The United States government has said it is deeply concerned that the publisher of the online news portal, Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, who is also the convener of #RevolutionNow protests, was rearrested last Friday by the Department of State Services (DSS), less than 12 hours after he was granted bail by a court of competent jurisdiction, trying his case.
“We are deeply concerned that #Sowore has been re-detained in #Nigeria, shortly after a court ordered he be released on bail. Respect for rule of law, judicial independence, political and media freedom and due process are key tenets of #democracy,” the US State Department said in a tweet on its official Twitter handle on Sunday.
The State Department tweet came on the heels of reactions by two US Senators condemning the re-arrest of Sowore after he had been released on bail by the court. Senator Bob Mendez had at a press conference warned of consequences for US-Nigeria relations, while his New Jersey counterpart, Senator Cory Booker, condemned the act as “appalling” and a “shocking affront” to the rule of law in Nigeria.
Senator Menendez said America will review its relationship with Nigeria over the continued detention and re-arrest of Sowore. “We are watching and will be reviewing our relationship with the Nigeria government,” Menendez said at a press conference jointly addressed by Sowore’s wife Opeyemi in the United States. Menendez, a Democratic Senator representing New Jersey, warned the Nigerian government that “(for) any harm that comes to Sowore, there will be consequences.”
Menendez’s New Jersey counterpart and 2020 presidential candidate, Senator Cory Anthony Booker also said the invasion of the Federal High Court, Abuja, by DSS to re-arrest Sowore is a shocking affront to Nigeria’s rule of law. “It’s appalling that NJ journalist Omoyele Sowore was re-arrested in Nigeria hours after his release,” Booker said on Twitter on Friday. “This is a shocking affront to the country’s rule of law and Nigeria must cease its dangerous attacks on freedom of expression,” he warned
Sowore has been in DSS detention for 124 days before his release on Thursday. He was arrested on Saturday, August 3 for calling for nationwide protests tagged #RevolutionNow. He was charged on offences of treasonable felony, money laundering, terrorism and plotting to overthrow Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari. DSS operatives stormed an Abuja court to arrest Sowore on Friday. The pandemonium caused by the presences of the operatives in the courtroom disrupted proceedings of an unrelated case forcing the judge to adjourn abruptly. The operatives later picked up Sowore outside the courtroom.
DSS has however denied that any of its personnel was involved in the pandemonium in the courtroom even though the altercation was caught on camera. In a video shared by Sahara Reporters, Sowore was seen being dragged by several men inside the Abuja courtroom. Sahara Reporters said some of the men in the video were DSS operatives while others belong to the State Security Service (SSS).
The DSS, which accused Sowore of planning to change the government through unlawful means, is yet to deny re-arresting him. “All that is needed for a #Revolution is for the oppressed to choose a date they desire for liberty, not subjected to the approval of the oppressor,” he wrote on Twitter on 2 August.
Sowore’s lawyer Femi Falana said DSS told him Sowore was needed for questioning on Friday and would be released later in the day. He accused the secret police of “gangsterism”.
“I can assure you what is happening now will not go away unchallenged,” Falana said, adding: “We either run this country on the platform of the rule of law or we resort to gangsterism which is what is going on.” But Nigerian authorities have been less respectful of court orders in this case and in many orders. Earlier court orders for Sowore’s release were not carried out by the secret police. On one occasion, the DSS said it could only release him to his lawyers.