Before now, not much was known of the town called Kiribo. Tucked in the extremes of Ondo State – one of Nigeria’s coastal cities – the history of the community is as interesting as its name sounds. One of the nine settlements making up Apoi kingdom, Kiribo is surrounded from all sides by Igbobini, Ojuala, Ikpoki, Inikorogha, Oboro, Shabomi, Igbotu and Gbekebo. Boasting of a rich culture and fearless humans – one of them popular activist, Omoyele Sowore – the town has suddenly shot into limelight in recent days. Since Sowore’s arrest in the early hours of August 3, 2019, by operatives of the Department of State Services, the name ‘Kiribo’ has suddenly found its way onto the lips and lexicon of many curious minds.
During a visit to the sleepy Ondo community on Tuesday ahead of a court hearing over Sowore’s case with the DSS in the Federal High Court, Abuja, SaharaReporters correspondent observed how the entire community had worn a celebratory mood in anticipation of a positive outcome at the court in Abuja. Though many residents went about their normal daily activities including school children, who flooded every available space in their respective classrooms for the day’s lessons, everyone was alert and ready to take to the dancing floor once the court delivered a favourable ruling. While those, who could afford smartphones and mobile data tracked the court proceedings with keen interest, others with leaner pockets clutched around transistor radios to feed their curiosity.
By the time Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court delivered his verdict and ordered the DSS to immediately release Sowore on bail, the entire Kiribo went wild with jubilation. For them, it was the climax of over 52 days of intense prayers and hope.
Expressing their excitement at the news while speaking with SaharaReporters, the people of Kiribo – young and old – could not hide their joy and first step to freedom of man, whose benevolence had positively impacted their lives. In unison, the people asked for the unconditional release of their illustrious son and hero.
Reacting to the news, Chairman of Parents Teachers Association of the Community High School, Kiribo, Idowu Orungba, described Sowore as their hero, adding that his arrest and detention by the DSS was an infringement on his fundamental rights.
According to him, Sowore regularly assists many individuals and households in the town financially without asking for anything in return.
“He is a great man who has assisted lots of people in the community including those outside Nigeria.
“We are aware that he was arrested by the DSS and some frivolous charges were filed against him just because he was calling for a protest.
“Our own Puluma (Sowore) is not and has never be a criminal because he grew up in this community before travelling overseas.
“Even when he travelled, he still remembers his source (people) financially and takes adequate care of the old ones by placing them on stipend for upkeep.
“In fact, he employed no fewer than three teachers in this school and pays them from his pocket to assist us.
“These and more are what he has been doing for this community. So, the government should drop all charges against him and set him free,” he said.
An indigene of the community, Babalola Orimisan, who has benefited from a scholarship programme initiated by Sowore in the past, described him as a life-changer.
“Sowore is a son of the soil whose yearly scholarship initiative has assisted many young people go to school in Kiribo.
“So, his arrest and subsequent detention came to us as a rude shock because as far as we are concerned it was to punish those of us here who are beneficiaries of his benevolence,” he said.
Traditional ruler of Kiribo, Oba Ajayi, told SaharaReporters that the entire community consulted God in many different ways to have their son freed from DSS’ detention.
“Omoyele is my son and we have always stood by him because he has helped us and always willing to support us in ways that he can.
“He means a lot to our community and that is why we are happy to hear that the court had said that she should be released on bail,” he said.
A group of old women, who could not hide their excitement upon hearing that the court had ordered the DSS to release Sowore, told SaharaReporters that they would not stop praying for his safe return home because he has been so good to them.
“He (Sowore) helps us to pay the school fees of our children and also provides learning materials for them to use in schools.
“All of us were sad the day we heard that he was arrested.
“But he is our son and we shall continue to stand by him. We know there are some forces behind his arrest because he is saying the truth and they want to cage him.
“We are pleading with Buhari to leave our son alone and drop every charges against him and allow him rest,” one of the old women said.
Tuesday’s ruling opened a new chapter in the legal battle between Sowore’s lawyers and the DSS, which had initially sought an ex parte order from the court to keep him for 45 days pending the conclusion of investigations into his involvement in alleged acts of terrorism.
After listening to the argument of all parties, Justice Taiwo ordered the DSS to release Sowore on bail, adding that his passport should be dropped with the court within 48 hours.
The ruling followed a seven-count charge brought against the activist bordering on terrorism, money laundering and cyberstalking President Muhammadu Buhari.