Ehiwe to Federal Government: Ignore Sowore’s Ignorance and Release him 

The national space has in the past few days been abuzz with different issues. Whilst this has now become the norm to have at least one raging news per week that will trend like wildfire before waning off almost abruptly, there are serious implications some of these seemingly little things can pose to our national polity if undermined. The latest on the list of national issues is the aftermath of the foiled #RevolutionNow protest organised by a former presidential candidate in the just concluded general elections. Sowore contested and lost against the current Buhari led administration.

In what appears to be rebellion, Sowore alongside some other elements announced what they termed #RevolutionNow. The protest, scheduled for August 5, 2019, was, as planned, expected to be a revolution by the Nigerian people against the democratically elected government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In a bid to ensure that what many interpret to just be a mere protest does not degenerate into the Egyptian revolution, the DSS swung into action and immediately arrested Sowore based on intelligence gathered. Now, our Constitution as it is today, does not frown at protests. In fact, it envisages it when it provided for freedom of expression under Chapter 4. However, the same Constitution totally abhors and forbids any for of revolution, whether RevolutionNow or RevolutionThen.

Section 1 (2) of the Constitution does not recognise any form of revolution other than through democratic process permitted by law. Any attempt to topple or undermine the existence of any democratically elected government in Nigeria can be interpreted as treason (except Sowore did not understand the meaning and legal implications of a revolution).

For better understanding and so that Nigerians would know what a revolution is about, the court in Abacha & Ors V. Fawehinmi (2000) LPELR-14(SC) referred to the November 17, 1993 uproar to a revolution. In that case, the apex court held thus;

My simple answer is that the Decree would not apply. The Decree provides: “Whereas the military revolution which took place on 17th November 1993 effectively abrogated the whole pre-existing legal order in Nigeria except what has been preserved under the Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree No, 107 of 1993’’.

Also, in Lakanmi & Anor. V. AG. West & Ors the court clearly set out what is meant by a revolution. The court held thus;

Cases of revolution abound in history and in law, and an example is to be found in Pakistan where there is a proclamation annulling the Constitution of the country. In Uganda v. Commissioner of Prisons (1966) E.A.L.R. 514; the Pakistan case of the State v. Dosso (1958), 2 P.S.C.R. 180, was referred to at page 538 in the following terms: “That the President’s proclamation of October 7, 1958 by which the Constitution of 1956 was annulled and Martial Law was proclaimed constituted an ‘abrupt political change,’ not within the contemplation of the said Constitution, that is a revolution. A victorious revolution is an internationally recognized legal method of changing a constitution. Such a revolution constitutes a new law creating organ, by virtue of having become a basic law creating fact. Laws which derive from the ‘old order’ may remain valid under the ‘new order’ only because validity has expressly or tacitly been vested in them by the new constitution, ‘and it is only the contents of these norms that remain the same, not the reason of validity’. Further no jurist would maintain that even after a successful revolution, the old constitution and the laws based thereupon remain in force on the ground that they have not been nullified in a manner anticipated by the old order itself”.Per Ademola, J.S.C.(P. 38, paras.A-G.

Furthermore, according to Laural Neitzel of the Department of History, Brookdale Community College,

‘‘As a historical process, “revolution” refers to a movement, often violent, to overthrow an old regime and effect complete change in the fundamental institutions of society’’

The above pronouncements of the court, and scholarly views if read properly, reveals to all what a revolution really is. Thus, where an individual, like Sowore decides to carelessly use a word, the meaning and implications of which he really does not understand, it may be inappropriate to charge him for attempting a revolution and take over of the Nigerian government even when we know that all he meant was a mass protest to call for some change in policies and strategies of governance. His ignorance can be overlooked for the sake of public peace and sanity!

In fact, to better underscore the difference between a protest and a revolution, the Nigeria Police Force through its Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba, said,

the Police would not stand idly-by and watch any individual or group in the society cause anarchy in the country”. The statement reads: “While acknowledging the rights of Nigerians to embark on protest, the Force wishes to note that such rights should not translate to a violent and forceful change of government, which clearly is the meaning of ‘revolution.’ Needless to state that Nigeria is a democratic republic and has well-defined processes for change of government, exercised periodically during various cycle of elections.

“The Force therefore warns the organisers, sponsors, allies, supporters, associates and sympathisers of the group ‘Global Coalition for Security and Democracy in Nigeria’ to, in their own interest, steer clear of any such planned protest, demonstration, acts of incitement and proposed “revolution”, as the full wrath of the law will be brought to bear on any individual or group engaged or found participating in the planned criminal act.”

That said, even after using the word revolution to describe his planned action, does he actually have the wherewithal to carry out that threat applying the Schenck principle. In that case, issues relating to freedom of speech vis-a-vis the American Constitution was in consideration. This test was developed in a landmark case in 1919 (Schenck v. United States) by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. who argued thus:

“The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that the United States Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree.”

Since that decision, “clear and present danger” became both a public metaphor for First Amendment speech and a standard test in cases before the Court where a United States law limits a citizen’s First Amendment rights.

In view of the above and in conclusion, it is only fair to take Sowore’s call for a revolution as a call for a protest and not for a forceful take over of government because all the surrounding circumstances points to the fact that he actually did not have and could not have had the capacity to forcefully topple the Buhari administration.

I therefore appeal to the Federal government to look through the veil of his call for a revolution and treat same as a call for a mere protest and ensure his release at the expiration of the 45 days detention order granted by the court.

Ehiwe O. Samuel is a Lagos based lawyer

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