Sowore Released At Last
When the Publisher of the country’s number one anti-corruption website, Sahara Reporters called for a revolution to take place on August 5th this year, he had no inkling that he would be kept in the custody of the Department for State Security (DSS) for a hundred and twenty days. What would have been a peaceful protest against the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari turned out to be the denial of his freedom for close to four months away from his family and friends.
The court initially granted him bail but with a draconian condition of finding a surety with the whooping sum of a hundred million naira and fifty million naira for his sidekick, Olawale Bakare. Sowore’s counsel and human rights activist, Femi Falana appealed the bail condition and it was later reduced to fifty million naira for Sowore and twenty-five million naira for Bakare.
Despite the meeting of their stringent bail conditions and several court orders for their release, the DSS bluntly refused to release them. On one occasion, the DSS spokesman, Peter Afunnaya said that the detainees actually preferred the DSS facility to that of any correctional centre and were clearly not complaining. Another ridiculous reply that emanated from the DSS was that nobody was available to collect the detainees from their custody when the Federal High Court released them for the second time. That was the most ludicrous of all excuses and it made the DSS sound like the ranting of a high school lad whose candy was suddenly taken away from him.
On three occasions, the DSS refused to release the world renowned anti-corruption and human rights crusader despite court orders to that effect.
Sowore began a hunger strike while in their custody to protest his being held against his will and there were rallies held in New Jersey where his family is domiciled for him to be released. Karen Bass, a member of the United States Congress from the state of California also called for the release of the Columbia University trained public administrator.
According to Human Rights Watch: ‘The authorities have relied on laws, including the Terrorism Prevention Amendment Act of 2015 and the Cybercrime Act of 2015, to bring criminal charges against people for conduct or publications that appear to criticize the authorities’.
Sowore was charged with treason, cyber crime and money laundering in September but the DSS was hell bent on disobeying court orders that called for his immediate release on bail. They seemed to have an axe to grind with him as there was no justifiable reason for his continued detention.
On November 10 and 12, some protesters led by Deji Adeyanju turned up at the DSS office in Abuja to protest his continued detention. They were dispersed with gunshots and teargas by the government agency whose second name seems to be oppression and repression. The Human Rights Watch reported that: ‘Oludare Richards, a journalist with the Nigerian Guardian Newspapers, said that he was badly beaten after he tried to intervene as security officials harassed a well-known activist. “I showed the DSS officers my identity card, stating clearly that I was a journalist, but that did not stop them from turning on me,” Richards said. “One officer began beating me all over my body with a baton. Two others later joined him using the butt of their guns to hit the back of my head. I was bleeding badly and suffered trauma to my head; it even affected my speech.’
It was with joy that I received the news that he and Bakare had been released at last today (Thursday, 5thof December). Better late than never goes the age-long aphorism and this is victory indeed for the global human rights community.
While its right to rejoice that a globally renowned human rights activist is finally having a taste of freedom, the DSS should suffer some form of sanctions for flouting court orders so that it would serve as a deterrent to other agencies who feel they can take the law into their hands. Justice delayed is justice denied goes the old aphorism and so it’s necessary for some form of punishment to be meted out to the officials in charge of his case as he ought not to have spent such a long time in their custody. Human rights activists should continue to be in the trenches till these sanctions are dished out and followed up on.
His trial commences on Friday December 6th and he is sure not to jump bail since its coming a day after his release. We are optimistic that he would be proven innocent and walk out a free man as he has always used peaceful means of protest since 1989 when he started taking on corrupt leadership in his country.
Welcome home Sowore!
Tony Ademiluyi writes from Lagos and edits www.africanbard.com