Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday withdrew from the fundamental rights enforcement suit instituted by the ‘RevolutionNow’ protests convener, Mr. Omoyele Sowore, seeking an order for his release from custody of the Department of State Service.
There have been no fresh charges instituted against Sowore since he was rearrested by the operatives of the DSS on December 6 barely 24 hours of being released from the agency’s detention lasting over months.
But Justice Mohammed ruled on Monday that he could not hear Sowore’s case filed on December 10 saying it was the fair, just and proper thing to do in view of the previous publications by Sowore’s medium, Sahara Reporters, accusing him of taking bribe in a case to influence the outcome of his case. The case in question is the trial of a former Governor of Benue State, Senator Gabriel Suswam, who is now being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission before another judge of the court, Justice Okon Abang.
Justice Mohammed noted on Monday that the reports by Sahara Reporters in 2016 and 2019 made him 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 the 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’s 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 M.K.O Abiola, over his Concord’s previous publications concerning the Justices.
The counsel for the Director-General of the DSS, Yusuf Bichi (the first defendant), Mr. G.O.A 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. Counsel for the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), the second defendant, Mr. Abubakar Abdullahi, 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, which the Federal Government interpreted to be a call for an overthrow of the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)