In a ruling on August 8, the Federal High Court in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja permitted the Department of State Services (DSS) to hold the political activist and publisher Omoyele Sowore in custody for 45 days, without pressing any charges.
This detention period can be further extended after its expiration on September 21, should the DSS request for extension.
The court’s ruling was on an ex-parte application made by the DSS, whose heavily armed agents abducted Sowore from his hotel room in the early hours of Saturday, August 3. The abduction happened ahead of a series of mass demonstrations and protests called for by Sowore and others.
The judgement was passed without hearing Sowore or his defense lawyer in the court. A group of lawyers who were present in the court to express solidarity with Sowore reportedly told journalists that they would file a counter-application seeking the vacation of this order.
Sowore is the founder of the publication Sahara Reporters, which has exposed many corruption scandals and human rights violations in Nigeria. He also created the African Action Congress, a new political party on whose ticket he contested in the 2019 general election.
The main agenda points in his campaign included reducing the economic disparities, utilizing the oil resources of the country to create jobs for its citizens, ending nepotism, tribalism and cracking down on corruption.
While he did garner considerable support and popularity among the masses, Sowore lost to the incumbent president, Muhammad Buhari. Pointing to irregularities in the election and questioning its credibility, Sowore launched a movement called “Revolution Now!”. A series of marches and rallies were scheduled for this week under the “Revolution Now!” banner.
“This series of marches and rallies will continue until we have the Nigeria of our dreams…The revolution is now,” he proclaimed at a recent meeting with supporters.
Deemed the “days of rage”, the series of actions were set to begin on Monday, August 5. They were inspired by the Sudanese revolution which overthrew Omar al-Bashir after almost 30 years in presidency, which he had captured through a coup in 1980. However, two days prior to the demonstrations, heavily armed DSS agents barged into Sowore’s hotel room and abducted him.
In an attempt to justify his arrest, a government spokesman said that Sowore had “crossed the line, he threatened public safety. Nothing will happen, there won’t be any revolution. The government, which has been elected democratically, will be in place.”
National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, said, “Go and check the dictionary and political meaning of a revolution. If it comes it will be like the Christmas turkey, nobody knows which one will be slaughtered first on Christmas.”
Criticism of this action by the government has come from diverse sectors inside and outside Nigeria. Among the prominent voices which spoke out against his arrest was Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate in literature.
“Beyond the word ‘revolution’,” he said, “nothing that Sowore has uttered, written, or advocated suggests that he is embarking on, or urging the public to engage in a forceful overthrow of the government. His arrest is a travesty and violation of the fundamental rights of citizens to congregate and make public their concerns.”
Days of Rage
Soon after Sowore’s arrest, one of the co-organizers of Revolution Now!, Kunle Ajayi, who is also the general secretary of United Action for Democracy as well as a member of the Socialist Workers and Youth League, tweeted, “They think they can stop an idea whose time has come. You have plenty to arrest. We will show you all that our generation cannot continue with your state madness. We will hand over a better world to our children. The time to act is now!!!”
Leaders of other organizations involved in this movement also reiterated that the arrest will not intimidate them into surrendering their constitutional right to protest in demand for better conditions.
On August 5, when the Days of Rage were scheduled to begin, security agents of OP MESA – “a joint Internal Security Operational platform made up of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force” – surrounded the National Stadium in Nigeria’s largest city of Lagos, The Punch reported.
Inside the stadium, protesters yelled slogans and chanted a locally well-known revolutionary anthem. When security forces moved in to forcefully disperse the gathering, scuffles broke out.
Forces reportedly used tear gas and live bullets on the protesters. Nine protesters were arrested, including a video editor and cameraman of Sahara Reporters, Victor Ogungbero. Several others were injured.
One protester, who was witness to Ogungbero’s arrest, told the news agency, “We kept telling them that he is with Sahara Reporters, but instead that worsened the case and made them take him away. They did not allow him to identity himself. He was beaten and dragged on the floor while being taken away.”
Pictures below show security forces spraying an irritant into his eyes and kicking him in the face, while he was already on the ground:
During the police crackdown on protesters, Sowore was in the custody of DSS agents, who filed an application in court on August 6, seeking his custody for 90 days. The application was based on the Terrorism Act. The court, without hearing a defense, granted his custody for 45 days.
“The order by the Federal High Court to detain Mr Sowore for 45 days is alien to the offense the suspect has been accused of. Revolution is nowhere mentioned under the Terrorism Act,” one of the lawyers told Sahara Reporters.