Siege to the court goes beyond Sowore
HAT happened last week at the court premises in Abuja was an eyesore. Videos showed operatives of Nigeria’s intelligence unit, Department of State Services, trying to arrest Omoyele Sowore, publisher of and convener of #Revolutionnow, inside the courtroom. The judge, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, was reportedly spirited out of the courtroom.
A day before, Justice Ojukwu had berated the DSS for forming a parallel court by giving conditions upon which Sowore would be granted bail. She had, therefore, asked for Sowore to be released immediately. Once Sowore left the courtroom, the DSS tried to arrest him again. He ran back into the courtroom. Operatives of the DSS reportedly ran after him into the courtroom and tried to arrest him but were resisted by his associates. They waited for him outside the court and rearrested him eventually.
However, the DSS later denied the report that they invaded the courtroom, claiming that the scene of melee seen in the viral videos was acted by Sowore and his associates to tarnish the image of the organisation. In a statement signed by its Public Relations Officer, Peter Afunanya, the DSS said inter alia: “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.
“Eyewitness 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 a frenzy on the mere suspicion that the 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.”
But even before the response from the DSS, the presidency had justified the re-arrest of Sowore. In a statement, Mr Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President, noted: “Sowore called for a revolution to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nigeria. 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. He founded an organisation, Revolution Now, to launch, in their own words, ‘Days of Rage,’ with the publicised purpose of fomenting mass civil unrest and the elected administration’s overthrow. No government will allow anybody to openly call for destabilisation in the country and do nothing.”
Some people have mocked Sowore because of the role he played in bringing in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. Through Saharareporters, Sowore introduced a shocking type of journalism: journalism that demonises, stereotypes, blackmails, harasses and ridicules individuals, groups and institutions in the name of activism.
True journalism insists that facts are sacred, while opinions are free - it engages in “reporting” the news and letting the public reach conclusions. But Sowore’s Saharareporters would take a position on every issue and pass judgement through the headline and the body of the so-called news story.
Saharareporters would write unconfirmed stories against individuals, groups and organisations. If you write to Sowore and the editors of Saharareporters, stating your side of the story, Sowore and his editors would refuse to publish those rejoinders.
In journalism, it is the norm that before you publish a story, you should get the view of the other party; and if you have published a story without the view of the other party, any rejoinder sent by the other party must be published. It is called the right of reply. That is equity and fairness. But Sowore has repeatedly gone against that in his attempts to push forward his preferred narrative on any issue. If Sowore could do that to people as the publisher of an online newspaper, what would he do to people if he were the president?
However, in spite of all that, it is dangerous to sneer at Sowore over his ordeal in the hands of the DSS. What is happening to him is a shameful abuse of office and power by the administration of President Buhari. There is no way to justify the repeated disregard for court pronouncements by Buhari on Sowore’s case. No matter how the DSS and their apologists colour it, the invasion of the court last week by the DSS is a desecration of our democracy and a slap on our nation.
It needs to be emphasised that one does not need to support or love Sheikh Ibrahim El-zakzaky, Nnamdi Kanu, Sambo Dasuki, Sowore, Justice Walter Onnoghen or Senator Bukola Saraki. It is your right not to like them. But when their right is breached and trampled upon and you support it and justify it because you don’t like them, you make yourself a supporter and an enhancer of dictatorship. When Adolf Hitler was killing the Jews, he had educated and religious men and women who justified it, thereby staining their hands and souls in that genocide.
Under Buhari, the homes of judges have been invaded in the dead of the night. The National Assembly has been invaded. The Chief Justice of Nigeria has been unlawfully removed. Newspaper houses have been invaded. Journalists have been abducted and detained without trial. Members of the
Indigenous People of Biafra who were praying in a school were shot and killed. Shiites who were in their homes were killed by troops in cold blood with over three hundred corpses deposited at the mortuary of the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Kaduna.
What has been happening to Sowore goes beyond whether he has been a good example of what journalism should be or not. It even goes beyond the security operatives like the DSS, the police, the army or the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The way the security operatives act and relate with citizens of Nigeria depends on who is the President and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. When a President respects the rights of the citizens, the security personnel will respect the rights of the citizens. Any of them who goes against that is promptly disciplined. Unfortunately, the Judiciary and Legislature have been conquered. We are faced with evidence of dictatorship. And it will get worse if we keep quiet.
Another point is that President Buhari seems to be more concerned with teaching his perceived enemies a lesson than ensuring that they are served justice. Vendetta is different from justice. From Sambo to Sowore to Elzakzaky and to Nnamdi Kanu (before he was forced to escape after the military invaded his home in 2017), Buhari seems to derive joy in having his perceived enemies detained ad infinitum rather than face judgement. He refuses them bail even when they are granted bail, and ensures that their cases hardly progress in court.
Nigerian democracy came at a high cost. It is sad that Nigeria is being taken back to the dark days of blatant abuse of the rights of the citizens by those in power. Before becoming president, Buhari said repeatedly that he was a converted democrat, but under his watch, the nation has been witnessing impunity and disregard for the rule of law. It is not late for him to beat a retreat.