DSS releases Sowore few hours after court order

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Leader of #RevolutionNow protest and publisher of Sahara Reporter,Mr Omoyele Sowore has been released from detention by the Department od State Services, DSS reports said Thursday evening.

Omoyele and his lawyer Femi Falana waere sighted together in the company of their associates after his release.

 The News Agency ogF Nigeria, Nan had reported earlier that the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Thursday, ordered the Department of State Services (DSS) to release Sowore, Convener, #RevolutionNow Protest, and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare, within 24 hours.

Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, who gave the order, also awarded a N100, 000 fine against the DSS over its delay to serve the defence counsel with the additional proof of evidence in the ongoing trial despite the court’s order to the effect.

The judge, who was visibly angry over the development which had caused the court to adjourn the trial at the instance of the DSS, said the fine must be paid to the defendants before the next adjourned date.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that Sowore, alongside Bakare, were  charged by the DSS with treasonable felony, money laundering, among others.

NAN recalls  that Justice Ojukwu had, on Oct. 21, adjourned commencement of trial till Nov. 6 and Nov. 7, after varying the bail conditions granted Sowore and Bakare.

But on Nov, 6, the trial was stalled because Counsel to the defendants, Femi Falana, SAN, told the court that the DSS was yet to serve them with the statements of the witnesses and the video recordings in evidence.

Falana also said that the security outfit had made it difficult for them to have access to the defendants to prepare for the trial.

Justice Ojukwu had ordered the DSS to make available all the documents and the video recordings to Falana besides directing Sowore and Bakare’s release while adjourning till Dec. 5.

On Thursday, the DSS Counsel, Hassan Liman, SAN, who told the court that the agency was ready to commence the trial, hinted that the required documents and the video recordings had been served on the defence counsel.

However, Falana, who disagreed with Liman, said contrary to court’s order, the prosecution only served them with summary of the witnesses’ statements and seven video cassettes, including voluminous additional proof of evidence the previous day.

The lawyer added that the DSS knew the case was not ripe for trial.

The lawyer, who demanded for the full statements of the witnesses, said: “the prosecution counsel knows that the case is not ripe for trial.”

“In a bid to frustrate the commencement of this case this morning, the prosecution served us with these bundle of documents only yesterday.

“We were also served with seven video cassettes notwithstanding that time is not on our side, we contacted the Legal Department of DSS to facilitate the meeting of our clients in order to confront them with the documents served on us and play the video cassettes and watch them together with our clients but the request was not granted.

“Between the last adjourned date and this morning, I called the learned prosecution and sent a text message not less than 20 times to ask for these documents.

“The only time he responded was to send a message that he was in a meeting and I would call you back. But he never did,” he said.

Falana stressed that several efforts made by the defence counsel to get the documents as ordered since Nov. 6 proved unsuccessful.

“Therefore, we are asking for full statements of all the prosecution witnesses as ordered by this honourable court and for the court to grant us the opportunity to prepare the defence after the facilities must have been made available to us.

“My learned friend knows and knew that this case is not ripe for hearing,” he said.

He also expressed sadness over the refusal of the DSS to release Sowore and Bakare despite meeting the bail conditions.

On his part, Liman argued that the security agency had complied with Section 379(1a) which listed the requirements or the contents of an information of a charge required in a register.

The DSS lawyer explained that the section required a proof of evidence considering the list of the witnesses, summary of the statements of the witnesses and a copy of the statements of the defendants.

“My Lord, we submit that the prosecution has complied with the provision of the law, haven included in the additional proof of evidence, summary of the statements of the witnesses which they admit their receipt this morning.

“We urge your lordship to disregard that aspect of their application,” he said.

On the issue of telephone calls and text messages by Falana, the DSS lawyer said: “My Lord, I will not join issue with my colleague. What he has said is the greatest reason I will not join issue with him.

“However, on the application for adjournment to enable them to fully study the additional proof of evidence, in the interest of justice, we are not opposing that.”

Justice Ojukwu, who was unhappy over the security agency’s failure to obey the court’s order, leading to the “frivolous adjournment” of the trial, told Liman that: “I am going to apply Section 316 of ACJA against you and I will award cost against you.

“This matter was slated for trial today and tomorrow.

“Today makes it one month, and you do not deem it necessary to serve them statements of defence and you now filed additional evidence yesterday and served them yesterday.

“You have been given ample time to do this and the document is your office document and I ordered you to serve them and now you brought them yesterday?” she queried.

According to the judge, I am concerned about two things; the issue of document and access to their defendants.

The judge also asked why the DSS was yet to release the defendants despite signing their warrant of release.

“I thought I have signed a release warrant, I just want to understand that?” she queried Liman.

The DSS Lawyer, who stood up to explain, said: “On the issue of the order, it was served on the DSS, the DSS said the sureties should come and sign ….”

Cutting in, the judge asked: “Is there a parallel court here. Who is directing that? Is there another court elsewhere?”

On the inability of the defence counsel to get access to their clients, Liman said he was not aware of the complaint.

“I am not aware that Falana was refused assess because last week, he visited the defendants in the office. He personally visited on Nov. 19 between 14:30 hours and 15:00 hours,” he told the court.

When Justice Ojukwu asked Falana if he was satisfied with Liman’s explanation, he disagreed with the DSS counsel’s submission.

“My Lord, I visited on Nov. 19 when the client of my learned friend told the whole world that I have refused to come for their bail and that the first defendant might be knocked down on the highway if he was released.

“I drove to their office and I said here is my car, let me go home with my clients but they said no,” he narrated.

According to Falana, the visit of Nov. 19 could not have envisaged the bundle of documents served on me yesterday.

The lawyer, also said that on Nov. 20, he put a call through the prosecution counsel and when he failed to pick the call, he sent a text message.

Falana said: “If there is any lawyer in Nigeria that should ignore court’s order, it shouldn’t be my learned friend,” citing cases where Liman had faced the same treatment of disobedience to court’s orders.

The human right lawyer told the court that it was disheartening that with the court order and after meeting the bail conditions, the DSS failed to release his clients to him.

However, Liman argued that the security outfit had never refused to comply with the order of the court.

“So why have they not complied on this because I remember I signed the release warrant?” justice ojukwu asked.

She, therefore, ruled that the case would not go on until the DSS complied with the order of the court.

The judge, who said no one was above the law, said the law must always be the guiding principle.

“This matter cannot go on. There’s no way this matter will go on because first, the case was adjourned at your instance (DSS).

The judge, who awarded a N100, 000 fine against the DSS, ordered that the fine should be paid to the defendants before the next adjourned date.

Justice Ojukwu also ordered that Sowore and Bakare be released within 24 hours.

The judge then adjourned till Dec. 6 for trial continuation.(With reports by NAN)

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