the last 4 months, the entire country has followed with trepidation the case of journalist, activist and presidential candidate Omoyele Sowore. Sowore was first arrested in August by the Department of Secret Services (DSS) at the behest of the Nigerian government on charges of treason. Since then, two Nigerian judges in two different courts have explicitly granted him bail and accused the government of acting out of the provisions of the law. Both times, the pronouncements of the courts have been ignored and Sowore has been rearrested, then second time violently in the middle of court proceedings.
The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami has defended the Federal Government’s actions, claiming that their actions are permissible because of Sowore’s status as a opposition leader and a presidential candidate. The Senate has also been largely silent on Sowore’s plight and only activists, targeted themselves by counter mobs and government agencies have kept the injustices meted against him on the front burner.
Yesterday, Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja who was presiding over the fundamental rights enforcement suit instituted by Mr. Omoyele Sowore, where he sought to for the courts to grant his release from custody of the Department of State Service, announced he was withdrawing from the case and handing over to another judge.
We cannot say for sure if this is a protest against the executive refusal to obey the courts, or for personal reasons, but we feel this is a strong statement and one that furthers the conversation around the strength of the Nigerian judiciary. Mohammed has stated that he is withdrawing from the case because he was accused by Sahara Reporters (Sowore’s independently funded news medium) of taking a bribe to influence a previous case brought before his court. Gabriel Suswam, now a senator and former governor of Benue State, with current accusations from the EFCC was the primary defendant in that case, and is still being prosecuted for financial crimes.
We think its important that Mohammed chose integrity or the appearance of it, over seeing the case to its logical end. And we hope the next judge who takes on the case, is able to stand up to the executive, whatever the eventual ruling is.