By Donu Kogbara
EARLIER on this week, I was contacted by a gentleman called Jude Ndukwe (jrndukwe@-yahoo.-co.uk). He is the national leader of the Movement for the Advancement of National Transformation, MANTRA, a civil society organisation, CSO, and he introduced himself as the co-convenor of an upcoming rally that would culminate in a solidarity visit to the Abuja headquarters of Amnesty International, AI, the respected multinational human rights organisation.
The above events have now taken place (they happened on Wednesday) and involved several concerned Nigerians plus over 40 CSOs who wanted to display support for AI – which, as Ndukwe so accurately and eloquently put it, “helps in no small way to put the excesses and arbitrariness of State agents in check…”.
This visit was triggered off by a drama that started a few days ago, when anti-AI, protestors – who claimed to belong to a CSO called Global Peace & Rescue Initiative, GOPRI, – invaded AI’s compound menacingly carrying a coffin, laid siege to its office and demanded that AI staff leave Nigeria at the earliest opportunity.
Their “crime”? AI had accused the government of human rights abuses. Ndukwe and others angrily insist that the government deserves this accusation and have counter-accused GOPRI of being a fake CSO that has shamed Nigeria.
Meanwhile, GOPRI members have been described as “a rented crowd” and their activities have been described as “ludicrous”, “brazen”, “wicked” and so on. “We can no longer sit by and watch while paid protesters attempt to rubbish the correct reports and good works of AI on the appalling human rights record of this administration thereby promoting and defending such records,” says Ndukwe.
Meanwhile, the coalition of pro-AI CSOs declared thus: “Amnesty International has come to stay. Amnesty International is going nowhere. You have our full support. Keep the focus and do not be intimidated or deterred, for those who are for you are greater than those who are against you.”
Abdulmumin Giwa, a spokesman of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria also spoke at the rally and said that the military killed about a thousand members of his group in Zaria in 2015 and attempted to cover up its heinous crime by burying them in shallow graves. According to Giwa, but for the prompt reactions and reports of organisations like AI, these murders would have been swept under the carpet.
The highlight of the rally was the presentation of a palm frond and torchlight to AI by Comrade Ariyo Dare-Fatoye, Leader of the Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution (CDNDC), and a co-convener of the rally. The palm frond, said Dare-Fatoye, was a symbol of peace, while the torchlight was a symbol of light and life that would counter the darkness and death represented by the coffin. “We hereby cancel the ultimatum by GOPRI for Amnesty to leave Nigeria and nullify their evil plans and void their threats…and incantations.”
Femi Falana, SAN, has also added his weighty voice to this controversy, urging President Muhammadu Buhari to honour his promise to investigate human rights abuses and asking him to compel the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, to end the invasion of AI’s premises and the harassment of AI employees.
Meanwhile, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Ayuba Wabba, has joined those who are outraged by GOPRI’s antics. During a solidarity visit to AI executives on Monday, Wabba said that he intended to “stand side by side with organisations like Amnesty International to continue to protect the most vulnerable groups against the powerful and the rich in the society…
“…It is very clear that the [GOPRI] people who came were on a very destructive mission…They want to institutionalise the culture of impunity…”. I am thousands of miles away from Nigeria at the moment and can’t claim to have done any research or to have acquired any evidence against GOPRI or the government. But I know lots of serious people who regard GOPRI as a dangerous joke (it’s ridiculous as well as the height of crudity to descend on any location, brandishing a coffin); and I’ve heard some extremely disturbing rumours about terrible human rights abuses in Zaria and other locations from seemingly credible sources.
Furthermore, AI is, as far as I can see, an honest watchdog, NOT a sychophantic lapdog or dubious attack dog. The AI folks that I’ve met over the years have been immensely idealistic. It is not their job to suck up to government officials. But they also don’t go out of their way to embarrass anyone for dubious reasons.
Smoke without fire? I doubt it! The question I keep asking myself is this: Why would AI concoct lies against the Nigerian authorities? Let’s hope Mr President handles this BAD situation well.