The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Monday, varied the bail conditions it earlier granted to detained activist and convener of the RevolutionNow protest, Omoyele Sowore and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare (aka Mandate).
The court, in a ruling by trial Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, agreed to review the terms it attached to the bail it gave to Sowore and Bakare on October 4, which the defendants insisted was too stringent for them to meet.
Sowore who was the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, AAC, in the last general election and publisher of an online news outlet, Sahara Reporters, is answering to a seven-count treasonable charge the Federal Government preferred against him and his co-defendant.
He was in the charge marked FHC/ ABJ/CR/235/2019, further accused of conspiracy, money laundering, cyber-stalking and insulting President Muhammadu Buhari.
The court had four days after the defendants were arraigned, granted their bail request, though it imposed some conditions that must be met before they could be released from detention.
Whereas it gave Sowore bail to the tune of N100million with two sureties in like sum, the 2nd defendant was granted N50m bail with one surety in like sum.
The court stressed that all the sureties must be resident within the Federal Capital Territory and must own landed properties in Abuja that are worth the total bail sum.
It further directed the sureties to submit the original title deeds of the properties, as well as, their three years tax clearance certificate for verification.
More so, the court ordered the 1st defendant, Sowore, to deposit the sum of N50m in the account of the court as security that he would be available to face his trial, even as it barred him and his co-defendant from participating in any form of protest, pending the determination of the charge.
The Judge equally ordered Sowore to surrender his international passport to the Deputy Chief Registrar of the court.
While Sowore was warned not to travel outside Abuja, Bakare was asked not to travel outside Oshogbo in Osun State, until the conclusion of the trial.
The court said they should remain in custody of the Department of State Service, DSS, pending the fulfilment of all the bail conditions. However, following a fresh motion the defendants filed through their lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, the court, conceded to vary the bail conditions it earlier imposed on them.
Consequently, Justice Ojukwu waived the initial requirement for Sowore to deposit N50m as security. It also reduced the amount attached to Bakare’s bail from N50m to N30m.
Nevertheless, Justice Ojukwu retained all the other conditions, even as she adjourned the matter till November 6. FG had earlier urged the court to deny the defendants bail, citing “national interest”.
Arguing through its team of lawyers led by Mr. Hassan Liman, SAN, the government expressed fears that the 1st defendant would call for another revolution once he is freed from custody, saying there was “likelihood of the defendant committing the same offence again”.
Besides, the prosecution urged the court to consider the severity of the allegation against the detained activist which he said could attract life imprisonment, describing it as “a capital offence”.
However, Sowore’s lawyer argued that FG failed to give any cogent reason why he should not be released on bail pending his trial.
Falana contended that despite its allegation that Sowore planned to overthrow the government of Nigeria by staging a protest tagged RevolutionNow, FG failed to adduce any evidence to substantiate the charge.
He told the court that current leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, including President Muhammadu Buhari, had in 2011, called for the kind of revolution that took place in Egypt, which he said was violent.
He noted that in the instant case, Sowore had specifically warned his followers not to engage in any form of violence but to protest peacefully.
“We submit that the use of the word Revolution is not a criminal offence in Nigeria and it has never been criminalized. Hence, President Buhari called for a revolution and was never arrested or prosecuted”, Falana argued.
On count-two of the charge that bordered on allegation that Sowore insulted President Buhari, Falana argued that under the law, no public office is allowed to use the machinery of the state to settle scores with his opponent.
“If the President feels offended by any statement made by the 1st defendant, the only option open to him into sue for libel. “In Nigeria today the right to protest has been guaranteed and recognised by the Constitution”.
Falana told the court that Buhari had in 2003 after he lost election under the defunct ANPP and decided to stage protest all over the country and was stopped by police, briefed him to go to court to challenge the action.
He said the Court of Appeal, in its judgement in 2008, upheld the right of Nigerians to protest against the government without firstly securing a police permit.
He further argued that allegation of money laundering in the charge was not enough to deny the defendants bail, “when those that stole billions have all been granted bail”.
It will be recalled that Sowore was arrested on August 2, after he called for a nationwide protest against perceived maladministration by the President Buhari-led government.
Despite his arrest, the protest held in various parts of the country on August 5, with security operatives clamping down on some of the participants.
Culled from Vanguard