By Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
New Jersey’s U.S. Senators and two members of its House delegation are urging Nigeria’s attorney general to uphold the law and to ensure the safety of a Bergen County resident who was arrested in the West African nation in August after organizing pro-democracy demonstrations there, then forcefully re-arrested this month hours after a judge had released him.
“We write to you regarding Mr. Omoyele Sowore, a New Jersey resident who was arrested August 3rd and charged with treason, money laundering and cyberstalking associated with his call for demonstrations,” read a Dec. 20 letter signed by Senators Robert Menendez and Corey Booker, and Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-5th) and Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-9).
“We request that you take immediate steps to ensure the safety and security of Mr. Sowore while he is held in government custody,” added the letter, which was also signed by Senators Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Christopher Coons (D-Delaware). “Work to facilitate a speedy and fair resolution to the current circumstances of his re-detention; and ensure that he receives a legally sound and credible trial, consistent with Nigeria’s established judicial proceedings and the rulings that follow.”
Gottheimer handed out copies of the letter to reporters late Friday afternoon at his Glen Rock office, where he appeared with the activist’s wife, Opeyemi Sowore, who has endured nearly five months of her husband’s detention with the couple’s two children at their home in Haworth.
“Being in isolation for 139 days, he is strong and people have said that he is doing okay, but one of the things we’re pushing for is for him to receive medical attention,” said Sowore, a New York City native who said she and her husband he fled to the United States 20 years ago from Nigeria, where he had been repeatedly arrested and tortured for his investigative journalism.
Sowore founded the online news site Sahara Reporters in New York in 2006.
Omoyele Sowore, an activist who lives in Bergen County, was arrested in Nigeria while organizing a protest against the country’s president.
He was arrested in August by Nigeria’s Department of State Security Services, or DSS, after helping to organize nationwide protests against the government of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. CNN quoted a statement last week from Buhari spokesman Garba Shehu insisting that Sowore, 49, had called for the overthrow of Buhari’s government.
“It should not surprise anyone who has followed his actions and words that Sowore is a person of interest to the DSS,” CNN quoted Shehu as stating. “No government will allow anybody to openly call for destabilization in the country and do nothing.” The activist’s wife insists that he has been denied due process.
“The is focused on them not following the rule of law,” said Sowore, seated next Gottheimer at a conference table in his district office. “He was released on Dec. 5, the judge had them come back to court to show that they had complied with the order, and right there in front of the judge, they rearrested him. They had no warrant, no court order, no new charges. So he’s currently being illegally detained.”
She said the 12 hours that her husband had been free before his re-arrest was the first time he was able to Facetime her and their son and daughter since his initial detention in August.
“It’s so important for the children,” she said. “He’s missed half a year. Half of the school year’s over. In a child’s life that’s such a long, long time. This is something that will likely affect my children for the rest of their lives. So, the sooner that we can bring this to resolution, I think, the better everything will be.”
Turning to Gottheimer, she added, “And again, I can’t tell you again how grateful I am for everything that you have done to get us to a place, to where we are today, where, where…”
“To get him home,” said the congressman, who gave the activist’s wife a hug when the gathering broke up.
The congressman and Sowore were joined in his office by Haworth Borough Council members Dina Siciliano, Heather Wasser and Jackie Guenego.
The Dec. 20 letter was the second one Gottheimer had sent on behalf of the Sowore family, after one he co-signed with Menendez on Nov. 27, prior to the activist’s release and re-arrest.
Gottheimer said he was hopeful that the matter would be addressed during an upcoming meeting in Washington of the United States-Nigeria Binational Commission a joint body created in 2010 with the goal, as then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, of supporting “the aspirations of the Nigerian people for a peaceful, prosperous, stable, democratic future.”