It will be wise for FG to release El-ZakZaky, wife —Ex-US envoy, Campbell
•Says ‘Nigeria’s political, security crises boiling over’ •‘Govt is clearly nervous’
A former United States Ambassador to Nigeria and Senior Fellow of the US Council for Foreign Relations (CFR) Mr John Campbell, in this blog posts, X-rays the state of security in Nigeria and also notes attacks on the media and an apparent unease in government circles as crises boil over across the country.
Nigeria’s challenges are multi-faceted, fundamental, and reach from one end of the country to the other. Over the past week, following another violent clash with the security services, the leader of a Shia movement was ordered to be granted bail; Borno state was hit with massive attacks by Boko Haram, taking the lives of scores of civilians and military personnel; and the leader of a small political party, who is also the editor of Sahara Reporters, was arrested shortly before planned protests could begin. Government responses to these crises appear so far to have been ineffective.
Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, the leader of the Shia Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and his wife have been in detention since 2015, when Nigerian army soldiers raided his headquarters and killed several hundred of his followers. At the time, el-Zakzaky and his wife were said to have been badly wounded.
The Nigerian authorities have said that they have been receiving medical attention ever since they were taken into custody. There have been repeated IMN demonstrations, often bloody, calling for their release. The Kaduna State High Court has granted them bail to receive medical treatment in India, and the State Security Service has indicated that it will comply. The Buhari administration proscribed the IMN in late July following a recent deadly clash. However, were el-Zakzaky or his wife to die in prison in Nigeria, IMN reaction would be fierce and likely lead to more deadly confrontations with security services. It is unclear what advantage Abuja gains from Zakzaky’s continued detention. It would be wise for the federal government to allow them to go to India for medical treatment.
To the northeast, the Multilateral Joint Task Force (MJTF) is denying reports that Boko Haram attacked a military base at Baga and killed dozens of soldiers. The MJTF spokesman is a Nigerian colonel. Unfortunately, Nigerian military spokesmen have little credibility. According to CFR’s Nigeria Security Tracker Weekly Update, there were an estimated 212 deaths—including soldiers, Boko Haram members, and civilians—associated with Boko Haram in Borno state between July 27 to August 2. Whatever happened at Baga, Boko Haram’s factions are on the upsurge.
With the country’s many brewing crises, a danger is overreaction by the security forces in Lagos, and, in the event that el-Zakzaky or his wife dies in government custody, to IMN protestors in Abuja. Overreaction could turn demonstrations into deadly confrontations, as has happened in Nigeria’s past. Meanwhile, government strategies have failed to destroy Boko Haram. In the face of these multiple challenges, the Buhari administration says that the security forces are working to address them and called on citizens to be patient.
Attacks on media continue unabated in Nigeria
There has been a string of arrests of media personalities and suspensions of media outlets in Nigeria. Recently, some of the arrests have been related to support for a protest tagged “Days of Rage” and #RevolutionNow, against what supporters consider a failure of governance, but the harassment of media in Nigeria is nothing new.
In January 2019, Nigerian Security Services raided multiple offices across the country of the Daily Trust, one of Nigeria’s largest circulation newspapers, apparently angry at its published reports about upcoming army operations against Boko Haram. President Buhari quickly ordered the military to leave the newspaper’s offices, raising questions at who exactly had ordered the raids. In April, an activist known as IG Wala was sentenced to seven years in jail for organizing a peaceful demonstration and for making “unsubstantiated allegations” against a public official, the chairman of the National Hajj Commission. He is in the process of appealing the ruling. He had been denied bail, which he requested on health grounds until his appeal could be heard. He was then transferred to a remote prison.
In June, DAAR Communications, owner of African Independent Television and RayPower FM radio, had its license suspended indefinitely, allegedly for failure to pay licensing fees and for the presence of hate speech and suspect information from social media in its programming. The following day a Federal High Court judge ordered the reopening of the networks. The owner of DAAR communications had accused the director general of the National Broadcasting Commission of editorial interference and political bias.
On August 2, Abubakar Dadiyata Idris, was apparently kidnapped. Family and friends are saying that he has been arrested by the SSS. Known as Dadiyata, he was a fierce critic of Governor Umar Ganduje of Kano state. The next day, the SSS arrested Omoyele Sowore, editor of Sahara Reporters, ostensibly for supporting the #RevolutionNow Lagos demonstration. He was also the presidential candidate for African Action Congress in the 2019 elections. His support for the demonstration was, according to the police, grounds for arresting him for advocating violence. There is a national and international campaign by some human rights advocates for his release.
Allegations against those arrested appear to be a mixture of the mundane, such as the failure to pay licensing fees, and various forms of incitement or criticism of government officials. It is worth noting that in at least some cases, courts have reversed arrests and suspensions.
The specifics of each case are obscure, at least for someone based outside of Nigeria. But people in authority are clearly nervous. The country is facing serious challenges ranging from Boko Haram to Middle Belt conflict over water and land use that falls along ethnic and religious lines. Amid these crises, social media in Nigeria, as elsewhere, can be irresponsible. Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna state has made explicit reference to the role of “fake news” to the Rwandan genocide. Nevertheless, what appears to be an acceleration of media arrests and intimidation must be cause for concern.