Femi Falana

Human Rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) has said that those who are using the opportunity of having federal power to harass Nigerians with treason charges will one day be tried for treason.

The lawyer who spoke at a book launch at the Bankers House, Victoria Island Lagos on Tuesday, regretted that many Nigerians have now joined the government in demonising citizens out of ignorance.

Referring to Omowole Sowore, the Sahara Reporters publisher who was arrested over the weekend by the Department of State Services (DSS) for organising protests against the President Muhammadu Buhari government which he tagged #RevolutionNow, Falana said the allegation (of treason) against him has no basis.

“We should stop demonising ourselves like the government. A young man was arrested over the weekend. And while he is still in detention, a lot of information is circulating, ‘Oh, he took money from Dubai, they want to destabilize the country.’ In fact one went out this morning: ‘Eeh! When they were destroying NEPA, there was no revolution, when they were selling Nigeria away, there was no revolution, now they are are calling for revolution,'” he said.

“Meanwhile, the man who is accused of causing a revolution is in detention. And many Nigerians are have told me, ‘Femi, that young man went too far. How can he be calling for revolution?’ I said, where is the offense? He said terrorism act. I said, under what section? ‘Treason.’ Under what section of the criminal code?”

Falana noted that it would be “stupid” of the government to charge Sowore. He suggested, without expressly mentioning his name, that President Buhari will be his first witness should Sowore be charged to court.

“I do hope that the government will not charge him; the government will not be stupid to charge Sowore. You know why? He had briefed me. When he told them yesterday that he won’t make a statement unless he speaks to his lawyer, they said ‘who is your lawyer?’ He said Femi Falana. In fairness to them (DSS), they gave him a telephone to phone me. Of course I knew they were monitoring the phone, and I told him I hope they won’t charge you, because if they do, some of the people in government will be our witnesses,” he said.

“You know why? One of them, I won’t mention his name, In 2011, he asked Nigerians to learn from the Egyptian revolution and be ready for a revolution in Nigeria. So, he will be my first witness.”

He recalled how himself and the late Gani Fawehinmi, alongside three others were charged with treason by the Ibrahim Babangida government for pasting posters.

“The late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and four other people were charged with treasonable felony by the Ibrahim Babangida junta. I was one of them. We were detained in Kuje prison for two months. One day they told us we were going home and we were happy. But I told Fawehinmi, ‘I’m not sure we are going home yet.’ They drove us for about 15 minutes from the prison and we landed in a court. They charged us with treasonable felony. And what was the offence? We pasted thousands of posters across the country “Babangida must go.” That was the treasonable felony.

“So we were charged. The two of us who were lawyers among the five decided defend ourselves and our colleagues. When I had to address the court, I said my lord section 41 of the criminal code states that anyone who plots to remove the president of the republic during his time of office in other means rather than what the constitution permits, is deemed to have committed treasonable felony and is liable to life imprisonment. But if you levy war with a view to overrunning the president, you have committed treason, section 37, death penalty. I said my lord, the president of my country, Babangida, did not have a fixed term of office.

“Two, he couldn’t have been removed by constitutional means because he didn’t come to office by constitutional means. I said this law did not have a military dictator in mind. At that stage, Gani took over. He said my lord, look at the charge before you if it’s not odious. And the judge said, ‘please, you know I’m a chief magistrate.’

“Gani said, ‘my lord it is frivolous and vexatious.’ The judge said, ‘Gani please can you calm down?’ Gani continued, ‘my lord, those who should be charged with treason are in the villa.”

Falana said those who are in government now are harassing Nigerians with treason, but some of them will in the end, be tried for treason.

“So it is a great irony that those of us who are fighting for change and democracy are the ones facing a trial for treasonable felony. Those who are in power now are harassing Nigerians with treason because there is no status of limitation, some of them will be tried one day for treason.

“If they don’t want to provoke the Nigerian people, they should please embrace the rule of law. And for all of us here, those who say, ‘Oh! They went too far.’ I beg you, chapter 4 of the constitution which has outlined the fundamental rights of Nigerians provides that you cannot violate any provision without the process permitted by law.”

Meanwhile a Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday granted the DSS permission to detain Sowore, for 45 days.

Justice Taiwo Taiwo, ruling on an ex parte application by the DSS, held that the detention order would be renewable after the expiration of the first 45 days on September 21.

The DSS had on Tuesday applied for permission to keep Sowore for 90 days to investigate him over his call for revolution ahead of the RevolutionNow protests which held in some parts of the country on Monday.

The security agency anchored its application on the provision of section 27(1) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act.

Ruling on ex parte application, a one-sided request by the DSS without counter-argument by Sowore’s legal team, Justice Taiwo, said he had to grant the application, “only to the extent” of allowing the security agency to keep the respondent in custody for only 45 days for the applicant to conclude its investigation.”

He said, although the hearing of the application was one-sided as provided by 27(1) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act, the use of the word, “may”, in the provision “is directory” and not “discretionary”.

He said he would, therefore, be failing in his duty not to grant the request for a detention order.

He also said should the applicant require more time to conclude its investigation after the expiration of the first 45 days, it had the liberty to apply for its renewal.