As a mark of its disapproval of the excesses of the Department of State Services (DSS) , a coalition of civil society groups yesterday gave President Muhammadu Buhari a 14-day ultimatum to release Omoleye Sowore, convener of the #RevolutionNow protests and publisher of Sahara Reporters. They also asked for the release of former National Security Adviser (NSA) Sambo Dasuki, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and other persons detained by the security agency.
The activists, at a press conference in Abuja, expressed concern over attacks on free speech allegedly being perpetrated by the Buhari administration. The lead speaker, Yemi Adamolekun of Enough is Enough Nigeria, asked Buhari to address the nation on his commitment to the rule of law and human rights, before the ultimatum expires. Adamolekun in her speech: “Nigeria’s Troubling State of Affairs,” warned that if the demands were not met, the activists would occupy offices of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) across the country.
Rights groups at the event included: Amnesty International (Nigeria); Centre for Democracy and Development; Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre; Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project; Take Back Nigeria; Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre; and Transition Monitoring Group. Also, the Centre for Truth and Liberty (CTL) said the refusal by the DSS to release leaders of the #RevolutionNow movement, Sowore and Olawale Bakare, despite valid bail granted by a court of competent jurisdiction, violates sanctity of the rule of law and the principle of separation of powers.
According to CTL Executive Director Olusesan Semaye, “The unhealthy development, no doubt, casts Nigeria in bad light. More disturbing however is that it portends grave danger ahead, as the democratic space will further be shrunken under a hostile system that negates the rule of law.” The CTL admonition came as human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, alleged that the Federal Government wanted his client, Sowore, to sign a “death warrant.”
While featuring as a guest on TVC’s programme, ‘Your View’, he said: “They wanted me to persuade Sowore to sign his death warrant and I refused. The government isn’t ready for trial; that is why they elongate his detention.” He added: “In 2003, 2007, 2011, President Muhammadu Buhari lost elections to the Peoples Democratic Party and he led protests for a revolution. The law that put the State Security Service together states that, you’re supposed to act for the Nigerian people; not (for) those in power.”
Besides, the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) yesterday postponed the presentation of an award to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, saying the timing was inappropriate. It said the decision was reached “to align with protests against the repression of freedom of speech in recent times especially the incident between the Department of State Services (DSS) and Omoleye Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters, on Friday, December 6.”
Operatives of the agency had invaded the Abuja Federal High Court in a bid to re-arrest Sowore. According to a signed statement by WSCIJ Executive Director/CEO Motunrayo Alaka, “The vice president himself shares this awareness and the inappropriateness of the award at this point.”
The centre stressed that the December 9 event, which was to coincide with World Anti-Corruption Day on the eve of World Human Rights Day, aimed “to highlight the importance of investigative reporting as a tool for accountability, good governance and social justice in a democracy.”
A prominent rights activist, Sowore is also a promoter of investigative journalism. In a statement released by Osinbajo’s spokesman, Laolu Akande, the vice president admitted that besides being away in the UAE for an international meeting, receipt of the WSCIJ’s ‘Integrity Specialty’ award on account of the Sowore saga would be “insensitive”.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs meanwhile declined reaction to a statement issued by US Senator Bob Menendez on the Sowore drama. The New Jersey lawmaker had two days ago described the DSS action as unacceptable, saying Sowore is a husband and father to a US citizen.
But a source at the ministry who pleaded anonymity said Menendez merely spoke in his personal capacity and as such, his statement did not have a direct impact on the ministry. “If the U.S. is making any statement against Nigeria, we will wear our regalia of patriotic citizens and issue a response. But to be on the safe side, the leadership of the ministry will be silent on the issue of Sowore. The American government has not made any statement; it was a parliamentarian that did,” the source said.