Guardian Newspaper: Nigerians have right to freedom of speech, says EU
The European Union (EU) ambassador to Nigeria, Ketil Karlsen, said yesterday that the organisation “stands firm on the principles of freedom of speech,” noting: “It is important in any democratic society for people to be able to participate.” The declaration followed the granting of a prayer by the Department of State Services (DSS), which had approached the Federal High Court, Abuja seeking to detain Sowore, the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress in the last general elections, for 45 days. Sowore, the founder of Sahara Reporters, has been in DSS custody following his arrest last Saturday over a call for mass action against alleged misgovernance by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. The DSS yesterday had sought an ex parte order in a motion (FHC/ABJ/CS/ 915/19) to hold the convener of #RevolutionNow, for an additional 90 days, pending the conclusion of its investigation.
Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo, however, granted 45 days, ruling that if the applicant requires more time thereafter, it could apply for a renewal. This came after the judge had seen the evidence attached to the application of the DSS, one of which includes the video of an alleged conference between the respondent and the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, and further evidence that members of the recently proscribed Shiites group, Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), would have joined in the mass action. In a statement in Abuja, Karlsen said: “I am not aware of any petition following the latest events in Nigeria but what I can say is that as long as people seek peaceful means to demonstrate and voice their political opinion, this is what we see as a natural part of a thriving democracy.” “Any democracy or any society in the world must jealously guard and make sure that such pronouncements are always non-violent and that they respect the fundamental rules of the game and democracy at the end of the day.”
Karlsen further clarified: “It is for the Nigerian justice system, in the end, to follow up on specific cases. And as long as these cases are being dealt with in the Nigerian justice system, it is not for the EU or the EU ambassador to judge what is right or wrong on these occasions. “But of course, we always follow very carefully when there are dissenting voices in the countries where we operate and we listen very carefully to all of them.” Socio-cultural groups, Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome, also condemned the detention order. Afenifere, in a statement by its spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, said: “We are aware of that obnoxious provision in the Terrorism Act, but it can never assume superiority over the constitution, which stipulates that a citizen cannot be detained for more than 48 hours before being charged to court. “Sowore was arrested before he could commit an offense and the Department of State Services (DSS) seems to want to go shopping for evidence to prosecute him. “Having failed to allow him to commit the offense before he was peremptorily arrested, the DSS should free Sowore or charge him to court so the judicial process can take its course.
“Sowore is only being held illegally using the legal process. Our advice to the government is that it should understand and act in conformity with democratic tenets in dealing with the rights of Nigerians.” Ohanaeze’s deputy national publicity secretary, Chuks Ibegbu, said the detention implied that the people’s right of expression as enshrined in the constitution was no longer guaranteed. He warned: “We have to be careful on this matter because every Nigerian has the right to express his views on governance. What they call revolution is a peaceful protest. And when you say treason, you have to ask yourself what constitutes a treasonable felony. I believe it is subject to interpretation. “As much as we are not encouraging violence, we feel his fundamental right is being abridged. This is because there are various dimensions to revolution. The government needs to understand the kind of revolution he is talking about whether it is political, economic or any other. “But one thing you must know is that democracy guarantees people the opportunity to participate in governance. It should guarantee our ability to call the government to order in a manner that will not cause violence. So, the DSS should be careful not to go against the laws of the land in dealing with this matter at this critical period.”
Ozekhome described the detention as bad news for democracy and human rights especially because the application was made and granted ex parte, which means behind Sowore’s back. He questioned why the judge failed to order the Federal Government, which is already holding Sowore to put him on notice. According to the constitutional lawyer, the court could also have ordered Sowore to show cause why he should not be detained for 45 days. “What happens to the Court of Appeal decision in IGP V ANPP, where it was held that no Nigerian requires police permit to demonstrate and protest peacefully on the streets of Nigeria? “To me, what all this boils down to is an intolerant government gravely and pathetically allergic to respect for and tolerance of criticism, the rule of law, individual fundamental rights, political choices, the plurality of voices, dissenting opinions and the independence of the judiciary,” Ozekhome said.
He added: “It is a complete farce and total ruse. God help Nigeria, even as the people should gird their loins for tougher days ahead. Nigerians should protest and demonstrate peacefully on Nigerian streets against the harsh and anti-people policies of this government. Not to do so is to cheaply capitulate to coercive intimidation and abdication of their sovereignty to their very elected and selected agents in government.” In other reactions, Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, Inibehe Effiong, said: “Our position remains that the DSS has no case of treason or treasonable felony against Sowore. This is a fictional case created by an intolerant regime to suppress dissenting voices. The Buhari administration is trying to use someone to send a message to Nigerians to shut up and not speak out about the ills of this administration.” Stephen Azubuike, also a lawyer, explained that under Nigerian law, the investigation ought to precede arrest, followed by detention and eventual trial of an accused person based on the filing of a charge before a competent court of law.
Querying the ex parte order, he said the law requires that a motion on the notice must accompany the application to be served on Sowore. This, he said, would give him the opportunity to be heard on the merit or otherwise of his continued detention pending investigation. The convener of Access to Justice, Joseph Otti, corroborated Azubuike’s view, saying: “The court order granting the DSS a 45-day period to hold Sowore unfortunately and unfairly extends and legitimises the government’s abuse of civil rights in Nigeria. Although the court made the order exercising its powers under the Terrorism Act, the Act itself is subject to the constitution and not above it. A court of law is obligated to treat the constitution and the protections afforded by it as superior to other legislation, with limited exceptions. “What the court has ultimately done is to embolden the government’s tactic of using the Terrorism Act to suppress civil dissent and curtail the ability of civil society to express its grievances freely and legitimately.”
Faulting the detention through a statement, Timi Frank, a former spokesman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), described the judiciary as Nigeria’s major problem, saying most judges are afraid to deliver fair rulings because of their sordid past. He urged the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and the EU to fish out corrupt judges and enforce visa restrictions on them. “I urge the judiciary to wake up because Nigerians are becoming impatient with the kind of judgments coming out from the temple of justice expected to be the last hope of the common man. “When people cannot get justice, they would sooner than later resort to self-help. Some corrupt judges presently manning some courts should not add to Nigeria’s woes because posterity’s unavoidable judgment awaits both the judged and the judges,” said Frank. Civil society organisations, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), in separate statements accused the Federal Government and the judiciary of abuse of power. SERAP specifically sent a letter dated August 8, 2019 to all members and observer states of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, calling on them to “urgently convene a special session on Nigeria over arbitrary arrests and repression by officers of the Nigeria Police Force and other security forces of ‘RevolutionNow’ protesters, organisers, activists, and journalists.”
Punch Newspaper: Court sends Sowore to 45-day detention, Nigerians attack FG
The Federal Government and the judiciary came under attack on Thursday as a Federal High Court in Abuja granted the Department of State Services permission to detain the publisher of SaharaReporters and convener of the #RevolutionNow protests, Omoyele Sowore, for 45 days. Operatives of the DSS, had on Saturday, arrested Sowore over his call for revolution ahead of the #RevolutionNow protests which held in some parts of the country on Monday. Ruling on an ex parte application by the security agency to detain Sowore for 90 days to investigate him for treason-related allegations, the judge, Justice Taiwo Taiwo granted the agency permission to hold the activist for only 45 days. According to the judge, the 45 days period, starting from Thursday, lapses on September 21,the date he also fixed for the next hearing session in the case.
He, however, said that the order of detention for 45 days was subject to renewal for further days upon an application by the security agency, in the event that its investigation could not be concluded within the first 45 days. Applying for the detention order earlier on Tuesday, the DSS, through its lawyer, Mr G.O. Abadua, argued the ex parte application which it anchored on the provisions of section 27(1) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2013. Ruling on Thursday, the judge said, although the hearing of the application was one-sided as legally allowed under the provisions of section 27(1) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act, he said he had to act on the facts alluded to by the applicant in the application until the contrary was proved. He noted that he had watched the video clips attached to the application as exhibits, one of which was said to have shown a conference held by Sowore and the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, earlier proscribed by the Federal Government, Mr Nnamdi Kanu.
The other, also a video clip, was said to have shown Sowore saying that members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, the body of Shiites movement recently proscribed by the government, would join forces with him to bring down the Nigerian government. The judge also said the use of the word, “may”, in section 27(1) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act, “is directory,” robbing him of discretion to decline to grant the application. He said, “The word, ‘may’ is not always ‘may.’ Sometimes it is equivalent to ‘shall.’ See the PDP Vs Senator Ali Modu Sheriff. “I am of the view that the use of the word ‘may’ in section 27(1) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act 2013 is directory and not mandatory. “I have looked at the facts presented by the applicant, I will fail in my duties if I do not act on those facts at least until the contrary is proved. “I shall therefore grant the application only to the extent that the applicant shall detain the respondent for a period of 45 days, in the first instance, which may be renewed upon application by the applicant for further number of days if investigation is not concluded by the applicant within the 45 days granted by the court. “The return date shall be 45 days from today, August 8, 2019. It therefore means that this suit is adjourned till September 21, 2019.” A handful of orange-beret-wearing supporters of Sowore were at the court on Thursday.
We’ll challenge order – Falana, Sowore’s lawyer
However, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), who is Sowore’s lawyer, indicated to The PUNCH on Thursday, that he would file an application to challenge the detention order. Falana, who was unwilling to give much details, said Sowore had as of Wednesday envisaged the Thursday’s ruling and had instructed that it should be challenged. The senior lawyer said, “I saw him yesterday (Wednesday) when he had already envisaged that the order for his detention would be granted. So he had already given us the instruction to challenge it.” Despite this, many organisations including the European Union, Afenifere, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Free Nigeria Movement and senior lawyers including Mike Ozekhome (SAN), faulted the order. While SERAP said it would petition the United Nations Human Rights Council on the continued detention of Sowore, Afenifere and Ozekhome called for the unconditional release of the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress in the 2019 presidential poll. They described the order as unjust.
SERAP petitions UN human rights council
SERAP on Thursday said it had petitioned the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva over the way police authorities clamped down on #RevolutionNow protesters on Monday. The organisation asked the council to immediately convene a special session to probe Sowore’s arrest and repression of the protesters, including journalists who covered the protest. It described the order as repressive. SERAP’s position was contained in an open letter to the council dated August 8 and signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare. “There are serious violations of the rights of Nigerians to liberty, personal security, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and media freedom and a special session is urgently needed to help stem the attack on human rights and contribute to UN efforts to prevent further abuses, including arbitrary detention and excessive use of force,” it said. SERAP said rights situation in Nigeria had deteriorated drastically as the federal and state governments refused to obey court orders.
It said, “We urge your delegation to actively support the holding of a special session of the Human Rights Council without delay and the adoption of a resolution that ensures meaningful attention to the situation with a view to stemming the abuses and ending impunity. “The Human Rights Council cannot ignore persistent attacks on human rights and disregard for the rule of law in Nigeria. “If the Human Rights Council does not assume its responsibility and give voice to the victims, it would exacerbate the impunity of perpetrators and continue to fuel further abuses.” SERAP also called on the council to ask Nigerian authorities to release unconditionally Sowore and all those detained in connection with the #RevolutionNow protests. It further asked the council to demand that Nigerian authorities cooperate with the UN Special Rapporteurs, by allowing them free access to the country to investigate all allegations of human rights violations against protesters, journalists, bloggers and other Nigerians. It added, “The authorities have arbitrarily arrested Omoyele Sowore, the organiser of the #RevolutionNow protests and publisher of the online newspaper SaharaReporters. “He is still currently detained by the Department of State Services. Several protesters and journalists continue to be targeted, including a former Politics Editor with Daily Trust, Ibrahim Dan-Halilu, who has been reportedly re-arrested
We stand on principle of free speech, says EU
Also, the European Union says protests remain a cardinal part of democracy as long as they remain peaceful. The EU Ambassador to Nigeria, Ketil Karlsen, however, said it was not the job of the EU to tell Nigeria how to conduct its internal affairs but added that the judiciary should be allowed to do its job. Karlsen said this while responding to a question by The PUNCH at the departure orientation for the 2019 Erasmus+ Scholarship Awardees in Abuja on Thursday. He said he was not aware of any petition sent to the EU by rights groups who have criticised the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government over the clampdown on protesters. The ambassador said, “The European Union stands firm on the principles of freedom of speech and our fundamental values. Of course, it is important in any democratic society for people to be able to participate.
“What I can say is that as long as people seek peaceful means to demonstrate and voice their political opinion, this is what we see as a natural part of a thriving democracy. “Of course, any democracy or any society in the world must jealously guard and make sure that such pronouncements are always non-violent and that they respect the fundamental rules of the game and democracy. “It is for the Nigerian justice system in the end to follow up on specific cases and as long as these cases are being dealt with in the Nigerian justice system, it is not for the EU or the EU ambassador to judge what is right or wrong in these occasions but of course we always follow very carefully when there are dissenting voices in the countries where we operate and we listen very carefully to all of them.”
Court ruling great injustice on Sowore, says Afenifere
However, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, the Afenifere, has slammed the Federal Government for arraigning Sowore under the Terrorism Act. It also condemned the court ruling remanding the former presidential candidate in DSS custody for 45 days. The National Publicity Secretary, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, said the order marked “a new phase in the orchestrated conscription of the democratic space in Nigeria.” The group said, “Sowore was arrested before he could commit an offence and the DSS seems to want to go shopping for evidence to prosecute him.” Odumakin advised the government to act in conformity with the democratic tenets in dealing with the rights of Nigerians, describing Sowore’s detention as a great injustice.
Detention order depicts DSS misguided mischief – CDHR
Also, the CDHR described the detention order as mischief orchestrated by the DSS. The President of CDHR, Malachy Ugwummadu, said, “The present dimension of the ordeal of Sowore is nothing short of the DSS’ misguided mischief to legitimise an otherwise illegal action through the courts.