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Will Falana’s magic wand free Sowore from DSS grip?

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Soon after the Department of State Services secured a court order to detain the convener of #RevolutionNow protest, Omoyele Sowore, for 45 days, his lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), vowed to challenge the order and ensure that the activist regain his freedom soon. But 32 out of the 45 detention days are gone, Falana is still struggling to get a hearing date in court for the application he filed to challenge Sowore’s detention. After granting the DSS the 45-day detention order on August 8, Justice Taiwo Taiwo adjourned the case till September 21. By the time Falana came up with his application on behalf of Sowore, Justice Taiwo had concluded a round of his sitting as a vacation judge and proceeded on recess. In the circumstance, Falana took the application before Justice Nkeonye Maha, who had taken over as the next vacation judge. But in Justice Maha’s court, Falana met a brick wall as the judge declined hearing Sowore’s application on the grounds that she could not review the order of Justice Taiwo, who is a judge of coordinate jurisdiction. Justice Maha directed Falana to take the application back to Justice Taiwo, particularly as Justice Taiwo had earlier adjourned the case till September 21. By September 21, Sowore would have spent 44 days in the DSS detention.

In an interview with our correspondent, Falana describes the development as unfortunate but says he is not giving up the fight for Sowore’s release.

The human rights lawyer says, “It is unfortunate that our client has nearly completed the 45-day detention period.

“Mr Sowore perfectly understands the issues involved in his current travails. He is even lucky that he is being detained for 45 days. I am pursuing the case of scores of people languishing in the custody of the Nigerian Navy for close to two years without trial.  All the same, we are pursuing the application to quash the 45-day detention order slammed on Mr Sowore by the Federal High Court.”

On how he intends to proceed after the setback in Justice Maha’s court, Falana says, “Since the file was rejected by Justice Maha, we have already returned to Justice Taiwo’s court. My colleagues in Abuja have applied for a hearing date. I am reasonably sure that the case will soon be heard.”

Falana believes there is no more to the difficulty he is having in getting the court to hear Sowore’s application than the fact that the court is on vacation. He likes to rule out external influences.

He says, “The Federal High Court is on annual vacation. Hence, the delay in having the matter heard expeditiously. No external influence is involved in the matter whatsoever.

“We have, however, taken up the issue of the delay with the relevant authorities because the law provides that the writ of habeas corpus, fundamental rights applications and other cases pertaining to the personal liberty of any citizen must be heard and determined expeditiously.”

But if Falana gets Justice Taiwo to hear the application today, he would have only crossed the first hurdle. Before him is the second hurdle of convincing the judge to reverse the 45-day detention order, after which he will likely face the third hurdle of persuading the judge not to, in fact, extend the detention period, should the DSS file for such a request.

Falana, more than anyone, understands that these days, it is easier to get into the DSS detention than to get out. He is the lawyer to the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Sheik Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, who has already spent four years in the DSS detention and he is still counting. Not even a court order could force El-Zakzaky out of the DSS’ iron grips. With his experience in El-Zakzaky’s case, Falana may be in for a lot of déjà vu feelings in his quest to get Sowore out of DSS detention.

Incidentally, it was nine days after Sowore was taken into custody that El-Zakzaky was temporarily let out by the DSS for a medical trip to India in early August.

Sowore was arrested in the wee hours of August 3, 2019, two days to his planned nationwide #RevolutionNow protest.

The Federal Government believes that having tagged the protest ‘#RevolutionNow’, Sowore had made his mission to topple the Buhari government through violence abundantly clear.

The government believes that having contested and lost in the February 23 presidential election, which Buhari won, Sowore was planning to achieve his presidential ambition through his planned #RevolutionNow protest.

The DSS said intelligence at its disposal showed that Sowore had a meeting in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, with some foreign collaborators, who mobilised with “millions of dollars” to topple Buhari’s government through violent protests.

The Sahara Reporters publisher, according to the DSS, was also in communication with the fugitive leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu – another DSS customer, who was charged with treasonable felony and spent months in the DSS custody before fleeing the country.

Despite being a public figure in Nigeria, Sowore has managed to keep his family life private.

When the footage surfaced online last week of his wife, Opeyemi, speaking on an American TV programme, Democracy Now, one gets the feeling that with such a beautiful wife, why was Sowore organising his #RevolutionNow protest against the Buhari government, knowing the DSS could arrest him and deny him, for a long time, the warm company of his wife and two children, nine and 12, living in America.

On the programme, Opeyemi recounted how before DSS operatives seized Sowore’s phone in the night of August 3, he managed to send her a text message, “I love you,” to which she said, “Okay, I love you too,” only to be told later that he was being arrested.

She believes the Nigerian Federal Government has no basis to keep her husband in detention.

Asked if Opeyemi was right, Falana says, “I cannot comment on that statement since the matter is sub judice. In fact, that is one of the grounds of our objection to the 45-day detention period.”

Falana says he has access to Sowore and that his client is in high spirits in the DSS detention.

The lawyer says, “His spirits are very high but he is virtually redundant as the investigation has been concluded.

“He is, however, worried over the black-on-black violence going on in South Africa. He said but for his incarceration, he would have travelled to South Africa to interview President Cyril Ramphosa and other top government officials who have been inciting unemployed South African youths to unleash xenophobic attacks on hapless African immigrants.”

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