A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, has said the attack on free press in the country is over a third term agenda being nursed by the Federal Government.
Falana spoke in Lagos on Thursday at the public presentation of a book, Testimony to Courage, essays in honour of Premium Times publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi.
He also accused Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Abuja Federal High Court of bias against his client, Omoyele Sowore, saying the online news publisher had been convicted without trial.
Falana, who was the chairman on the occasion, noted that he had decided not to return to the Justice Ojukwu-led court.
He stated, “Nobody has been given the kind of bail (condition) Sowore was given. All those who looted the treasury have never had their movement restricted. Sowore has been granted bail, but his movement has been restricted to Abuja. His family is in America. He does not live in Abuja. He has no house in Abuja. Yet, he has been asked to stay in Abuja. The trial may last for 10 years, but he cannot leave Abuja. It has never happened in Nigeria before. Sowore has been banned as a journalist from speaking. As a politician, he cannot address a rally until the case is determined. We don’t know how long it will last.”
Falana said since he had been practising law for 37 years, he had never witnessed the sort of drama that transpired in the court on Wednesday during the trial of Sowore.
He said he was shocked when he arrived at the court and saw gadgets being prepared for prosecution witnesses who could not testify in the open court.
“All proceedings and hearings should be in the open. So, if you are going to have anything in camera, for security reasons, for the interest of children, you will apply in the open court. But no application was made. And so, when I asked what happened and the judge pretended not to know, I said, ‘My lady, this case cannot go on because behind us, your court has colluded with the prosecutor to take witnesses behind us in your court and these are the gadgets here.’ I said the prosecutor had confided in me that the witnesses would pass through her door so that they would not be seen by us.
“The judge pretended and asked how that happened. I said the application was made before the Deputy Chief Registrar and it was granted behind us. She sent for the DCR who said he indeed granted the application. She asked if she knew about it, and the man said he thought she had granted the application and that was why he made arrangement for the screening gadget. I said, ‘My lord, you can see now. But you must write a ruling on this.’ But she refused,” he added.
Falana said the judge had already sentenced Sowore and his case mate, Bakare, without trial by confining their movement to Abuja.
He noted that steps were being taken for the matter to be moved from the court and Abuja in particular since the alleged crime was not committed there.The lawyer said Nigeria had “gone to the dogs” and only the media could help.
“The media must not be silenced. You may have a third term campaign soon. Very soon, they will destroy all possible opponents. And by the time they bring in the third term agenda, the media would have been gone. But we are not going to allow it. No dictatorship can defeat the Nigerian people,” he said.
Earlier, journalists, lawyers, authors and members of the civil society berated the President Muhammadu Buhari administration for the attack on press freedom.
The President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Chris Isiguzo, said Nigerian journalists were facing tough times under the current administration, adding that their lack of tools to work with and lack of good pay, made their job arduous.
A former senator, Shehu Sani, lamented that the current Federal Government, which criticised the former administration for its autocratic tendencies, had been worse.
Others at the event were an author, Chido Onumah; Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotosho; a veteran journalist, Richard Akinnola; Country Director, Amnesty International, Osai Ojigho; constitutional lawyer, Jiti Ogunye; civil rights activist, Yemi Adamolekun; and a publisher, Kunle Ajibade.