By Owei Lakemfa
PUBLIC protest, like police bail, is ‘free.’ In fact, the police are obliged to provide security for peaceful protesters. However, the line between being provided such security and being charged with terrorism or treason for the same public protest depends on nomenclature.
The Bring Back Our Girls, BBOG, group that staged public protests for years over the abduction of the Chibok girls by Boko Haram terrorists, was allowed on the streets until they tried to carry their protests to the Presidential Villa. That was when canisters of tear gas were distributed amongst them to freely inhale. On the other hand, the public protests by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, was intriguing because it had no title. So they had to be shot on a number of occasions. Since the administration was not sure what the IMN was up to, it simply asked the courts to proscribe them. The same was done to the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.
But these are mild cases compared to the monstrosity and horror of a peaceful protest being tagged “Revolution Now!” Revo what? It is not really that it is reasonable to mention revolution in a constitutional arrangement, but it depends on the season. When Alhaji Shehu Shagari was voted the country’s first democratically elected President in 1979, he announced that at 11.00 a.m on the day of his October 1, inauguration, the “Green Revolution” must commence. On April 14, 1980, he formally launched the revolution. He launched a second revolution, the “Ethical Revolution”. So it is not as if Nigeria is averse to the word, revolution or fundamental change. It has more to do with the Buhari administration being allergic to the word.
I cannot blame the administration, because the word reminds all that the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, had come to power with the slogan of ‘Change’ and when it was clear, it was bringing no change, it had made a strategic move to abandon the slogan. But the main opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, had tormented the APC with the counter slogan: “Change the Change.” This was like calling for a revolution against the administration.
For the APC, the detained co-convener of the ‘Revolution Now’ protest, Omoyele Sowore, deserves the death penalty, not for participating in the protests but ventilating it. It proclaimed: “Our laws are clear on Sowore’s actions. It is treason.” As expected, the APC accused the PDP of being behind the protests. The patriotic State Security Services, SSS, which had seized Sowore in Lagos and spirited him to Abuja, returned to Lagos without their catch.
It was expected that many lawyers would be prowling Abuja courts to defend the suspect in case the SSS sneaked him to court without informing his lawyers. But the clever chaps of the infamous SSS ‘Yellow House’ in Abuja, beat such people by going to Lagos. The Buhari administration’s case against Sowore is terrorism. Relying on Section 27(1) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act, it asked Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos to allow it detain Sowore for 90 days pending the conclusion of its investigation.
But the cerebral judge reached the wise conclusion that: “The facts are an allegation of commission of a crime by the respondent which in line with the constitution must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” The judge might have been swayed by Exhibit SSS-1 which showed Sowore meeting Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the proscribed IPOB. With this, if I meet Kanu on any street in the world, I will cross to the other side, as this may be all the evidence needed to find me guilty of terrorism.
The Solomonic judge did not think it fit to allow Sowore legal representation by asking the state to put him on notice. Equally, he did not want the government to lock the accused up and throw the key into the Sambisa forest or Lagos Lagoon, so he rejected the request for the 90-day detention order. Rather, Justice Taiwo Taiwo ordered the accused be kept in detention for 45 days, and asked the government to come back for renewal. So, Sowore’s detention, like a car licence, is renewable. As His Lordship pleases. Fantastic judge!
I think Nigerians should learn the basic lessons the Buharists are teaching; that just a word or two such as “Revolution Now!” can earn Nigerian life imprisonment or the death sentence. So while in the seasons of Shagari where the word ‘revolution’ was commonly used and Jonathan, whose administration disregarded the protests for “Regime Change,” in the Buhari season, such calls are treason.
In this wise, those who are in love with words like declaring their areas a ‘republic’ or people who claim professional or royal titles, should have a rethink as they may be charged with impersonation. This is not the season you can have musicians with titles like Prof. Y.K. Ajao, Dr Orlando Owoh, General Prince Adekunle, General Kolington Ayinla, Commander Ebenezer Obey, Admiral Dele Abiodun, Queen Salawa Abeni, Barrister Smooth or Sikiru Ayinde Barrister who even called his home, “Fuji Chamber.’
Also, comedians who claim the title, GCFR, our highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic which they corrupt as ‘Grand Comedian of the Federal Republic’ should go, and sin no more. This is not a season for jokes. Finally, given the fact that the country is being overwhelmed by local and international terrorists, kidnappers, bandits, election riggers, corrupt politicians and all sorts of dangerous elements, I submit that we do not have the luxury of diversions.
So I suggest that the Federal Government sends an urgent Executive Bill to the National Assembly to ban the subversive, insurrectionary and treasonous prefix, Pro. It is the prefix that gave birth to the words protest, procession and propaganda which the unpatriotic use in our country. Such elements who claim to be progressives incite workers that they are the ‘proletariat’ subjected to prolonged suffering and the prohibitive cost of living.
They describe the government as the problem, professing no serious programme and that the ruling party’s acronym, APC actually means All Promises Cancelled. That the administration is not productive and the constitution is the product of military misrule. The government they claim has the propensity to blame others, subvert the due process, use projectiles on peaceful protesters, is profligate and prodigal while they are pro-poor and pro-people.
With this, the Buhari administration can continue its good works and lead the country, if possible, beyond the constitutional 2023 date; there is no need to change a winning team. After the editor, Kunle Ajibade was given life in 1995 for a phantom coup, the poet, Professor Niyi Osundare wrote that in the season, the reason was treason. This is a return to that season.