Omoyele Sowore and his family (287829)
Credit: Contributed

It was a shocking sight that less than 20 hours after being released from alleged “unlawful” detention, New Jersey-based Nigerian activist Omoyele Sowore was tackled in an Abuja court room, and re-arrested on original charges of treason.

“[These will] be my only words on record before they kill me. This is an attempt to assassinate me in court. They came with a gun and they were trying to shoot and they dragged me down in front of a judge after I had been granted bail,” Omoyele Sowore wrote in a text to his wife Opeyemi Sowore on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019.

Seeing the video of her husband being dragged to the floor, she said, “I was shaking to my core at what was happening after they tackled him.”

Looking bewildered and blindsided, Sowore, the publisher of the New York-founded investigative online journal Sahara Reporters, a former Columbia student and CUNY teacher, was manhandled during a court appearance the morning after his release from a four month detention and immediately rearrested.

The Amsterdam News asked Mrs. Opeyemi Sowore how their two children are doing in the midst of all the frightening confusion, and she responded, “They’re hanging in there. The day they let him out he spoke to the children. They called on Thursday night after they let him out of detention. After being detained for 125 days, he was happy and hopeful.”

Speaking with the Amsterdam News in December 2019, as he ramped up his Nigerian presidential campaign, Sowore told this reporter, “For me I have gotten past that point where I am afraid of anything. I know what I signed up for.”

The fear of his family and supporters is real now.

While protestors and vocal supporters warn against any harm befalling the life-long activist, on Thursday, Dec. 12, a rally was scheduled to demand the immediate release of Sowore. Activist Bukola Oreofe, a part of the Free Sowore Now Movement, is pulling no punches as he co-organizes the Nigerian Govt. Free & Stop the Persecution of Omoyele Sowore Protest Rally. Situated outside the Nigeria Consulate, on 2nd and 44th Street, the noon rally was for the purpose of, Oreofe stated, “To speak up against tyranny and the continuous violation of the rights of ‘Yele.”

The Amsterdam News tried to no avail to get a comment from officials at the Nigerian Consulate, in Manhattan. It is the location where Sowore himself has held many a protest for over a decade.

This week, Mrs. Sowore shared the text from her husband when asked of his state of mind. Sent on Friday, Dec. 6, she said that her husband wrote, “I said it to you yesterday that these are bunch of lawless people and that they were reluctant to respect the order of the court. Now, they have shown it to the whole country. What is important for Nigerians to know is that I am not going to give up until every Nigerian benefits from a country that is theirs and I have made it very clear. They tried to break me in prison. They sent delegations to me offering all kinds and I refused and they promised that I would not walk out of their detention alive. So, that is what they came here to implement today. Nobody in Nigeria should be afraid. This is our country and some people have to make the sacrifice for this country to be a country of rule, of law and of dignity. And this also involves judges. If suspects who have been given bail are not safe in the country, judges themselves are not safe. That is why the judge had to retire hurriedly into her chambers. So, we urge you guys to hang around so that you can witness this. This is a historical day in Nigeria and I am happy that I am part of this history.”

Throughout his presidential run in the last year, Sowore called upon the influence of Fela Kuti, his late idol and the well-renown anti-corruption politically infused Father of Afrobeat. On Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, his son Seun Kuti spoke out.

“It is even bigger than a Sowore,” the oft times outspoken musician and singer told this reporter. “It is about protecting our freedom and rights—as the elite want to keep enjoying the dividends of this democracy, by trying to silence the outrage.”

It is not up to one man alone to shoulder the responsibility to expose the assault on freedoms of expression, he noted.

“Nigerian people have to do more than protest,” Kuti said. It highlights Sowore’s plight, but focus must include a spotlight and fight that includes “making sure the security forces are not turned against public and private citizens…that professionals get involved to know the gravity of this is understood.”

Kuti, who now leads Fela’s band Egypt 80, recalled, “My father was abused by the courts and security forces…he was even jailed by Buhari.” Asked what Fela would do now, the late icon’s youngest son said, “That the people decide to fight for ourselves when tyrants don’t want to release their grip. Young people have to take our future into our own hands, and not wait for a messiah. Bob Marley sang, ‘How long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look?’ We as a people must decide to take our future into our own hands.”

Painted by some media as a Fela Kuti-style renegade, with an earned reputation for being a constant thorn in the side of many Nigerian administrations, Sowore has been an anti-government activist since being a student at the University of Lagos in 1989. In a small room in Manhattan 2006 Sowore started Sahara Reporters, the investigative media outlet focusing on the very same agenda. Sowore lived in Nigeria until 27 and came to the U.S. aged 28 in 1999, he told the Amsterdam News during an exclusive interview in our Harlem offices in December 2018. With a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University, the married father of two, with a home in New Jersey, taught Modern African History at the City University of New York and Post-Colonial African History at the New York School of the Arts.

In one year Sowore founded the new African Action Congress; ran for president of Nigeria with his 10-point SPICER-HEAT Nigeria reform, recovery and growth program; and then this year, 2019, post election and no-win, he formed the Revolution Now agenda, which called for “Days of Rage,” and was arrested just before the major national rally. He was charged with treason, harassing the president (Buhari) and money laundering.

Sowore had refused to let up on his criticism of victor incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, declared winner of the 2019 presidential election.

“I have been a victim of torture. I have been beaten up by the army and the police when I was a activist,” Sowore told this reporter in December 2018. “I am such a Fela disciple. He was one single activist who took on the system all by himself using music. I am using media, and I am using my voice…and the internet to fight the government.”

When asked if he was afraid, he said, “For me I have gotten passed that point where I am afraid of anything. I know what I signed up for. But some people have to make the sacrifice to [turn out] the place, and I happen to be privileged to gain the acceptance and support of people.”

Charged with treason on Aug. 3, 2019, Sowore was detained by the Nigerian Department of State Security in Abuja. After much legal to-and-froing, surrendering his passport and meeting bail conditions, DSS still defied two court orders for his release. On Dec. 5 he was finally released, after the federal court once again ordered the government to do so. But less than 24 hours later armed men reported to be DSS officers stormed the court room where Sowore and fellow activist Olawale “Mandate” Bakare were making an appearance.

Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, international human rights groups, activists and electeds have demanded that the Nigerian government release Sowore. Democratic presidential New Jersey senator Sen. Corey Booker, tweeted, “It’s appalling that NJ journalist Omoyele Sowore was re-arrested in Nigeria hours after his release. This is a shocking affront to the country’s rule of law.”

Sen. Bob Menendez held a press conference with Mrs. Sowore. He said, “I am outraged by the blatant harassment of Omoyele Sowore, an activist and journalist whose only crime appears to be exercising his right to free expression. In a concerted effort to secure his release on behalf of the Sowore family living in New Jersey, my office has been working closely with the State Department as Mr. Sowore’s case languished following his arbitrary arrest back in August.

“While we continue to seek immediate answers about Sowore’s treatment and conditions in jail, I will be further engaging directly with U.S. Ambassador, Mary Beth Leonard, in Abuja to raise this case at the highest levels of the Nigerian Government so that the Buhari administration gets the message that we are committed to defending Sowore’s rights and securing his release. This blatant miscarriage of justice is symptomatic of closing political and media space in Nigeria.”

Amnesty International stated, “The flawed charges and sham trials of Sowore and Bakare expose the inadequacies and bizarre manipulation of the Nigerian criminal justice system and an unacceptable contempt for the rule of law and human rights.”

President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman Garba Shehu offered, “It should not surprise anyone who has followed his actions and words that Sowore is a person of interest to the DSS. No government will allow anybody to openly call for destabilization in the country and do nothing…Sowore is no ordinary citizen expressing his views freely on social media and the internet.”

“They let me speak to my husband just three times in the 125 days he was in detention,” said Opeyemi Sowore. As of press time, Omoyele Sowore remained in detention. “The charges remain the same, the judge’s order to release him remains the same. There’s no new warrant. There’s no legal justification for his arrest.”

The Bronx’s Richard Iyasere said, “I personally know Sowore. I condemn the way he is being treated by this dictator. However, he is the architecture of his own misfortune, although many of us don’t like what we are seeing but they used Sahara Reporters as a platform to rubbish a good man, Jonathan. They should enjoy the government of Buhari now. All these people conspired against Jonathan and the resultant was this monster Buhari. All of a sudden most of them are quiet. I never liked and believed in Buhari one [bit] because of his antecedents. Nigerians seem to forget so soon about their past oppressors, [it’s] just like asking Nigerians to vote in Babangida in the future, we already knew his past, they cannot change overnight.”

Iyasere, a cultural entrepreneur, concluded, “I solidly condemn the inhumane treatment meted against Sowore and many innocent Nigerians locked up by Buhari’s government. We hope the international government and bodies will help Nigeria during this trying times.”

Opeyemi Sowore said she is grateful for all the levels of support she has received, from the “Yele Ribbon” tree action, to calls for justice from electeds such as Melendez, Booker, and Congresswoman Karen Bass, and from the Human Rights Watch.

She stated, “The only way to secure my husband’s safe return home to New Jersey is if the government intervenes. The goal is to keep raising awareness keeping this at the forefront of the media in Nigeria and in the U.S., and to secure unconditionally his release.”