The Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo yesterday agreed that in view of uproar generated by the re-arrest of the leader of the Revolution Now Movement, Mr. Omoyele Sowore, by the Department of State Services (DSS) last Friday, it had become inappropriate to proceed with the planned presentation of ‘’Anti-Corruption Defender Award of 2019″ to the vice-president.
According to the WSCIJ, the vice president was to be honoured “for his invaluable work of overhauling the Lagos State judiciary, facilitating far-reaching reforms in the administration of justice in the state, his work of promoting integrity in the civil society and business in Nigeria and his consistency as a strong voice for promoting integrity in the country.’’
Osinbajo was Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice under the Bola Tinubu administration.
But in a statement by the Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Centre, Ms. Motunrayo Alaka, the centre explained that it had postponed honouring Osinbajo “to align with protests against the repression of #FreedomOfSpeech in recent times, especially the incidence between the Department of State Security and @YeleSowore, Publisher of @SaharaReporters, on Friday 6 December.”
Many lawyers, including Sowore’s attorney, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), and civil society groups had called on Osinbajo to resign from the Buhari administration as well as for his sanction along with other lawyers in the administration for the alleged invasion of the courtroom of Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court, Abuja to re-arrest Sowore.
However, in a letter to the centre yesterday, Osinbajo said he was ‘’extremely grateful’’ for the recognition and award of the “Integrity Specialty of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism’s Anti-corruption Defender Award of 2019” to him and explained why he would not be there to receive it.
“The award, I note, is for our justice reform efforts in Lagos State. I had accepted the award with pride on behalf of the excellent Justice Sector team we had.
“However, two reasons explain my absence. First is that I am currently in Abu Dhabi for an international meeting under the auspices of the government of the UAE where I am the keynote speaker.
“Second, in view of the developments on Friday in the Sowore case, I think it would be insensitive and inappropriate to attend the ceremony,’’ the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media & Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, quoted his boss as saying in the letter.
The award ceremony was held yesterday in Lagos
Sowore was on Friday rearrested at the courtroom of the Federal High Court in Abuja — barely 24 hours after the DSS were forced to release him upon a 24-hour ultimatum given by Justice Ojukwu.
The Publisher of Sahara Reporters was first arrested on August 3 in Lagos for calling on Nigerians to take to the streets in peaceful demonstrations to demand a better country from the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The federal government has accused him of insulting the president and planning to bring down his regime.
Falana had asked the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to take disciplinary action against Osinbajo and other senior lawyers in the administration over Friday’s alleged desecration of the hallowed chamber of the Federal High Court by operatives of the DSS.
There are over 10 lawyers in the Buhari administration, with four of them being Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs).
Aside Osinbajo, the other SANs in the government include the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola; the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami; and the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo.
‘’There are 10 lawyers in the Buhari’s administration, with four of them as Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who ought to live up to their oath to defend the constitution and other laws of the country, by ensuring that the rule of law was observed by the government.
“Even though President Muhammadu Buhari has a duty to caution the Department of State Services, the blame of the desecration of the court on Friday rests squarely on lawyers in government, who are under a duty to ensure that the rule of law is observed.
“They have all taken the oath to respect the constitution and other laws of the country. That constitution guarantees the independence and impartiality of the courts,’’ Falana had stated.
The human rights lawyer added that the senior lawyers cannot sit in a cabinet under a regime that terrorises the courts and subverts the rule of law.
He said it was a matter the NBA should take up against the lawyers in the cabinet by instituting disciplinary proceedings against them, saying these are manifestations of fascism, which cannot be accepted in any civilised society.