Hearing in the fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by the convener of #Revolution Now protests, Mr Omoloye Sowore, seeking an order for his release from the custody of the Department of State Security Service (DSS), suffered a major setback on Monday following the recusal of Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court from adjudicating on it.
Justice Mohammed, who is sitting as a vacation judge, withdrew from the case following a previous publication by Sahara Reporters owned by Sowore accusing him (Justice Mohammed) of taking a bribe to influence the outcome of a case involving the trial of a former governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam, now before Justice Okon Abang.
Sowore had on December 10 filed the fundamental rights enforcement suit challenging his continued detention by the DSS.
But when the matter came up Monday, Justice Mohammed said in view of publication by Sahara Reporters, it was the fair, just and proper thing to do in the circumstances was to recuse himself from the case.
Justice Mohammed noted on Monday that the reports by Sahara Reporters in 2016 and 2019 informed his decision to withdraw from the ex-governor’s trial.
He recalled that when the first report was published in 2016, he was prevailed upon by the prosecution and defence teams to continue with the case.
He said on continuing with the case, a similar report was published in June this year.
He said the situation put him in a situation whereby if he ruled in favour of Sowore, it could be perceived as having been blackmailed by Sowore to so rule, and that in the event that he ruled against the activist, he could be perceived as being vengeful.
“Justice is rooted in confidence,” the judge said, adding: “That is to say, none of the parties should have fear or apprehension that he will not get justice before a court
He then ordered that the case file be sent back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, for reassignment to another judge.
Justice Mohammed, who will be sitting as a vacation judge until the court resumes from its Christmas and New Year vacation in January, had earlier at Monday’s proceedings sought lawyers appearing in the case to comment on the implication of the previous reports by Sahara Reporters on what the public perception would be in respect of his handling of the Sowore case.
On returning from a short break to hear the lawyers, counsel for Sowore, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), who said he was aware of the publications referred to by Justice Mohammed, noted that in view of the judge’s observations, it was proper for the judge to withdraw from the case.
Falana cited the Supreme Court’s decision in 1995 when the apex court disqualified eight justices from handling a case involving the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the late MKO Abiola, over previous publications on the justices by Concord Newspaper, which was owned by Abiola.
The counsel for the Director-General of the DSS, Yusuf Bichi (the first defendant), Mr GOA Agbadua, said he would not take a position on the matter so that his comment would not be misconstrued as an attempt to delay the hearing.
Mr Abubakar Abdullahi, counsel for the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), the second defendant, also said he would leave the decision to the discretion of the judge.
In his ruling recusing himself from the case, the judge relied on Falana’s submission.
Sowore and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare, were first arrested in August 2019 and were later in September charged with treasonable felony, among other offences, for calling for the ‘RevolutionNow’ protests, for which the Federal Government accused him of treasonable felony.