…Say it’s a Mockery of Nigeria’s Criminal Justice System, Rule of Law, Freedom of Expression, Media Freedom Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, former Minister of Education, Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) have condemned the seven-count charge filed against the Presidential Candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) in the
…Say it’s a Mockery of Nigeria’s Criminal Justice System, Rule of Law, Freedom of Expression, Media Freedom
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, former Minister of Education, Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) have condemned the seven-count charge filed against the Presidential Candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) in the February 23, 2019 election in Nigeria, Mr Omoyele Sowore.
Mr Sowore, leader of the RevolutionNow protest, who has been detained by the Department of State Security Services (DSS) since August 3, is being accused by the Nigerian government of treasonable felony and money laundering. The seven-count charge was filed against Sowore, along with Mr Olawale Bakare, also known as Mandate on Friday.
The charges were signed on behalf of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), by Mr Aminu Alilu, a chief state counsel in the Department of Public Prosecutions of the Federation in the Federal Ministry of Justice.
In the charges instituted against the defendants, the prosecution accused Sowore and his co-defendant of committing conspiracy to commit treasonable felony in breach of section 516 of the Criminal Code Act by allegedly staging “a revolution campaign on September 5, 2019 aimed at removing the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The prosecution also accused them of committing the actual offence of reasonable felony in breach of section, 4(1)(c) of the Criminal Code Act, by using the platform of Coalition for Revolution (CORE), in August 2019 in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, to stage the #RevolutionNow protest allegedly aimed at removing the President.
It also accused Sowore of cybercrime offences in violation of section 24(1)(b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention) Act, by “knowingly” sending “messages by means of press interview granted on Arise Television network which you knew to be false for the purpose of causing insult, enmity, hatred and ill-will on the person of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Sowore is also accused of money laundering offences in breach of section 15(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.
Soyinka said the reaction of the President Muhammadu Buhari Government to the street protest called by the publisher of Sahara Reporters and some others was an indication that the administration had “attained an unprecedented level of paranoia”.
In a statement at the weekend, Soyinka, who is out of the country, said: “This is utterly depressing news. So, the Sowore affair has moved beyond harassment and taken on a sinister direction. Outside the country where I happened to be engaged at the moment, I can testify that the immediate reaction around me was to dismiss this as yet another grotesque product of Fake News, of which Nigerians have become the greatest practitioners. I confess that I also joined in this school of thought – at the start.
“Further checks have however confirmed that this government has indeed attained an unprecedented level of paranoia. I do not believe that the Justice department itself believes in these improbable charges, as formally publicised. So, once again, we inscribe in our annals another season of treasonable felony. History still guards some lessons we have yet to digest, much less from which to learn.
“Welcome to the Club, Mr. Omoyele Sowore,” Soyinka said.
Former Minister of Education, Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili on her Twitter page, said the FG might have caged Sowore but they cannot cage his ideas.
She wrote, “We stand on with @YeleSowore and defend his constitutional right and freedom to protest any matter of Governance that worries him.
“Mr Sowore’s convening of Citizens to protest Poor Governance – via #RevolutionNow– is Constitutionally guaranteed. Gratitude to his legal team.
“Democracy and Voice are Siamese Twins. The good kind of Siamese Twins. No one regardless of their position is given the right to shut down Voices like @YeleSowore ‘s for daring to disagree.
“How long shall it take before the FG understands the Basics of Democracy? Our FG @NigeriaGov led by @NGRPresident @MBuhari may think they have ‘caged’ @YeleSowore because he dared to challenge Bad Leadership and Poor Governance through #RevolutionNow.
“Not so, actually. His Idea can never be caged. Why? You cannot cage an idea whose time has come.@YeleSowore is unconstitutionally and unlawfully detained for calling out deadly incompetence of the @NigeriaGov of @MBuhari
“Not even the Judiciary is spared this spread of deadly incompetence. Here’s the thing. This level of Incompetence is too costly and unsustainable.
“It is painful that @YeleSowore bears the brunt of the collective dissatisfaction of the Citizens of Nigerians toward a grossly incompetent and intolerant @AsoRock.
“We must thank him for once again reminding us that. The Power of the People is greater than the People in Power!
“When the Citizens of Nigeria are ready, neither @YeleSowore nor anyone else need publicly mobilize them and be accused of “wanting to overthrow a government”.
“The Citizens shall on their own rid themselves of a trenchantly incompetent and wicked Political Class.”
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an open letter to Mr Abukabar Malami, SAN, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, urging him to use his position “to without delay enter a nolle prosequi and discontinue the prosecution of the Convener of ‘RevolutionNow’ protest and publisher of Sahara Reporters, Mr Omoyele Sowore, and Olawale Bakare, also known as Mandate for apparently politically motivated charges of treason, fraud and ‘insulting President Muhammadu Buhari’.”
SERAP said: “We urge you to use your role as a trustee of the public interest under section 174 of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) to end several of similar trumped-up cases going on in several states.”
In the letter dated 21 September 2019 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the group said: “Sowore’s case and several similar cases instigated/brought by state governors make a hideous mockery of Nigeria’s criminal justice systems, rule of law, freedom of expression and media freedom. These cases are persecution and not prosecution. As guardian of the public interest, you have a role to end this travesty now, and to maintain the sanctity and integrity of Nigeria’s justice system.”
SERAP also said: “These cases set a dangerous precedent for the misuse and subversion of the justice system, which may lead to the politicization of judiciary. This will be bad for everyone – ordinary citizens, journalists and even the politicians in power, as they may themselves become targets of these repressive and abusive tactics when they are out of power/in opposition.”
The letter reads in part: “While the Nigerian government has the responsibility to prevent and prosecute criminal offences, it ought to do so lawfully, and in full compliance with human rights and the rule of law. Exercising your constitutional independence and discretion to withdraw these kinds of charges would meet the text of reasonableness, demands of justice, and as noted, serve the public interest.
“Laws against terrorism and money laundering should be properly used, and not to undermine critical voices, activists, and the media. Invoking the charges of treasonable felony to unjustifiably or arbitrarily restrict the right to freedom of opinion and expression would minimise the seriousness with which our laws traditionally treat such offences, and undermine the essence of the criminal justice system and the rule of law.
“If not urgently addressed, the misuse of the criminal justice system and politicization of Nigeria’s Judiciary would jeopardise the independence of the Judiciary and the rule of law and lower the public estimation of the ability of our justice system to serve as the last hope of justice for desperate victims. Unless these bogus charges are immediately withdrawn, there is a danger that the public interest represented by the courts and that represented by your role, might part company.
“Attacks on journalism are fundamentally at odds with protection of freedom of expression and access to information, which in turn is key to promoting transparency and accountability, and the achievement of the government’s anti-corruption agenda.
“Withdrawing this case would send a strong message to many state governors that your office will not accept their persistent abuse of the criminal justice systems to jail journalists, bloggers and activists, just as it is, for example, the case in Cross River State, where journalists Agba Jalingo and Ekanem Ekpo have been charged with treason and now being detained for 90 days simply for reporting about an alleged diversion of N500 million by the Cross River Governor, Ben Ayade.
“As Nigeria’s Chief Law Officer, it is vital to our democracy, judicial independence and rule of law for you to stop the Federal Government and state governors from misrepresenting the country’s constitutional jurisprudence and international obligations in the matters of freedom of expression and media freedom.
“SERAP notes that last Friday the Federal Government filed a seven-count charge of cybercrimes of insulting Mr Buhari, money laundering and treasonable felony against Sowore and Bakare. The charges followed their detention by security operatives on 2nd August, 2019. Order was his detention was not made until the 8th of August.
“SERAP also notes that at a forum we organised in June 2019 to discuss the legality of the Cybercrimes Act, your representative and the Head of Cybercrimes Prosecution Unit in the Ministry of Justice Mr. Terlumun George Tyendezwa said the Justice Ministry was committed to pursuing the amendment of the Act, to remove its repressive provisions like insulting public officials, which is now being used in this case, and frequently to undermine freedom of expression, media freedom and provide special protection for public figures including president and state governors.
“Nigerian constitution and international human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria is a state party protect even shocking and offensive speech.”
“Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantee everyone’s right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers and through any media, including in the form of art.”
“The Human Rights Committee in fact underlines in General Comment 34 that laws should not provide for more severe penalties solely on the basis of the identity of the person and that the value placed by the Covenant upon uninhibited expression is particularly high in cases involving public or political figures. Thus, the mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to these figures is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties.
“These restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom cannot meet the basic tests of legality, reasonableness and proportionality. It is normal for expression to provoke controversy, reaction and discourse, even anger but not punishment, fear and silence.”
“We hope that the aspects highlighted will help guide your actions in acting to withdraw the charges against Sowore and Bakare, and several other similar charges instigated or brought by state governors across the county. We would be happy to provide further information or to discuss any of these issues in more detail with you,” the organisation said.