Emmanuel Akuma’s detention

Citizen Emmanuel Akuma, a 29-year-old pharmacy intern with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) was reportedly arrested by the police on April 2, 2020 in Aba, Abia State, and has since then been languishing in the custody of the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID), Abuja. His father, Pastor Solomon Akuma’s narrative of his only son’s arrest and continued ordeal in police custody is heartrendering.  The victim’s crime was that he criticised and made social media posts threatening President Muhammadu Buhari.  The story is that in response to a Twitter post asking respondents what their next move would be if they got $1million, Emmanuel had allegedly tweeted that he would pay a Russian sniper to eliminate Buhari and Kyari. He was apparently referring to President Buhari and his then Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari.

On the face of it, the young man clearly crossed the line; his tweet was provocative and reckless.  No one deserves to be killed and no one has the right to kill anyone extrajudicially for any crime, real or imagined.  And a threat of assassination to a sitting president carries with it an element of treason. But this accusation will amount to making a mountain out of a molehill as it is evident that the young man does not have the capacity to execute the seemingly grave wish he posted online judging by the fact that as an intern with NAFDAC, he was just about to start a career in Pharmacy, and in any case, he was just responding to a hypothetical question posed by someone else about a far-fetched windfall that would not happen.  The likelihood of a young man with this kind of profile procuring the services of a foreign sniper to carry out high-profile assassinations in the country is virtually nonexistent and this should not take the security agencies over 300 days to unravel.

And if the official objective of his prolonged detention is to punish him for his careless post in a moment of frustration and hopelessness, then the police are already killing a fly with a sledgehammer.  The real criminals are out there having a field day; maiming, killing, kidnapping and extorting innocent citizens as if they are operating in an ungoverned space, yet an innocent young man who apparently expressed dissatisfaction with the prevailing grave socioeconomic and security situations, even if in a rather childish manner, is being visited with the maximum abridgement of his liberties under the law.  You do not treat a slight misdemeanour, which is even yet unproven, as a grave criminal offence; that amounts to disproportionate use of power which is rather unconscionable.

It is rather unfortunate that for almost three months after his incarceration, no charges were brought against Emmanuel; the executive resorted to self-help, as it were, to ensure that the victim suffered needlessly in police custody.  And when the charges that took three months to draft were filed, they were as baseless as they possibly can. Pray, how does a snide remark made by a young man on the spur of the moment become acts of terrorism, sedition, criminal intimidation of the President and threat to the life of Buhari?  Apparently, the protracted detention of the victim without trial was deliberate and derived from the official knowledge of the weakness of the charges that could hardly stand legal scrutiny.

Nonetheless, it is on record that the incarceration of the pharmacist for almost three months without a court order or arraignment amounts to violation of his inalienable rights and is a breach of the provisions of the Nigerian constitution. Is it not ironic, and sadly so, that in a clime where the government has consistently failed to deliver on virtually all indices of good governance, it is increasingly becoming notorious for intolerance of voices of dissent, violation of citizens’ basic rights, disdain for the rule of law and wittingly abridging the civic space?  Not even under the military did this kind of executive lawlessness happen, at least not in this brazen fashion.

To be sure, we do not approve of the kind of reckless and impulsive remarks that Emmanuel Akuma and his ilk are wont to make on social media in apparent ventilation of frustration and despondency, but we urge security agents to be more concerned with unravelling the veritable intent of such remarks and the likelihood or otherwise of their execution rather than resorting to disproportionate repressive actions against individuals who utter those seemingly offensive statements.  In the instance case, even though Akuma’s remark on Buhari and the late Abba Kyari appears weighty, reckless and reprehensible, it is nonetheless innocuous judging by the circumstances under which it was made and that should be more important to the government.  Thus, the government will be acting within the precincts of decency if it can facilitate expeditious disposal of Akuma’s case in the law court, or better still let him off the hook by withdrawing the case against him.  While we enjoin the youth to refrain from making thoughtless and reckless remarks on the social media or any other media channels, we urge the government to be more receptive of censure and bridle its propensity for taking precipitate actions against voices of dissent.

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