By Jiti Ogunye
Our attention has been drawn to the story published today in the Nation Newspaper, under the above caption. The story, quoting undisclosed sources, states that the Federal Government of Nigeria is determined not only to appeal the decision of the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division, Coram Justice Taiwo Taiwo , granting bail to Mr. Omoyele Sowore , the detained proclaimer of the Revolution Now Movement , but has also decided to file a petition “of judicial misconduct “ against the Judge for granting bail to Omoyele Sowore, allegedly in excess of his jurisdiction. According to the report , bail could not be granted to a person who is facing a charge of treasonable felony .
We are compelled to react to this story for a number of reasons: We believe that the story is being laundered through the Nation Newspaper to deliberately misinform and mislead the reading public and the Nigerian people on this issue. We believe the story is also calculated to justify the unwarranted and irresponsible disobedience of the court order granting Omoyele Sowore bail, pending the time he may be arraigned in court in respect of the Charge/Information said to have been filed against him. We are of the opinion that the story is meant to prejudice the enforcement of Omoyele Sowore’s right to liberty whenever he may be arraigned in court on the said Charge/ Information, and frustrate the prospect of his being granted a post charge and arraignment bail; the story is preemptive and published to scare the trial judge that may preside over his charge, arraignment and trial, to refuse to exercise his discretionary power to grant him bail whenever he is eventually arraigned . And we believe the story is meant to intimidate, harass and embarrass Hon. Justice Taiwo Taiwo, who acted appropriately, judicially and very judiciously in granting Omoyele Sowore bail , upon the expiration of the 45 days he had previously granted the SSS to detain and investigate Omoyele Sowore regarding the criminal allegations made against him.
By the story, very sadly, the Nation Newspaper has lent its journalistic weight to the waging of a psychological warfare on a judge for doing nothing other than performing his judicial functions and exercising his judicial powers under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.
Contrary to the misinformation in the story that any person who is charged with the offence of treasonable felony in Nigeria is precluded from being granted bail, we make bold to say that all criminal offences, including capital offences , are bailable. Under Section 161 (1 & 2) of ACJA , 2015, “ a suspect arrested or charged with an offence punishable with death shall only be admitted to bail by a judge of the High Court , under exceptional circumstances “ , including ill health of the applicant for bail , and “ any other circumstances that the judge may, in the particular facts of the case, consider exceptional “. Under Section 162 of the Act, a defendant charged with an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term exceeding three years shall, on application to the court, be released on bail except in any of the circumstances listed under the Section.
It is instructive to note that under Section 32 ( 1,2 & 3 ) of ACJA, where a suspect, taken into custody in respect of non capital offences, is not released on bail , after 24 hours , a court having jurisdiction with respect to the offence may be notified ( orally or in writing ) by an application on behalf of the suspect , and the court shall order for the production of the suspect , make enquirers into the circumstances of detention, and admit the suspect detained to bail as the court may deem fit .
From the foregoing exposition of the law, it is crystal clear that contrary to the mischievous kernel of the story , all criminal offences that may be preferred against any persons in Nigeria ( including capital offences ) are bailable .
For the avoidance of any doubt, Omoyele Sowore is not charged , among other offences, with “treason” (a capital or death penalty punishment offence ) but “ treasonable felony” ( a life imprisonment offence as a maximum punishment). He is, therefore, eminently entitled to be granted bail, pending charge and arraignment or pending trial upon arraignment.
It is, therefore, wrong and unacceptable to excoriate Hon. Justice Taiwo Taiwo for doing justice in the Sowore’s case, according to the dictates of the law.
The import of the bail that was granted to Omoyele Sowore was that , the Judge, who earlier had granted the request of the SSS to detain him for 45 days, was satisfied that there was no other valid grounds to sustain his detention , the detention order having lapsed , and the application for the extension of the period of detention having been withdrawn by the SSS, following the filing of a Charge/ Information against Omoyele Sowore. The Honourable Judge concluded that Omoyele Sowore was entitled to his liberty, pending the time he may be arraigned in court in respect of the offences charged in the Information, as his detention ought not to continue in anticipation of his arraignment. The Judge refused to sustain the “ further detain him now , we will arraign him later illogic “ of the SSS. The Hon. Judge cannot , in our humble view, be faulted .
By inspiring the publication of the story and by actually publishing same , the SSS and the Nation Newspaper have committed acts of criminal contempt against the Judge and the Court. What has been done is unarguably an interference in the administration of justice. The publication is purposed to cow the Judge and intimidate him. It is subversive of the independence of the Judiciary and its majesty in administering justice.
We concede that the FG may lodge an appeal against the decision of the Court granting Omoyele Sowore bail. It may lodge a petition against the Judge if it so wishes, and if there are justifiable and reasonable grounds to do so. But it cannot, lawfully and rightly, resort to a newspaper or media publication to scandalize the Court, misrepresent Court proceedings and decisions, or impugn the character or judicial reputation of the Judge, twisting the law and facts of this matter.
As for the Nation Newspaper, it is important that it be reminded of the duty that is imposed on the mass media by the provision of Section 22 of the Constitution: “ the press , radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people “ . When a newspaper that ought to take on the FG for flagrantly disobeying the order of the Court , granting Omoyele Sowore bail , is now peddling lies and falsehood to justify the disobedience of the order, it is no longer in doubt that the Newspaper is betraying its obligation imposed by the Constitution.