Moshood Adebayo Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja and Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has described the arrest of the publisher of an online news medium, ‘’Sahara Reporters,” Omoyele Sowore by the Department of State Security (DSS), as a travesty and violation of the fundamental rights of citizens to congregate and make public their concerns.
Soyinka said the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) in the last presidential election never engaged in any treasonable act as being claimed by the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mohammed Adamu.
Similarly, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) have called for Sowore’s unconditionally release, insisting that he has not committed any treasonable offence.
Specifically, Falana said “it is worrisome that the Buhari administration has decided to extend the ambit of the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act to cover individuals and organisations that are critical of official policies or perceived marginalisation within the federation. Thus, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) was proscribed as a terrorist body in 2017 for agitating for the excision of the Republic of Biafra from Nigeria while the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) was proscribed last week for organising rallies to compel the federal government to comply with a court order by releasing the Shia leader, Sheikh Ibraheem Elzakzaky and his wife from custody.”
But the presidency yesterday said Soyinka, Falana and others were engaging in double speak, insisting that the government would not succumb to their blackmail.
Operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS), in the early hours of Saturday arrested Sowore, who is also the convener of ‘#RevolutionNow’ protests.
But Soyinka, in a statement, titled: “Surely, Not Again!!!,” said the deployment of alarmist expressions such as “treason”, “anarchist”, “public incitement” and so on by security forces had become so predictable and banal that they have become meaningless.
The playwright said beyond the word ‘revolution,’ another much mis-used and misunderstood word, nothing that Sowore had uttered, written, or advocated suggested that he was embarking on, or urging the public to engage in a forceful overthrow of government.
“Nothing that he said to me in private engagement ever remotely approached intent to destabilise governance or bypass the normal democratic means of changing a government. I therefore find the reasons given by the Inspector-General, for the arrest and detention of this young ex-presidential candidate totally contrived and untenable, unsupported by any shred of evidence. His arrest is a travesty and violation of the fundamental rights of citizens to congregate and make public their concerns.
“This is all so sadly déjà vu. How often must we go through this wearisome cycle? We underwent identical cynical contrivances under the late, unlamented Sani Abacha, when he sent storm-troopers to disrupt a planning session for a similar across-nation march at Tai Solarin School, Ikenne. This was followed up by a personalised letter that was hand delivered by the State Security Services to me under their summons, at their Abeokuta so-called ‘Annexe’ with near identical wording to the threats contained in today’s release from the desk of the Chief of Police. At least, I was summoned, not subjected to a terrorist midnight arrest. Some irony!
“The same pattern Pavlovian conduct manifested itself under yet another supposed democratic ruler who personally declared that the gathering of civilians to deliberate on, and propose a constitution for the nation was ‘high treason’, and would be resisted by the full rigour of state power if we persisted. The Inspector-General of Police mobilised his forces and issued inflammatory proclamations, but PRONACO went ahead despite all the thundering from Aso citadel. Can the police ever learn anything also their tear-gassing and brutalising of grieving mothers who marched peacefully to protest the deaths of their children in a plane crash inferno?
“Their mission, under that same regime, which was simply to deliver a letter to government house in Lagos, demanding greater safety in airline operations, yet such a rational intent, born of traumatic circumstances, was quashed on the sidewalks of a supposed twentieth century nation.
“And yet again, even a faceless cabal under yet another civilian regime refused to be left out of the insensate play of power. A march on Aso Rock calling for an end to governance by a ghostly entity was slated to be crushed, but fortunately, a conflicting balance of interests decided in favour of a reduced trajectory of protest. And so on and on and on, in a nation which continues to speak at once through both sides of the mouth, spewing out the same treason monotone, as if this was a magic incantation that could substitute for the venting of mass feelings, even as collective therapy,” he said.
The octogenarian, who noted that the demonstrations and processions were time honoured, added that it is a democratic way of drawing not only the attention of government to ills, but of mobilising the public towards a proactive consciousness of their condition, and thereby exhorting civil society also to devise means of ameliorating their condition through their own efforts.
On his part, Falana said, if revolution has become a criminal offence in the country, then the leaders of the APC would have been charged for claiming to have carried out “ Nigeria’s democratic revolution which terminated the 16-year rule of the PDP in 2015?”
He asked further: “Why was Dr. Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, the presidential candidate of the Young Progressive Party (YPP) not threatened with treason when he asked Nigerians to rise up for revolution via the 2019 general election? Did all Nigerian senators led by APC members not commit treason or terrorism when they spent one and a half hours on May 14, 2019 to debate Senator Chukwuka Utazi’s timely motion on ‘Bridging the gap between the haves and have-not to nip in the bud the seeds of a looming violent revolution?’ I wish to submit, without any fear of contradiction, that neither the Criminal Code Act nor the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act has classified the demand for revolution in Nigeria as a treasonable offence or terrorist activity. The statement credited to the police is a sad reminder of the jittery reaction of the British Colonial invaders to series of lectures organised by the Zikists Movement in 1948 which Comrade Edwin Madunagu has described as a major intervention at a time that bourgeois politicians were dividing the country along ethnic lines. For demanding revolution via public lectures the Zikists were charged with sedition, tried, convicted and jailed.”
He reminded President Buhari and other leaders of APC of how he (Falana) fought through the courts to allow them protest and organise rallies as members of the opposition under the PDP, without harassment, arrest and intimidation, adding that “it will not only be primitive but also retrogressive if Nigeria continues to require a pass to hold a rally. We must borrow a leaf from those who have trekked the rugged path of democracy and are now reaping the dividend of their experience.”
Speaking in the same vein, the PDP, through its National Vice Chairman (South West), Dr. Eddy Olafeso said “We note with concern the growing penchant of the Buhari administration to arrest citizens and effortlessly clamp them into detention at will. This action to say the least, manifestly underscore the tyrannical tendencies of this APC administration. We condemn the arrest of Omoyele Sowore by security agents in the early hours of Saturday.
“This arrest is certainly premised on the planned demonstrations to reawaken Nigerians to the fact that our nation continues to fail and flounder under the ineffectual President Muhammadu Buhari who so far continues to display absolute lack of capacity and capability to tackle the many challenges confronting our nation.
“We demand immediate release of Omoyele Sowore and other prisoners of conscience currently incarcerated, while also demanding that further plans of repression be suspended forthwith,” the party said.
Senior Special Assistant to the president on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in a statement said, Soyinka, like other critics of government call out the police for not maintaining law and order, calling for perpetrators to be brought to book expeditiously but turn around to condemn the police and President Muhammadu Buhari, when actions are taken to forestall criminality, comparing him to a dictator.
“You mentioned the name of Professor Wole Soyinka. Some of these critics of government are people whom we have great respect and admiration for. When things are going wrongly with law and order in the country, they say the police are not doing their work. They raise their voices, asking ‘the culprits to be booked and expeditiously punished in the most severe manner.’
“The police under a new leadership is now rising to the occasion, saying ‘we cannot take any more atrocities against the law in our country’ and they are saying don’t do anything. They are calling out President Buhari and comparing him to autocratic leaders. This is an unpardonable blackmail that cannot stop the police and other law enforcement agencies from doing their work.
“A Nigerian is by right empowered to call for a change of government using constitutional means; to protest peacefully against government policies and decisions. But to call for the violent overthrow of a democratically elected government and president and worse – were those calling for it to attempt to do so – is not acceptable under any law in Nigeria.
“Violence will never be accepted again as a way to change governments in this country. Those days are gone.
“Nigeria has a well-crafted constitution and elaborate laws governing elections that guide an orderly succession in government. We have a judicial system that actively serves as a watchdog of the people’s rights.
“Yet, we are daily witnesses to obscene display of delight in the killing of our soldiers and policemen, an open contempt for the country’s laws and its people, accompanied by loud cheers from the so-called New Media. Is this the way to grow a country?”