The Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Revd Justin Portal Welby has responded to an open letter by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) urging him to use his good offices and friendship with President Muhammadu Buhari to prevail on him to obey court orders most recently involving activists Omoyele Sowore and Olawale Bakare who had remained in arbitrary detention despite a court order for their release.
This development was disclosed in a statement on Tuesday by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare.
SERAP had in the letter to Archbishop Welby expressed “serious concerns about the disturbing trends by state governments and federal government to use the court as a tool to suppress citizens’ human rights.”
Responding on behalf of the Archbishop through an email last night, Dominic Goodall, the Chief Correspondence Officer at the Lambeth Palace, said: “Thank you for your recent letter. Much as he would like to, the Archbishop is unable to respond personally in detail, so I have been asked to reply to you on his behalf.”
Goodall’s email read in part: “Thank you for taking the time to share your comments and concerns on this matter, which have been noted. Please be assured that I will communicate your concerns to the Archbishop and his staff team, so that they are aware of your concerns. Thank you again for taking the time to write.
“We are very delighted that our letter and the concerns that it raises have caught the attention of the Archbishop. Given his public record for justice and human rights, we have absolutely no doubt that he will prevail on President Buhari to obey not just the court order for the release of Sowore and Bakare but all court orders.
“But it should never have reached this level, as the government ought to have obeyed court orders as a matter of routine”
Earlier, SERAP had letter dated 11 November 2019, said: “We believe you can use your leadership position and influence to persuade President Buhari to promote the rule of law in words and in action by obeying all court orders including the order for the releasing of Mr Sowore and Mr Bakare from arbitrary detention.”
SERAP also said, “As the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, we believe you can reaffirm your belief in justice, rule of law and the basic human rights of all people by speaking out with a strong voice against the repeated disobedience of court orders and the implicitly lack of respect by the government for the integrity and authority of the Nigerian judiciary.
“Taking a stance on the issues of the rule of law and respect for court orders in Nigeria will also contribute to ensuring respect for human rights and the rule of law by the 36 state governments in Nigeria, as these governments seem to be taking their cue from the federal authorities regarding disobedience of court orders.
“Journalist and activist Omoyele Sowore and Olawale Bakare are facing trial on seven counts of treasonable felony, fraud, cyber-stalking and insulting President Muhammadu Buhari, simply for exercising their human rights. Mr Sowore, was arrested on August 3 by Nigeria’s State Security Service (SSS) for planning a protest.
“Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu granted Sowore and Bakare bail but the security agents have continued to refuse to release them despite being served with the court orders. This refusal implicitly violates the defendants’ constitutional rights to presumption of innocence.
“We therefore respectfully call on you to speak out on the repeated disobedience of court orders by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and urge him to obey all court orders including the orders for the release of Mr Sowore and Mr Bakare from arbitrary detention.”