the order of Justice Taiwo to release Sowore? Why did the sss threaten to report the judge to the NJC for granting bail to Sowore?
Why did the sss subject the order of Justice Ojukwu for the release of Sowore to its own approval by asking the sureties already verified by the judge to report themselves to the sss? Why did the SSS wait for the 24-hour ultimatum issued by the trial judge before releasing Sowore and Bakare?
Incidentally, the current prosecutor, Dr. Liman Hassan SAN was the counsel to the defendant in the case of FRN v Air Commodore Mohammed. In that case, the order of Justice Nnamdi Dimgba for the release of the defendant on bail was flouted by the SSS. As if that was not enough, the SSS invaded the home of the judge on 8th October 2016 when the houses of judges accused of corruption were raided. Even though I have never appeared before Justice Dimgba, I have always known him as a judge of impecable integrity. So, I challenged the SSS for painting an incorruptible judge with the brush of shame. It was after my intervention that the NJC gave the judge a clean bill of health.
Thereafter, the judge was compelled to withdraw from the case. The SSS thought that it had won but it was a phyrric victory. Thus, Justice John Tsoho (current Chief Judge of the federal high court) to whom the case was re assigned reiterated the orders of Justice Dimgba and proceeded to rule that trial would not commence in the case until the defendant was released from custody. It was at that stage that the SSS complied with the order of the federal high court.
In the light of the foregoing, we reiterate our demand for the release of not only Sowore in obedience to court orders, pending the verdict of the court in their trial. We equally call for the release of all other political detainees, and criminal suspects who have been admitted to bail pending trial by competent courts.
Finally, it is common knowledge that this country was ruled by military dictators for about three decades. On no occasion did security operatives invade court premises to arrest political activists inside a court room. Therefore, the bizarre harassment of courts cannot be tolerated under a democratically-elected government that claims to be operating under the rule of law.
Femi Falana, SAN”
Here is the full statement:
DSS AND THE 6TH DECEMBER, 2019 FEDERAL HIGH COURT, ABUJA INCIDENT
It has become important that the Department of State Services responds to the serial misinformation being circulated in the media about its involvement in the incident that occurred on 6th December, 2019 at the Federal High Court, Abuja. 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 re-arrest 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.
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 developments, 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.
Eye witness 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 frenzy on the mere suspicion that DSS was sighted at the court premises. The eventual re-arrest of Sowore by the DSS was effected outside the courtroom. His lead counsel has affirmed this.
The DSS, as a professional, responsible and law abiding Organisation, 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 holds the judiciary in utmost respect and will continue to work with it for national peace and public safety in Nigeria.
It has therefore become unarguable and raises a moral question as to who, between Sowore and the Service, dislikes or disobeys the Courts. In this regard, public attention may be drawn to the 25th July 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 5th December 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 3rd December, 2019 raised alarm about a plot to destabilize 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 seize the opportunity of the misleading court incident and the wrong narrative against the DSS to organize an insurrection in the country. They have continued to falsely curry and mobilize international sentiments and attention, through clear misrepresentation of the facts, for their selfish ends.
For emphasis, 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. It is most unfortunate that SOWORE, shortly after being released from custody, based on court order, resorted to acts inimical to security. To this effect, only SOWORE has been re-arrested as his co-defendant, Olawale BAKARE, was not picked up even when FALANA had promised to deliver him to the Service that is not presently interested in him.
Though sections of the populace have been fed with spurious narratives about these developments, Nigerians and the International Community should not be gullible or even vulnerable to the machinations of groups desirous of misleading them.
The Service is committed to the discharge of its mandate of detecting and preventing threats against the internal security of Nigeria. It supports democracy in the country and will do all that is legal to protect it. It will also ensure that efforts of anti-democratic forces are frustrated.