By Ladesope Ladelokun
If there is any shouting evidence that the vestiges of dictatorship still remain with us long after we bade military rule goodbye, it is the current travails of political activist and Sahara Reporters publisher, Omoyele Sowore. Since the beginning of the Fourth Republic on May 29, 1999, successive governments have worryingly engaged in practices that can best be described as antithetical to democratic norms. Put plainly, democracy has failed to end abuses that characterised the jackboot era of intolerance.
Who will forget the infamous Odi massacre and the disregard for a Supreme Court order that the Lagos State funds seized by the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo-led Federal Government be released? Or the clampdown on media houses perceived to be enemies of former President Goodluck Jonathan because of their criticism of his government for not adequately tackling Nigeria’s security problems? Who will forget the seizure of newspapers and destruction of thousands of copies by soldiers during the Jonathan administration which was described by the presidency then as “isolated incidents of security checks “?
In the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, nothing appears to have changed. Only recently, Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, said Nigeria had gone back to the repressive and dark days of the Abacha era following the unceasing human rights abuses traced to the Buhari government. Also, Nigerians known to be too critical of the present government have either been detained or their whereabouts unknown.
Back to the travails of Sowore, an egregious example of the blatant disregard for human rights and dissenting views was displayed when the activist was arrested and detained for calling out Nigerians to protest the failings of the Buhari government but was later charged with treasonable felony and accused of insulting the president.
True, #TheRevolutionNow convener called for a revolution to get Nigeria out of the woods – a call seen as an attempt to topple Buhari by his loyalists. To be fair, no lethal weapon has been caught with either Sowore or his disciples to provide evidence to support the claim of an attempt by the activist to violently take over the government of Buhari.
Rather than get agitated about the mention of revolution and protests, the Buhari government would do well to address the issues raised by the activist and his group. Except those who choose not to see the ugly realities confronting us on a daily basis, no one can deny that Nigeria is currently bedeviled by nagging security problems,grinding poverty, especially with Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world. Or is it the romance with individuals with various corruption allegations hanging over their heads who have now become new creatures by virtue of the fact they now belong to the ruling party? Or is it the economy that is in a tailspin?
Instead of breathing down the necks of Nigerians who demand good governance, the call to protest should be a wake up call to the concerned authorities to address the aforementioned problems for the betterment of Nigerians.
Curiously, the same government that would not allow harmless protesters a breathing space has no issues with negotiating with bloodthirsty terrorists that have brought sorrow, tears and blood to many homes, justifying their action with the argument that it is a global practice.
In the run-up to the 2015 elections, General Buhari had promised to uphold the rule of law and respect fundamental human rights, claiming to be a reformed democrat. Some of us believed because Integrity was his middle name. But time has since revealed it was the politician in him speaking.
Today, we are told national interest- as defined by Buhari and the Department of State Services, DSS- takes precedence over the rule of law. If we pretend to concede that the highlighted excuse for blatant disregard for the laws of the land is true, we can understand why former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki and Shiite leader, Sheikh Ibrahim Elzakzaky are still languishing in jail. But what would be the excuse for detaining Sowore after a court has granted him bail? Do Sowore and his apostles bear arms? Or is he known for coup plotting and disturbance of public peace? Why is it difficult for the Buhari government to obey court orders not in its favour?
The argument that Buhari is not the DSS does not hold water. These infractions happened on the watch of Mr President and the buck stops on his table as Nigeria’s number one security officer as he can’t feign ignorance of the excesses of the DSS. No doubt , the Buhari government is planting the seed of anarchy with its scant regard for court orders not in its favour, when it grows, history will definitely not be kind to the present government.
Interestingly, the same government that was quick to obey the order to detain Sowore has suddenly developed cold feet when the court granted him bail. Ordinarily, Nigeria’s biggest opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, should be vociferous about the worrying disdain for court orders not in favour of the Buhari government. But that is if it has the moral latitude for such. In PDP’s Cross River State, a journalist, Agba Jalingo, is in detention for a publication the government does not find friendly. Where then will the PDP derive the moral justification to call out the ruling party for its disturbing abuse of power?
Without any whiff of doubt, freedom of expression is under threat in Nigeria. And when a government justifies brazen disdain for court orders, it is not for any other reason but to kill dissenting voices. Little wonder Prof Wole Soyinka was quoted as saying the greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism.
It is time men of good conscience in the Nigerian Bar Association, the Nigeria Labour Congress and all civil society groups rose by exploring all constitutional means to save the judiciary imminent collapse and Nigeria from its gradual slide into anarchy.