Unnecessary distraction – The Nation

It is in the interest of the Federal Government to free Sowore and obey the courts

At the beginning, it seemed a routine of overzealous government officials. Calls of condemnation were muted and, for most part, ignored. Day followed day, and Omoyele Sowore was still behind bars. Week followed week, and it was no longer a matter of levity.

The Buhari administration was now known to follow a familiar script. We are witnessing it in the cases of former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki and the Shiite leader Ibrahim el Zakzaky. Were we going to accept this jackboot style under a democracy? The uproar rose in decibel. And in spite of the clamour, members of the Department of State Services heeded only with deaf ears.

The matter, as it must follow the democratic principles, now belongs to the courts. After deliberations, the sanctum of justice decided he had no case to answer and he was asked to be let go on bail. Defiance of impunity was the reaction of the Federal Government.

The clamour changed from prosecution and letting him go to a constitutional matter: obey court order. The publisher of the online news portal, Sahara Reporters, suddenly was growing in the imagination of his fellow citizens. He was now being lionised by the security agency that had turned public safety watch into paranoia.

Sowore was a presidential candidate who lost because the electorate largely ignored him. A man, who was under investigation by his own party for financial opacity, was now vaulted into a conclave of heroes by a DSS that did not seem to understand the sociology of protests and the stature of those who could stir disaffection in the land.

The matter became not only a Nigerian nightmare. The international community had begun to pay attention. The international press had started to dig up facts about the online publisher and could not fathom how he had become a thorn in the nostrils of the Buhari administration.

In spite of the frenzy, the DSS would not let him go. They developed an excuse that they wanted to free him but no one had showed up to exercise the process. This is in spite of claims by members of the civil society, including Mr. Femi Falana, that they had made efforts in that regard.

The man had spent over 100 days in that vault of injustice before he eventually was released. The sigh of release did not spread oxygen over the whole nation’s body before a new drama. He was barely 48 hours out of detention when he was re-arrested. He was in a court room while the DSS operatives were also found present. The DSS has tried to divert the story from the process of his re-arrest to the theatrics in a court room.

The DSS said they did not play any part in the “wrestling match” that brought Sowore to the floor. The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has said he would set up an inquiry into how it happened. But that is beside the point at this moment.

The bottom line is that the man was re-arrested. What does that mean? It shows that the DSS was playing a game of hypocrisy and lies. It was not interested in releasing him in the first case. They were executing a dance of delay, the tyranny of bait and switch. It has no place in this democracy.

Sowore’s wife and children were already celebrating his release when the news of his re-arrest inundated the internet and news channels. It was a bitter taste. Those who wanted the administration to save itself from this unwarranted embarrassment were cornered by this act of imbecility in a republic.

This compelled a senator of the United States to hold a press conference and called on the Buhari administration to set the man free and abide by the rule of law. The United States as a country has condemned the action, and various countries in Europe are at a loss to understand why the administration praised by them for its war on corruption could not understand that the release of the man was in its own interest and would further advance the course of good governance and the virtues of democracy.

Various interest groups are raising their voices, including the body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN). Prominent individuals, both on the liberal and conservative fields, are united in this matter. The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, took a swipe at the action and asked the administration to obey court order and release Sowore. “If a court makes a judicial pronouncement on a particular matter, it should be obeyed to the letter,” he said. “If you have any problem or disagree with the pronouncement, the next step is to appeal the pronouncement instead of disregarding or violating court judgments.”

Nobel laureate Professor Wole Soyinka thunders: “Such a development is not only callous and inhuman, it is criminal. It escalates an already untenable defiance by the state. As I remarked from the onset, this is an act of government insecurity and paranoia that merely defeats its real purpose. And now – bullets? This is no longer comical.”

This Sowore case is a picture of official fear, and the government has admitted by this jackboot narrative that it has lost the argument. The DSS cannot keep the publisher forever. To put the matter out of the front burner, the Federal Government should let him go and abide by the dictates of the court and not the summons of its whim.

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