Justice Iyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja, on Tuesday, ordered that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and the Director-General of the State Security Sevice(SSS), Lawal Bichi, should appear in court on December 23, over the arrest and detention of Sahara Reporters Publisher, Omoyele Sowore.
Mr Ekwo gave the order in a short ruling on Tuesday in the fundamental suit filed by Mr Sowore against the AGF and SSS over his arrest and continued detention.
In the charge sheet made available to PREMIUM TIMES, the Sahara Reporters publisher is asking the court to order the SSS to pay him N500 million as damages for his detention and violation of fundamental rights.
A judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja had signed a release order for Mr Sowore on November 6, after he met the bail conditions set by the judge. But the SSS refused to release the activist.
Many Nigerians and lawyers have said that the SSS’ refusal to comply with the order effectively meant that Mr Sowore was being held in illegal captivity by state agents.
Mr Sowore was arrested in August for planning a nationwide protest he labelled ‘RevolutionNow’. The Buhari administration said the planned demonstration was a treasonable act because it was aimed at causing a regime change.
He denied the allegations, saying his campaign was to mobilise teeming Nigerian youth to denounce poverty, insecurity and other national challenges assailing the country.
Following Mr Sowore’s initial arraignment in September, he was granted bail by the trial judge. But the SSS disregarded the order and the government filed new charges against the Sahara Reporters’ publisher.
Mr Sowore in his suit dated November 20, wants, among others, “A declaration that the detention of the applicant from November 7, 2019, till date in violation of the order for his release made on November 6, 2019, is illegal as it violates his fundamental right to liberty guaranteed by Section 35 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and Article 6 of African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement Act (CAP A10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
“An order of this court compelling the respondents to pay to the applicant the sum of N500,000, 000, 00 ( Five hundred million naira) as general and aggravated damages for the illegal violation of the applicant’s fundamental right to life, dignity of his person, fair hearing, health, freedom of movement and freedom of association.
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents from further violating the applicant’s fundamental rights in any manner whatsoever and however without lawful justification.”
Joined in the suit is the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
When the matter came up for hearing on Tuesday, Mr Sowore’s lawyer, Abubakar Marshal, from the chambers of Femi Falana, had sought to move the court to order for the release or production of the activist, who was re-arrested on December 6 in the federal high court during which the proceedings of Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu was disrupted.
Mr Ekwo noted that he has seen all the court processes filed and adjourned the case to December 23 for hearing.
He also mandated the Deputy Court Registrar (DCR) to notify the AGF and SSS DG of Tuesday’s proceedings and order.
AGF confusing Nigerians
Despite repeated court orders for the release of Mr Sowore, the AGF on Monday said his office “needs further court directives to release him.”
Mr Malami said this in a statement in response to a ‘request’ for his office “to direct the release of Mr Sowore”.
Mr Malami described his position on the matter, as “having recourse to the rule of law.”
“When parties submit their issues for determination to a court of law, they lack exclusivity of decision over such issues without recourse to the court,” Mr Malami said, according to the statement.
“We remain guided by the established tradition and will not take a unilateral decision without recourse to the rule of law.”
Mr Malami had earlier written the office of the SSS to allow the AGF to continue with the activist case.
The matter had been instituted by the Nigerian government who, through the SSS, have held Mr Sowore captive since August 3 and only released him for barely 24 hours on December 5.
Mr Sowore’s lawyers have questioned Mr Malami’s directive to the SSS, saying he was only confusing Nigerians as it was his office that prepared the initial charges filed against Mr Sowore by the Nigerian government.
Mr Sowore is facing trial for an alleged treasonable felony after he organised a nationwide anti-government protest tagged #RevelutionNow.
After his re-arrest on December 5, no new charges have been filed against Mr Sowore despite being questioned by the SSS for alleged links to outlawed groups in Nigeria.
The activist has now spent 10 days since his new detention without any new charges filed, in violation of Nigerian laws which allows a maximum of 48 hours for such detention.