By Gbenga Odugbemi, The University of Edinburgh, School of Law, Babcock University, School of Law.
This article examines the recent arrest of the human right activist — Omoyele Sowore — following his desire to spark a “revolution” in Nigeria starting from August 5, 2019. He started the campaign for the said “revolution” and as a means of creating awareness, via the hashtag #RevolutionNow. Even though what was actually planned by Sowore remains controversial pre- the August 5 protest as to whether he meant a forceful takeover of government — which is what “revolution” ordinarily connotes — or a protest — which is allowed by law. However, what eventually transpired on August 5 was more of a “protest” as contemplated by most Nigerians. Still, the Nigeria government tries to define the intention of the main organizer — Sowore — in the complete sense of the word “revolution” (which he had used) as a forceful takeover of the government, and arrested Sowore days before the protest commencement (on August 2) via its State Security Services. **At the time of writing this article, Sowore is still in custody. As he was remanded by the State Services, arguments and debates ensued amongst Nigerians on whether Sowore could be charged and/or convicted of treason or treasonable felony. This article examines the facts of the incidences involved and answers (from the legal lens) in the negative. The possibility of a terrorism charge is also examined, albeit, briefly, and the chances of a conviction based on it is also unsustainable.
Nigeria’s general election was held on the 23rd February, 2019, and one of the aspirants to become President was Omoyele Sowore. Prior to contesting for the presidency, he created and managed an online news platform called Sahara Reporters, in New York City. Creating the platform from the outside and because it is an online media platform made it easy for the platform to break some news that the conventional media houses in Nigeria dare not break because of the fear of losing their media licenses, and possible obstruction of business. As a journalist, the man has seen it all, and the fact that he believed he can change the government and “take it back” 1 from the corrupt leaders is not far from the truth. Post- the general elections, without going into the nitty-gritty, Sowore lost, woefully(2) . Based on his campaign, prior to the election, considering that Sowore is arguably a “youth”(3) , one would ordinarily think Nigerians, especially Nigerian youths—which represents the highest percentage of the Nigerian populace—would vote for him, but the election results did not suggest this. There are still clamours that the election was rigged(4) by the incumbent president, however, this is not the theme of this paper.
Following losing out in the general elections, Sowore, unrelenting and with several proofs that the presidential election was rigged(5) , but especially as a symptom of rage resulting from a corrupt government took the bold step, and started a movement which he tagged “#RevolutionNow” under the auspices of an association called “Global Coalition for Security and Democracy”. They have 3 rationales for their movement which are basically “demands” from the incumbent government, they are that the government: End anti-people economic policies; End special privileges for the ruling class; Return political power and national wealth to the working people(6) .
Sowore and its association started spreading the message via social media, and at granted interviews about a forthcoming protest to be commenced on August 5, 2019, which to many Nigerians, is what the #RevolutionNow movement means, a “protest”. Indeed, August 5 was declared to be the start of “Days of Rage” to protest the Nigeria government’s failings. However, on August 2nd at around 1:25 AM, Sowore’s abode was invaded by the Department of State Services (DSS)7 operatives and was arrested obviously to topple the forthcoming protest on August 5.
Following his arrest, several eminent persons both in and outside Nigeria including the Noble prize (for literature) first African-holder—Wole Soyinka—have decried the arrest as a challenge to the several fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens, and especially compared the current president’s move as similar to that of a former dictator who used to rule Nigeria—Sani Abacha. Many Nigerians believe the #RevolutionNow movement is needed as the state of Nigeria is appalling, with lots of insecurities, kidnappings, high rise of unemployment, lack of basic social infrastructures, corruption at the high offices, and the list goes on.
In the media, many assert that Sowore has not committed any offense that all he has done is called for a “protest” to protest a corrupt government. However, some Nigerians disagree, and agree with the government that the literal meaning of the caption of Sowore’s movement which is “revolution” signifies “taking over the government from a duly constituted government by force”, also, that the frequent comparison of Nigeria with what happened in Sudan (by Sowore) is what Sowore aimed for. The Nigeria Inspector General of Police said Sowore’s call for protest “amounts to treasonable felony and acts of terrorism”(8) . Some Nigerians agree that Sowore is guilty of and should be charged with Treason or at least Treasonable Felony (maybe not Terrorism(9) ). This paper tends to answer the questions on whether Sowore can be ultimately charged or if charged, found guilty of treason or treasonable felony within the Nigeria criminal law.
Odugbemi, Gbenga, ‘The Federal Republic of Nigeria vs. Sowore’: Will a Charge of Treason or Treasonable Felony Stand Against the Mastermind of #RevolutionNow? — A Legal Opinion (August 12, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3435970 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3435970