Sowore: Nigeria in advanced stage of totalitarian rule — Afenifere, others
• ‘Govt driving honest investors away’ • Country moving towards anarchy —M/Belt Forum • Sack DSS boss now —NBA • Law enforcement officials not above the law — NHRC
Pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenirere, and other notable Nigerians, socio-cultural and professional organisations have expressed anger and fear that the country is sliding into authoritarian rule with regard to how security agencies under the current government are trampling on rights of the citizens and brazenly violating the rule of law.
Apparently reacting to the invasion of a Federal High Court in Abuja and the subsequent re-arrest of convener of #RevolutionNow protest, Omoyele Sowore, and an associate, Olawale Bakare, on Friday, by men of the State Security Service (SSS), otherwise called Department of State Services (DSS), Afenirere specifically described the conduct of the SSS men as barbaric and “a sad commentary on advanced stage of totalitarian rule in Nigeria.”
‘Govt driving honest investors away’
The apex Yoruba group, while expressing disappointment with the way the SSS operatives invaded the court “in a Gestapo manner to chase the judge away, harass journalists and drag Sowore on the floor, without the government saying anything up till now,” condemned what it termed desecration of the temple of justice, adding that it was a “Black Friday witnessed by Nigerians.”
Spokesperson of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, gave this reaction in a telephone interview with Sunday Tribune, saying it was too shameful for the SSS to have treated Sowore, who had already been released by the agency with his passport still in its custody, as well as the judge and journalists, in that manner inside the court of law.
“What happened to Sowore on Friday was barbaric and a sad commentary on the advanced stage of totalitarian rule in Nigeria. Sowore was already charged to court, granted bail, they (DSS) released him on Thursday. His passport is with them. But they came in a Gestapo manner, invaded the court on Friday, chased the judge out of court, harassed journalists and threw Sowore on the floor like a criminal.
“That’s a court the Nigerian government has not brought Fulani herdsmen to, let alone Boko Haram men. You are treating them with respect. You don’t drag them on the floor. To now bring Sowore to court and give him such treatment is too shameful,” Odumakin said.
Speaking further, the Afenifere chieftain said with the incident, judges would likely begin to entertain fear in the discharge of their duties, noting the affected judge would have been killed on Friday, had she not run away.
He said Nigerians should not see the situation as mainly that of Sowore, but something that concerned everyone, as it had to do with trampling upon Nigerians’ rights.
“You know, with what they are now doing, our judges would now sit in fear. The judge that ran out yesterday (Friday) would also have been killed. The judge ran away. And for us not to have a word from the government shows the abyss we have descended to in this country. Let nobody see this thing as being that of Sowore now. It is about the trampling on everyone’s rights. Now, they have come to court to desecrate the temple of justice. It was a Black Friday,” he said.
Odumakin pointed out that the implication of the development for the nation’s economy was that only crooked investors would come and invest in the country.
According to him, “there is no genuine investor that would come to invest in such country, except crooked ones. Who would try that in the midst of fear and anarchy?
“Those (crooked investors) are the ones that can come to this country now,” he said.
‘International community may hold us in disdain’
Also speaking with Sunday Tribune, national president of Middle Belt Forum, Dr Bitrus Pogu, said it was unfortunate that Nigeria was gradually degenerating into a banana republic where the rule of law is no longer respected.
“Security agencies do whatever they like based on what they called their extant laws. They behave as if the constitution of the country is not binding on them, whereas the constitution of Nigeria is supreme and cannot be overridden by any other law. It is unfortunate if an organisation such as the DSS can behave that way. It means our future as a country is bleak and we are heading towards anarchy. The earlier this is checked, the better.
“In a developed country, such a thing doesn’t happen; the rule of law is respected. If the police want to arrest, they still treat the person humanely and with respect. But here, it is like these organisations have their own law which is above the constitution. It is very unfortunate,” he said.
According to him, there is the possibility that the international community will view Nigeria as a pariah country, in view of its serial flagrant disobedience to court orders, arbitrary arrest of citizens without recourse to laid-down procedures.
“Already, that is the perception of the international community. It is no longer a new thing that government disobeys court orders at will. The SSS is doing whatever it feels like doing. This is a way to anarchy. To make the matter worse, these security agencies, in some cases, fight one another. With all these, the international community will not see us as a serious nation, but a bunch of people in a zoo, rather than a country,” he said.
NBA wants DSS boss sacked
In its reaction, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said this in a statement issued on Saturday by its national publicity secretary, Kunle Edun, that all Nigerians should defend the rule of law.
It also demanded the immediate suspension of the Director-General of the DSS on the grounds that, under his leadership, the service had become “a brutish and irresponsible agency that derives immense pleasure in violating the fundamental rights of Nigerians and disrespecting court orders.
“The NBA finds it disgraceful that this ‘court riot,’ occasioned by the high-handedness and insensitivity of the security operatives, interrupted judicial proceedings and made the presiding judge, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, to abandon judicial proceedings because of safety concerns.
“The NBA strongly condemns the action of the SSS, which is another in the series of impunity and lawlessness it exhibited. The invasion of the court by the agency of the Federal Government runs contrary to the avowed assurances of the president that he will ensure that the Federal Government and agencies under it obey court orders.
“The disrespect of the court by the DSS is legendary and unrivalled. Few days ago, police officers exhibited similar traits when they also invaded the precincts of the High Court, Effurun, Delta State, to arrest the chairman of Sapele branch of the NBA, Mr Ademi-Akpeto.
“Many Nigerians are still in unlawful custody and not charged to court. Nigerians are now under siege by security agents who have no regard for the law and the courts. The NBA urges all Nigerians to be alive to their responsibilities as citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and it is ready to partner with all Nigerians and civil society organisations to ensure that the rights of Nigerians, as guaranteed by Chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) are not trampled upon by any agency of government,” it added.
Nigerians are not surprised –Professor Akintoye
Leader of Yoruba World Congress, Professor Banji Akintoye, in his reaction, said the development was strange, but noted that he never felt Nigerians were surprised about it.
The renowned historian spoke with Sunday Tribune on the telephone, pointing out that the citizens wouldn’t be surprised anymore, as they were used to what he described as “gradual erosion of the concept of democracy and rule of law in our land.”
“It is happening relentlessly and that is the way it is. The big question is: What should we, Nigerians, do because we are having all our rights gradually being taken away?” he asked.
He lamented that even the courts were no longer being allowed to play the role of arbiter between the citizens and the government, a development he said came about because the government and the law enforcement agencies no longer respected any ruling from the courts.
“Even the courts are no longer being allowed to play the role of arbiter between us and the government because the government does not respect any ruling from the courts. That’s it. The law enforcement people do not recognise any ruling,” he said.
‘Lawlessness will lead country into further poverty’
The Yoruba leader added that “the concept of democracy is being confidently eroded in Nigeria and the people have no right. If the people can’t feel that there is a law protecting them while the people ruling them have absolute power over them, there is no way you can expect progress, even economic progress.
“And people are saying there is growing poverty in Nigeria. The chances now are that it will grow more and Nigeria is already classified as the foremost land of extreme poverty in the world. It will just continue to be worse and worse.
“The World Bank says it will go on like this. In some time not long from now, Nigeria will be the home of 25 per cent of the extremely poor people of the world. It can happen.
“Some United Nations (UN) reports said that Nigerians are the poorest today in access to a lot of things: electricity, good, safe and motorable roads, reliable public administration and ordinary potable water.
“One UN country analysis even said ‘Nigeria is one of the poorest and most unequal countries on earth and that Nigeria is constantly under pressure of fear of insecurity.’ And this is because the people who rule us, what they lay emphasis on is control, control and control. Their concern is not of the improvement of life and comfort of the people they rule over.”
It was a show of shame, disgust –Ozekhome
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, condemned the action of the security agents, while the Middle Belt Forum (MBF) said, with such devel
Chief Ozekhome said, “the nation’s secret service danced naked in the streets when it invaded a court of law in an attempt to arrest Sowore, accused of a treasonable felony over his #RevolutionNow mantra.”
The senior lawyer said it was a show of extreme shame, disgust and degeneracy to see secret security descend to “the abysmal gutters of physically invading the hallowed chambers of a court of law to forcefully arrest a suspect, resorting to crude and unorthodox ‘Hitlerite’ Gestapo tactics in a supposed constitutional democracy.”
Ozekhome added that when a government that is supposed to respect and protect institutions, citizens› rights and the rule of law, invaded and desecrated the sacred precincts of a court of law, then, the country was in trouble.
“Friday’s disgraceful and atrocious outing by the DSS is the clearest exemplification of a rudderless state in search of a redemptive deus ex machina.
“A government that is short on tolerance to criticism, plurality of voices and opposition and which serially violates citizens’ rights and disobeys court orders is a ready recipe for organised disenchantment.
“Our constitutional democracy should be one modelled on the rule of law and not on the rule of the thumb of a benevolent ruler, even if dictatorial, tyrannical, absolutist and fascist,” he said.
You are not above the law –NHRC tells DSS
The NHRC, in its reaction, reiterated the need for law enforcement officials to be law-abiding and not be above the law.
The commission said security officials were paid with taxpayers’ money and, as such, there is no room for impunity and utter disregard for the constitution.
“Our democracy is founded on the principle of separation of powers and all citizens, including law enforcement officials, must understand the implications of that and are enjoined to respect the law and the constitution in the enforcement of the law.”
The commission directed all the relevant agencies of government to arrest and try all law enforcement officers involved in the “desecration of the hallowed chambers of the Federal High Court Abuja, on Friday, 6 December, for contempt in front of the court.
“They should be tried to serve as a reminder to all law enforcement agents that they must obey the law in carrying out their law enforcement duties.”
‘Despite all entreaties, security agents still bully our members’
The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), in a statement signed by its national secretary, Lema Shuibu, said it had, on several occasions, initiated moves towards fostering safety of journalists and building synergy with agents of the state, but despite that, journalists were still subjected to brutalisation by security agents.
“There is, indeed, an overriding need and urgency to promote safety of journalists and fight impunity against them, in order to create the enabling environment they require to optimally perform their fundamental functions in a democracy,” he said.
The union condemned the DSS and called for disciplinary measures against “whosoever authorised that jungle behaviour of the DSS operatives” and demanded for “an unqualified apology from the Federal Government for the dastardly conduct of the SSS and an assurance that such an unwholesome conduct will not repeat itself.”
Presidency, APC must keep democratic ideals
—Gov Makinde’s aide
Meanwhile, Special Adviser on Strategy and Political Matters to the Oyo State Governor, Babatunde Oduyoye, described the development an attack on democracy and the sanctity of the judiciary.
In a statement made available to journalists in Ibadan, the state capital, on Saturday, Oduyoye maintained that “the attack on Sowore inside the courtroom, which reportedly led to a judge scampering for safety, was the peak of several threats to democracy under the All Progressives Congress (APC) government.”
The former minority whip of the House of Representatives flayed the SSS officials “for allowing their overzealousness to get the better of them,” noting that attempt to arrest Sowore inside the courtroom was an affront on democratic ideals.
He maintained that threats to democracy and democratic ideals had been coming in different guise under the APC-led government, making reference to APC members, including a serving Senator in Oyo State, who had been boasting about how the Supreme Court would hand over Oyo State, which they obviously did not win, to them.
He called on the Presidency to institute a probe into the incident involving Sowore, “in order to clear itself of culpability in the matter,” while also charging it to call its agencies and members of the APC to order so as not to overheat the polity and cause the crisis in the country.