AGENTS of the Department of State Services, DSS, arrested Omoyele Sowore, presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, AAC, in the February 2019 elections and founder of Sahara Reporters, in Lagos. Sowore neither was in a bush hideout or camp training to invade Abuja or any of our cities nor was he found with arms or an invading army that could suggest he was indeed getting ready for a bloody revolution, as state prosecutors have described his call for accountability.
The DSS operatives that went to effect his arrest found him in a room in a hotel they know very well and took him into custody without resistance from him or anyone around him. All of which goes to show that, although Sowore might have called his group #RevolutionNow and spoken loudly about dismantling state institutions, he had nothing more than his words to execute his so-called revolution. His revolution was, therefore, more than anything else a rhetorical rather than a bloody campaign. But his words were potent enough to unsettle Abuja and send it in to a blind rage that may well lead it down a dangerous path that will forewarn other critics of the government of the need to take a less pacific approach to their engagement with Abuja.
Sowore has since last month been held under the law with its origins under the military that allows the state to detain an individual for an indefinite period of time for real or perceived offences. This was the original intention of the infamous Decree 2 under which many Nigerians suffered unspeakable hardship under the military. The only difference here, if any at all, is that under its present incarnation and operationalisation as treasonable offences act under the Muhammadu Buhari administration, this apparently revised law allows for the detention of persons for 45 days in the first instance. The detention order is renewable. A few days after his abduction (for that is what it was) by DSS operatives, Sowore was thereafter charged to court for treasonable offences to confer an appearance of legality to his abduction. It was based on this that Justice Taiwo Taiwo remanded him in detention for 45 days.
With nothing by way of evidence for his detention (or can mere words that a man planned a violent overthrow of a constitutional government or travelled to meet with supposed dissidents in a country he has never been to amount to evidence?), the DSS simply waited more or less for the expiry of the 45 days detention order. Altogether, Sowore has been held for more than 45 days. But on the eve of the expiry of the first 45 days of his detention, on September 21, Abuja decided to charge him with treasonable offences on seven counts that more or less reprise the earlier charges that led to his being held for 45 days. The meat of the current charge, aside from his so-called treasonable action, is that he, allegedly, engaged in money laundering, cyberstalking and insulted President Buhari. One does not have to be a legal expert to see the emptiness of Sowore’s alleged crimes. Each of these charges appears laughable (except for their potentially tragic consequences) and will not bear scrutiny. Taken together, they amount to the action of a government unsure of its place among Nigerians. Which would explain why the government is being described as paranoid.
The arrest of Sowore in the first instance smacks of paranoia. Which government except one afflicted with a desperate form of paranoia would arrest a citizen simply for calling for street protests that have been going on now under sometimes violent circumstances for months, non-stop, in Hong Kong that is under the overall control of a supposed mainland Chinese dictatorship? For how many weeks did the Yellow-Vest protest run in France? How many French youths have been charged for treasonable offences because of their participation in these protests? But Sowore did not even have the opportunity to take over the streets before he was arrested and is now being charged for treasonable offences?! Oh yes, he twice remitted thousands of dollars (about $16, 000 on each occasion) from his US accounts into his United Bank for Africa accounts. What exactly is the point being made here – that he concealed the lodgements? For what? To purchase arms or rent a crowd to take over the streets as a prelude to toppling Buhari’s government? What point is Abuja straining to make here?
As to his alleged harassment of Buhari on the internet – in what way did he do this and how has this affected governance? Has this led to Nigerians taking to the streets or Sambisa forest in violent revolt? How does this translate into an attempt at a violent overthrow of a constitutional government? If, as is alleged, Sowore insulted Buhari in a television interview, isn’t there a government agency that looks into such infractions? Where is the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC, in all of this? Or has the address of this Commission moved to the presidency? How can a government be this thin-skinned? Not even Donald Trump (a confirmed television addict), with all the insults he gives and he is in turn given, has resorted to this kind of arm-twisting tactic. Is it Buhari or his handlers that are behind all of this? Shouldn’t they be concerned about the optics of their action? Given his past as a military dictator, one would have expected Buhari and his minders to be wary of actions that portray them as grossly intolerant.
Yet, Nigerians continue to witness a growing degree of intolerance under the Buhari administration. If the president and the presidency are not calling their critics unpatriotic, their supporters like Nasir el Rufai are scouting the media for utterances of these critics that are misnamed hate speech, even when these hate speech hunters themselves purvey some of the worst forms of hate speech. At other times, it is the military under Buhari that are shutting down NGOs or making decisions as to which can operate and where. The Muhammadu Buhari Media Organisation is yet another arm of the president’s base that is investing heavily in this growing culture of intolerance, now going to the extent of deciding which Nigerians can and cannot work in government.
The right of free expression is being heavily curtailed and one wonders what is left if a beleaguered people lose their voice. The action of this government invokes the image of some of the worst dictatorships ever to emerge from Africa and this should be a concern to a president who postures as a reformed dictator. Stella Nyazi has been in jail since last year for insulting Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni’s mother. Now Sowore may be going to jail for “insulting” Buhari. Who is next?