Press Freedom Coalition, Archbishop Martin Condemn Assault on Judiciary

Press Freedom Coalition, Archbishop Martin Condemn Assault on Judiciary

…Worry at the Country’s Descent into Totalitarianism, Tyranny, Anarchy, Dictatorship The Coalition for Whistleblowers Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF), a national alliance of media and civil society organisations and the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Rev Dr Alfred Adewale Martins have condemned the reckless display of brutality and lawlessness by operatives of the Department of State

…Worry at the Country’s Descent into Totalitarianism, Tyranny, Anarchy, Dictatorship

The Coalition for Whistleblowers Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF), a national alliance of media and civil society organisations and the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Rev Dr Alfred Adewale Martins have condemned the reckless display of brutality and lawlessness by operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS) who re-arrested human rights and pro-democracy activist, and founder of Sahara Reporters, Mr Omoyele Sowore at the premises of the Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday, December 6, 2019,  less than 24 hours after he was released from 124-day detention.

In a statement signed by 17 organisations, the Coalition called on President Muhammadu Buhari to take stern punitive action against the DSS agents involved in the attack on the court as well as the agency’s leadership in order to reassure Nigerians and the international community that they were not acting under his instructions and that his government does not condone their actions in desecrating the temple of justice, undermining the rule of law and their wanton disregard for the rights of citizens.

The Coalition said failure by President Buhari and his government to take immediate and decisive action in response to such apparent brigandage by a security agency, would remain a permanent blemish on the administration’s human rights record and would ultimately result in the government being ostracized by the international community while also undermining its legitimacy at home.

The Coalition described the action of the armed DSS operatives who invaded the courtroom where proceedings were going on in an effort to re-arrest Sowore and his co-accused, Olawale Bakare, who have been charged with treasonable felony by the Federal Government, as the most frightening assault on the authority and independence of the Judiciary that Nigeria has ever witnessed.

Besides, it said, prior to the release of Sowore and Bakare on Thursday, December 5, 2019, the DSS had consistently undermined the authority of the courts by refusing to release the human rights activists for months despite several orders for their release on bail issued by different judges of the Federal High Court during the period, adding that this was an unacceptable violation of the principles of the rule of law in a constitutional democracy.

The coalition condemned the violent re-arrest of Sowore and Bakare in the court premises on Friday, December 6, 2019 as a gross desecration of the sanctity of the Judiciary and the judicial process as well as a crude attempt to circumvent the order of the court issued on Wednesday, December 4, 2019 for Sowore and Bakare to be released from custody by the DSS within 24 hours. It stressed that the brazen acts of disrespect to the court and disobedience of its orders, should not go unpunished.

The Coalition called on the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to urgently take steps to launch investigations into the deplorable human rights situation in Nigeria as the country is facing a rapid descent into totalitarianism and tyranny.

It said any delay by the international community in taking firm action to address the Nigerian situation could result in a violent conflict in Africa’s most populous nation, which would constitute a grave threat to international peace and security, particularly in the region.

Among organisations which signed the statement include the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), International Press Centre (IPC), Nigerian Union of Journalists, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ). Others include Civic Media Lab, Daily Trust Newspaper, International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), HEDA Resource Centre, OrderPaper, Paradigm Initiative (P.I), Premium Times (PT), Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), Sahara Reporters (SR) and The Cable.

Archbishop Martins has also chides DSS over the forceful re-arrest of Sowore in court, saying “it portends grave danger for democracy in Nigeria.”

In a release signed by the Acting Director of Social Communications, Catholic Archdiocese

of Lagos, Rev Fr Anthony Godonu, the Archbishop described as unfortunate and condemnable the action of the DSS which, he said, has further dented the human rights record of the present government and the often repeated determination of President Buhari to respect the autonomy of each of the three arms of government.

Archbishop Martins said 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.

“I watched the scene of the arrest of Sowore on a video clip circulating on the social media with utter disbelief and I was thoroughly saddened and disappointment when this was confirmed on regular media. I could not believe that an arm of government could be treated with so much disrespect and utter contempt. 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. This action is despicable and a disgrace to a country that prides itself as having enjoyed 20 uninterrupted years of democratic rule.

“We call on Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, the Chief Justice of the Federation to condemn this assault on the arm of government over which he presides. We expect the Nigeria Bar Association to take a strong stance to protest this assault. When Lawal Daura was implicated in the blockade of the National Assembly in 2018, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who was the acting President then, took decisive action by terminating his appointment because of the violation of that arm of government. We expect President Buhari would not do anything less as another arm of government has been violated again by the same DSS.

“The DSS Director should be called to question because he and his organization are leaving the whole world with an impression that the country is steadily sliding down the path of anarchy and dictatorship. The Federal Government must call the DG of the DSS to order and get them to work in accordance with the dictates of law. The frequency with which the DSS has been disregarding court judgements, leaves one with the impression that the Judiciary has been emasculated and this cannot be allowed in a democracy especially as it was not tolerated in the days of military regimes.”

As a way forward, Archbishop Martins urged President Buhari 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

He also has a word of caution for the DSS, “The first thing the DSS should do now is to release Sowore as the court has directed and 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,” he concluded.

Photo: Archbishop Martins

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