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Offence of treason

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Offence of treason

Offence of treason

The #RevolutionNow movement, championed by the presidential candidate of the Africa Action Congress (AAC), Omoyele Sowore, appears to have melted like an ice cube flung into a flame. Could it be that Sowore overrated himself? Perhaps, he trusted his famed competences and followership in the cyber world, and thought that such can be translated into street followership.

Running scared, the federal government post-haste accused him of committing the highest offence against public order. If Sowore had consulted a psycho-analyst before the #RevolutionNow, he would have been warned that President Muhammadu Buhari would not take chances with any potential threat to his government, when history blames his indifference for the palace coup, which the wily former President Ibrahim Babaginda masterminded against his leadership in 1985.

Some historians claim that General Buhari was warned that a coup was brewing, but he ignored it, apparently waiting to see tangible signs – like mutiny or the movement of troops. But this time, the General may have panicked too early, and he has the freedoms enshrined in the 1999 constitution to contend with. In a democracy, protests and adverse opinions are seen as inherent in the fundamental rights, guaranteed by law.

But seriously speaking, the charge of treason and treasonable felony are serious offences against the state, which is why they attract death penalty and life imprisonment respectively. In most democracies, the charge of treason is usually linked to a military invasion, either from within or from outside the country. In our political history, it was only under the military that treason and treasonable felony were routine, except of course the Obafemi Awolowo saga, which because of its political undertone crippled the first republic.

So what are treason and treasonable felony? Section 37(1) of the Criminal Code, provides: “any person who levies war against the Sovereign, in order to intimidate or overawe the Governor-General or Governor of a Region, is guilty of treason, and is liable to the punishment of death.” Sub-section 2, further provides: “any person conspiring with any person, either within or without Nigeria, to levy war against the Sovereign with intent to cause such levying of war as would be treason if committed by one of Her Majesty’s subjects, is guilty of treason, and is liable to punishment of death…”

Tightening the noose further, that relic of colonial legislation in Nigeria, provides in section 38 that: “any person who instigates any foreigner to invade Nigeria with an armed force is guilty of treason, and is liable to the punishment of death.” With Sowore merely ‘whining his mouth’, as they would say in Nigerian street lingo, many are wandering how such theatrics could mutate to treason? But the government is not taking any chances in the media war, knowing the reach of Sowore’s internet warriors.

In the media space, the federal government has gone ahead to accuse Sowore of having links with the disorderly followers of embattled leader of Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Sheik El Zakzaky and also of planning to team up with the separatist group, the IPOB – both organizations the federal government had banned as terrorist groups in controversial circumstances. So, with the dragnet linking him to IMN and IPOB, the federal character principle is maintained, at least in the court of public opinion.

On treasonable felonies, section 41 provides: “any person who forms an intention to effect any of the following, that is to say: (a) to depose the sovereign from the style, honour, and royal name of the imperial crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or of any other of Her Majesty’s dominions, or from her style, honour, and name of Supreme Lady in and over Nigeria, or in and over any other country which has been declared to be under her protection;”

Or (b): “to levy war against the sovereign within any part of Her Majesty’s dominions, or within any country which has been declared to be under her protection, in order by force or constraint to compel the sovereign to change her measures or counsels, or in order to put any force or constraint upon, or in order to intimidate or overawe any House of Parliament or other legislative authority or any of Her Majesty’s dominions, or of any country which has been declared dominions, or of any country which has been declared to be under her protection.”

Or (c): “to instigate any foreigner to make an armed invasion of any of Her Majesty’s dominions, or of any country which has been declared to be under her protection – and manifest such intention by an overt act, is guilty of felony and is liable to imprisonment for life.” Interestingly, the federal government has secured an order of a federal High Court to detain Sowore for 45 days, within which it will hopefully conclude its investigation and prefer the taunted charge of treason against him.

In the days ahead, it will be seen whether the surrounding issues raised against Sowore will provide the prima facie evidence that will be required to proffer a charge of treason or treasonable felony against the embattled political activist. In Ajidagba vs IGP (1958) 3 FSC 5, the Supreme Court held that prima facie simple means “ground for proceeding.”  On prima facie case, the apex court held: “a prima facie is not the same as proof which comes later when the court has to find whether the accused is guilty or not guilty….”

Again, in Ikomi vs State (1986) 5 SC 741, Nnamani JSC, held: “It is sufficient, if the depositions and statements attached to the information disclose a prima facie case against the accused person. The question ought to be this: from these depositions, is it probable that the accused persons are linked with the offence….” Referring to the role of the Attorney General, Coker JSC in Ikomi’s case held: “An Attorney General is not the Judge of the case but a prosecutor of the charge. His responsibility was not to decide the merit of the case but to ensure that the charge is not preferred irresponsibly, solely to embarrass, harass or prosecute.”

But in what looks like a departure from the settled principles of Ikomi vs State, the Supreme Court in Abacha vs State (2002) FWLR (Pt.118) by a majority judgement upturned the concurrent judgment of the two lower courts. The apex court, per Belgore JSC held: “In the matter now at hand, there is nothing linking the appellant with the crimes on the indictment than suspicion.” While many believe the federal government have acted tendentiously against Sowore, it is the courts that will determine whether his actions fit into the definition of treason as alleged by government.               

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