Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has faulted the Nigeria Police Force over the arrest of Abubakar Marshall, a lawyer to activist Omoyele Sowore.
Falana also debunked claims by police that Sowore jumped bail, saying that the activist had presented himself for any possible arraignment.
Marshal was arrested on Friday for allegedly failing to produce Sowore on February 25.
Sowore, the publisher of Sahara Reporters, was arrested on February 24, following a petition of criminal defamation, injurious falsehood publication of news known to be false, against him.
His arrest followed a petition by billionaire Ned Nwoko, through his lawyers, Trifold Law & Partners, against Sahara Reporters Foundation.
Lawyer Marshall had stood as surety for Sowore after he was granted an administrative bail with a promise to produce him on February 25.
Falana said, “In a bid to justify the illegal arrest of Abubakar Marshall Esq. the Police claimed that the lawyer contravened an unspecified provision of the Criminal Code because he failed to produce a client, Mr. Omoyele Sowore at a police station in the Federal Capital Territory.
“It is public knowledge that the movement of Mr Sowore has been restricted to the Federal Capital Territory for the past two years on the orders of the Federal Capital Territory. Since his abode is well known to the security agencies, it is grossly misleading to claim that his surety has contravened any provision of the Penal Code.
“However, in spite of the indiscretion of Abubakar Marshall to stand surety for Mr. Sowore, his arrest, detention and prosecution by the Federal Capital Territory Police Command cannot be justified under the law.
“It is trite law that a surety cannot be arrested, detained and charged with any criminal offence before any court in Nigeria on the ground that a suspect has jumped bail or failed to report for investigation or arraignment.
“The penalty is that the surety is legally obligated to pay the sum stated in the recognisance or bail bond. Before the bail bond can be forfeited the surety is entitled to show a cause or justify before a Court why it should not be forfeited.
“However, if the surety fails to pay the sum stipulated in the bond the court shall proceed to recover it from the surety like a fine under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
“In view of the several decisions of Nigerian courts on the contractual nature of suretyship, Abubakar Marshall has not committed any offence whatsoever. The authorities of the Federal Capital Territory Police Command are advised to withdraw the criminal charge erroneously filed before the Upper Area Court in Kubwa. However, since Mr. Sowore is not on the run he has decided to report himself to the Police for any possible arraignment.”
The police had earlier traced the lawyer to his home and forcefully arrested him for defending the activist
In another statement on Saturday, Tope Temokun, an activist, revealed that the lawyer who had been in detention at the Kuje Prison was relocated to a new prison to deny him access to people.
Temokun also disclosed that Marshal had been denied food since Friday.
According to him, Marshal was arrested primarily because of Sowore’s recent declaration to contest the 2023 presidential race.
The statement reads, “Information reaching us is that Marshal had been moved this afternoon from Kuje Prison to Keffi Prison. This must be to deny him access to people and necessaries.
“Marshal was not arrested because he stood surety for Omoyele Sowore, neither was he arrested because Sowore failed to report to the police.
“Marshal and Allen Sowore were the two lawyers who followed Sowore on February 24, 2022 to the police station upon his arrest. Sowore didn’t write any statement as he insisted he did not commit any crime.
“When he was asked to go home that night, Sowore dropped his personal phone number with the commander of the unit for him to be contacted if they needed him.
“On Tuesday, March 1, 2022, Sowore appeared before the Federal High Court, Abuja (a public place) for his treasonable felony trial or re-arraignment. He moved from the court to the venue of his presidential declaration, Women Development Centre, another public place located at the heart of Abuja.
“Somebody who jumped bail was appearing in court and appearing for open presidential declaration and yet he was jumping bail. What a parody of narrative?
“The powers that be under Buhari government were irked that Sowore was able to do his presidential declaration as against all their scheming and grand-plan which was to remand Sowore before the planned declaration, till filing of nomination to INEC has closed.
“The arrangement was to have Sowore detained before March 1, 2022, so that when his case in charge number FHC/ABJ/CR/235/19 would be called in court on the 1st of March 2022, Sowore would be absent and they could apply to the court to revoke his bail and get bench warrant issued against him, preparatory for his renewed remand as 2023 politicking thickens.
“Ned Nwoko, whose complaint they are now hanging on to perpetrate this injustice, had written a pre-action notice dated December 20, 2021 to Sahara Reporters Media Foundation, demanding the retraction of the publications he alleged were libelous against him and therefore he knew the character of his case was not only civil but also against Sahara Reporters as a legal entity and not Sowore.
“So the whole case is not primarily about Ned and his reputation or about Marshal standing as surety or about Sowore not reporting to the police but all about Sowore, a man under city arrest, declaring his presidential ambition openly, despite all machinations put in place to stop this. On March 1, 2022, Marshal was the counsel who appeared from Falana chambers to represent Sowore in his treasonable felony rearraignment, while I joined him in court. Sowore and his lawyers are marked down for persecution. Simple.
“All of us connected to this cause are now on the watch-list. If phone number stops ringing, it is not kidnapping. It is arrest. The regime has lost it. The police cell and prison no meant for goat. Na for man! We are students of history. We know that time like this will come and go and does not usually last.”