ON June 12, men of the Department of State Services (DSS) stopped a rally by the Yoruba Summit Group in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. The DSS operatives were reported to have arrived at the front of the Government House, Agodi Arcade, venue of the event, in five buses at seven o’clock in the morning and barricaded the area. They arrested three persons among the organisers of the event and took them to the state headquarters of the DSS at Aleshinloye, Ibadan. The rally was called to address the issue of growing insecurity in the South-West and the country in general arising from incessant kidnappings and wanton attacks on farmlands.
Similarly, the DSS on the same day arrested some social media users for allegedly posting “inciting materials and misleading statements.”Peter Afunanya, DSS public relations officer, announced the arrest of the social media users in a statement. According to him, those arrested were involved in “deliberate plots to incite or pit one ethnic group against the other by stoking the embers of tribal sentiments to cause disaffection and violence across the country.” In the last couple of years, online journalists and activists have been subjected to increasing extra-legal harassment and intimidation for their activities, with the police raiding the homes of targeted bloggers or seizing their equipment.
Previously, the attention of the authorities had been drawn to the activities of the police indiscriminately arresting and detaining citizens across the country. Hundreds of protesters thronged Abuja in May to agitate against the unconscionable conduct of some police officers in their handling of female detainees. The police had raided many nightclubs, hotels and bars in Abuja and in the process arrested numerous women for alleged prostitution. Earlier, residents of Ayobo area of Lagos had raised the alarm regarding serial arrests by officers of the Nigeria Police Force after a video of a policeman said to have killed a bus driver went viral online. In June, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) suspended the licence of Africa Independent Television (AIT) and Raypower until a court overturned the suspension. Civil society leaders and members of opposition parties have continued to express concern about crackdowns on internet freedom despite the assurances from the government that it supports media rights.
These clampdowns on citizens do not reflect the fact that Nigeria is under democratic rule where fundamental human rights are sacrosanct. It is not acceptable, and we call on the government to caution the security agents to desist from such acts. Furthermore, we call on the victims to seek legal redress. Such acts of recklessness and impunity will only multiply if they go unchallenged. We also call on civil society groups, especially the human rights groups, to beam their searchlight on these issues and bring it to the attention of the National Human Rights Commission and the courts. It has become imperative to double the effort in protecting human rights in order to avoid the descent of the country into dictatorship and anarchy.
Given the actions by security agents, it is not surprising that Nigeria ranks very low on the Freedom House Index. It is a tragedy that a country that has commemorated 20 years of uninterrupted democratic government is ranked only as partly free on that index.