Perhaps, no other story attracted as much attention last week as the drama orchestrated by the Department of State Security (DSS), an agency under the watchful care of the presidency.
The now familiar story is that Nigeria’s secret police last Friday stormed a Federal High Court, Abuja, to re-arrest Omoyele Sowore, the RevolutionNow convener and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare.
Both men are being prosecuted for alleged treason, money laundering and insulting President Muhammadu Buhari.
The DSS had released the duo Thursday night, having detained them in its custody for 124 days after their arrest in August over alleged plans to lead a nationwide protest against bad governance.
Two separate court orders for their release were ignored by the DSS until Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu on Thursday, December 5, ordered the agency to release both men within 24 hours.
To the consternation of many, the DSS after complying with Justice Ojukwu’s order Thursday, returned Friday, barely 24 hours after obeying the order, to invade same court and disrupt proceedings.
The DSS has since claimed in a statement that its operatives never invaded the court. Their denial was quickly debunked by counsel to Sowore, Femi Falana, who said that even the head of the DSS team tendered an apology to Mrs Ojukwu after the invasion.
The world has risen in unison to condemn the development. Even the United States (US) government, through the State Department, lent its voice via its official Twitter handle.
It said, “We are deeply concerned that #Sowore has been re-detained in #Nigeria, shortly after a court-ordered he be released on bail. Respect for rule of law, judicial independence, political and media freedom, and due process are key tenets of #democracy.”
Dancing out of tune
President Buhari, predictably, has been mute, leaving his media aides to manage a most embarrassing situation. And, indeed, they have been at work!
In absolute loyalty to their pay master, Buhari’s aides have defended the action of the secret police and distanced the President from the scandal. It’s a tough assignment, no doubt. So, this was expected. After all, he who pays the piper dictates the tune. It would have been a misnomer if Garba, Adesina had acted contrarily.
Finding justification for DSS’ action, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said Sowore remained a “person of interest” to security agencies and that the DSS needed no permission from the president to do its work whenever it deemed necessary.
“The DSS does not necessarily need the permission of the Presidency in all cases to carry out its essential responsibilities that are laid down in the Nigerian Constitution – which was the foundation for the restoration of democracy in our country in 1999.
“However, it should not surprise anyone who has followed his actions and words that Sowore is a person of interest to the DSS,” he said.
Femi Adesina, the other media aide to Buhari, offered what many have considered a most lousy response or defense. Apparently in total disregard for empirical studies, he said that less than 100, 000 Nigerians were actually complaining about the re-arrest and continued detention of Sowore.
Adesina, who spoke on a live television programme aired by Channels, said millions of Nigerians were not bothered about Sowore and whatever he and his co-defendants were experiencing in the hands of the state.
“I don’t particularly agree with you when you say a lot of Nigerians (are not happy) with Sowore’s re-arrest. You know that all this noise has been coming from less than 100,000 Nigerians. And the noise will be so loud that you think it is the whole country.
“It is a country of 198 million people. When just 100,000 are making noise in the social and traditional media, you would think the whole country is in an uproar. There are millions and millions of people who are not bothered.
“There are millions of people who know what the issues are. So, you cannot just seek the opinion of a local minority and then conclude that the country is in an uproar.”
Shehu and Adesina are unmistakably dancing to the drum beats of an orchestra located not too far away from the presidency. In doing so, they have attracted great opprobrium, generating more controversies and further degrading whatever may be left of the image of Nigeria’s fledgling democracy.
What has been admitted, therefore, on either side of the divide, is that the DSS overshot its bounds and in the process desecrated the hallowed chambers of the Nigerian courts. Their approach to effecting the arrest of Sowore can best be described as crude and indefensible.
Until Adesina provides evidence of the survey that threw up 100,000 as number of tiny Nigerians backing Sowore, his postulations must be seen as lacking in merit.
2 other things:
Osinbajo misses on awards
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has become an unlikely casualty of the Sowore saga. He is going to miss on awards having been adjudged as being tangentially involved in the mismanagement of the relationship between and among Nigeria’s democratic institutions.
The Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism had selected Osinbajo as one of those it would confer an honorary award during its 14th Wole Soyinka Award Presentation on December 9.
However, a day to the event, the centre in a statement on its verified Twitter handle -@WSoyinkaCentre, and signed by its Executive Director/CEO, Motunrayo Alaka announced it would no longer present its award to the vice president as earlier scheduled.
It wrote: “The Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism has postponed the presentation of an award to the Nigerian Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo.
“The postponement was decided on, to align with protests against the repression of #FreedomOfSpeech in recent times, especially the incident between the Department of State Security (DSS) and @YeleSowore, Publisher of @SaharaReporters, on Friday 6 December.
Osinbajo had, in a message to the organisers of the award, confirmed he was in agreement with them for the postponement of the award.
“The Vice President @ProfOsinbajo himself shares this awareness and the inappropriateness of the award at this point.”
He said though he accepts the award, he was not going to receive it at this time. He gave two reasons for his action.
“The award, I note, is for our Justice reform efforts in Lagos State. I had accepted the award with pride on behalf of the excellent Justice Sector team we had.
“However, two reasons explain my absence. First is that I am currently in Abu Dhabi for an international meeting under the auspices of the government of the UAE where I am the keynote speaker.
“Second, in view of the developments on Friday in the Sowore case, I think it would be insensitive and inappropriate to attend the ceremony.”
Osinbajo may not have outrightly condemned the court invasion and Mr Sowore’s re-arrest, but his reaction to the award, some analysts say, seems to have shown his dislike of the DSS action.
Aisha’s dictatorial blues
Aisha Buhari also ignited some conversation last week, levying accusations on her husband’s aides and the communications minister, Isa Ibrahim.
She alleged they have failed to put enough efforts to fight fake news, more especially those aimed at her husband.
According to her, some Nigerians have been plotting to use social media to “bring down the government.” She lamented that government officials had been soft on peddlers of fake news, allowing them to mock Buhari’s personality with “no consequences.”
“The Minister of Communications that is supposed to give an order, to bring an end to fake news, talked about it and everybody laughed and that was the end of it. No consequences for any offenders? Nothing? You say what you like and you go free.
“There is no way we will have such a society and have peace in it. When there are no consequences, everyone does what they want and almost everything is in disarray.”
Aisha had stated this during a phone-in programme on Journalists’ Hangout, a programme on Television Continental.
Many wonder if Aisha has a fair understanding of how the judicial processes work. Does she really expect the Minister to “give an order?” Or, could she be dreaming the barrack days when the husband ruled by decrees? She could, perhaps, be forgiven having been in the eye of the storm lately for various snide remarks on social media.
Let’s just say her remarks on “give orders” was a slip of tongue.