, 11 December, 2019 / 12:20 AM
The re-arresting of Nigerian journalist, human rights activist and former presidential candidate, Omoyele Sowore within court premises by the Department of State Security (DSS) hours after he had been freed on bail has angered a section of Nigerians including a Catholic Bishop in the West African Country who has condemned the incident terming it “a grave danger for democracy” in Africa’s most populous nation.
“The manner in which Sowore was whisked away by the DSS operatives within the hallowed Temple of Justice and before a sitting Justice portends a grave danger for democracy in Nigeria,” the Archbishop of Lagos, Alfred Adewale Martins said in a statement seen by ACI Africa, December 9.
“I watched the scene of the arrest of Sowore on a video clip circulating on the social media with utter disbelief,” the Archbishop said and added, “I could not believe that we have descended so low that security officials would desecrate the temple of justice in the way they did: arresting a person in the very presence of the Judge who ordered his release in the same court in which the order was given.”
The Nigerian Prelate termed the Friday, December 6 episode “despicable and a disgrace to a country that prides itself as having enjoyed 20 uninterrupted years of democratic rule.”
The publisher of the U.S.-based Sahara Reporters Newsite, Sowore who unsuccessfully ran for president in Nigeria’s February general elections as leader of the African Action Congress (AAC) was detained in August following his call for nationwide demonstrations against President Muhammadu Buhari and charged with treason as well as money laundering, charges he denies.
In a court hearing in November, Sowore was granted bail but was still held in detention by DSS.
On December 5, a federal court gave an ultimatum to the DSS to release Sowore pending his trial. However, during his trial in a court Friday, December 6, DSS officials “forcefully arrested” the journalist, according to a media report.
“The blatant disregard for the rule of law by the DSS, their continuous refusal to obey court rulings, the latest of which is that of Sowore, is an affront on the country’s fledgling democracy,” Archbishop Adewale said in a statement signed by the Acting Director of Social Communications, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Fr. Anthony Godonu.
Referencing the act of rearresting the journalist despite the court order, the Nigerian Prelate lamented, “It has dented the human rights record of the present Government and the often repeated determination of President Muhamadu Buhari to respect the autonomy of each of the three arms of government.”
The Church leader called on the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad to condemn Sowore’s re-arrest as it is an “assault on the arm of government over which he presides.”
As a way forward, Archbishop Adewale urged the Head of State to “take all steps necessary to ensure that the judiciary is allowed to operate freely in accordance with the law; reminding him that like the Executive arm of government that he heads, perform its roles, the Judiciary is also constitutionally empowered to ensure that law and justice subsists in the country.”
Further, the Archbishop of Lagos told the DSS to release Sowore as per court directives and also “tender an apology to the whole country for the embarrassment we all witnessed.”
“Should the DSS have further allegations against him, let such be presented before the court of law so that justice can take its course. Any further arbitrary hounding of Sowore would only escalate the tension and disaffection in the land,” the Archbishop’s statement concluded.
Meanwhile, an Integrity award that was to be presented to Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osibanjo Monday, December 9 by Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) was postponed following the re-arresting of Sowore.
“The postponement was decided on, to align with protests against the repression of freedom of speech in recent times especially the incident between the Department of State Security (DSS) and Omoleye Sowore, Publisher of Sahara Reporters, on Friday 6 December,” the Executive Director of the Centre, Motunrayo Alaka posted on WSCIJ’s Twitter, Monday, December 9.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa