The Friday, December 6, court room drama and the eventual re-arrest of the convener of the aborted “Revolution Now” protest, Omoyele Sowore, at the premises of a Federal High Court in Abuja has elicited reactions from a cross section of Nigerians, and the international community.
The invasion of the court by yet unknown persons, and the re-arrest of Sowore by agents of the Department of State Service (DSS), have been described by human rights activists as a slap on the judiciary. This is more so as the presiding judge, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu had, on Thursday December 5, frowned at the continued detention of the defendant and his colleague, Olawale Bakare, despite their perfection of the bail conditions.
The judge had consequently, that Thursday, ordered the DSS to release the defendants within 24 hours as well as report to the court the following day to confirm that her order had been complied with. DSS had told the judge earlier on Friday that her order to release the defendants to their lawyers had been complied with. But shortly after Justice Ojukwu adjourned the case, there was a melee in the court room.
As would be expected in such a crisis situation, truth has been the first casualty. There have been conflicting narratives, and shifting of blames, about how the court room invasion occurred and who is responsible for it. But irrespective of who is directly or remotely connected with the sordid drama that Friday afternoon, the incident, which breached the inviolability of our temple of justice, is highly condemnable and should never have happened in a civilized society.
While the National Assembly has resolved to probe the incident to determine who is culpable between the DSS and Sowore, public debate has now shifted to questioning the rationality behind the re-arrest of Sowore a day after he was released on bail.
The DSS, in a public statement issues last weekend, had argued that Sowore was not being detained because of his status as a politician, journalist or human rights activist, but because of his treasonable comments and actions as well as financial crimes. The spokesman to the President, Garba Shehu, has also justified the re-arrest on the premise that Sowore, called for “a revolution to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nigeria,” and that “he did so on television, and from a privileged position as the owner of a widely read digital newspaper run from the United States of America”.
On the contrary, many citizens, and even supporters of the present government such as Prof. Itsay Sagay, have also criticized the incarceration of Sowore by the DSS. Sagay, who is the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on anti-Corruption, said he was not impressed by the justification offered for the re-arrest of Sowore, saying the DSS had failed to give a clear reason for the act.
The truth remains that until proven guilty by a competent court of law, Sowore and his co-defendant are deemed innocent. And if a competent court has ruled that they be released on bail, the DSS will be acting in contravention of court order to refuse to release them on bail, unless there are unassailable justifications which must also be in consonant with the constitution of the federal republic.
However, to serve as deterrence for would-be perpetrators, we make bold to say that all those involved in the national embarrassment of the court room drama should be arrested and tried for desecrating the temple of justice. It is our sincere belief that this sanction is required to restore the confidence of Nigerians in our judiciary and reclaim the respect the international community has for our country.