he Federal Government may have decided to charge some aides of Sunday Adeniyi Adeyemo a.k.a. Sunday Igboho with terrorism and treasonable felony, rather than release them on bail as ordered by a Federal High Court in Abuja, based on suggestions from the Attorney General of the Federation and feelers from the Department of State Services. That decision is puzzling, and it calls into doubt President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration’s commitment to the rule of law once again. This is especially true given that the individuals in question were known to publicly advocate for Yoruba rights to self-determination, based on several incidences of criminality in their territory that went unpunished or even condemned by the government. It is also worth noting that the charges were filed more than two months after the aides were arrested and weeks after the judge granted them bail.
The government is effectively instituting terrorist and treasonable felony charges against civilians who express contrary ideas to official policy, or as a means of deflecting protests of unlawful imprisonment by the State Security Services. It could be construed as a violation of the court’s procedure, a waste of taxpayer’s money, and an unjustified infringement on citizens’ rights.
Not only does this make a mockery of a State Security Agency that should be aware of the country’s real security challenges, especially given that it has previously failed to establish similar charges filed in similar circumstances, but it is also an affront to the democratic system of government that the country claims to follow as it seeks to silence views that are otherwise opposed to the current government.
Cases of arbitrary arrest, incarceration, and disobedience of court orders have plagued President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. Omoyele Sowore, a Political Activist, former African Action Congress Presidential Candidate, and convener of #RevolutionNow, was arrested and jailed in 2019 in connection with a planned rally demanding decent governance from the Buhari administration. The DSS had requested and received a court order to hold Mr. Sowore for 45 days prior to the filing of official charges against him.
Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), was detained in 2015 after a conflict between members of the movement and the entourage of the Chief of Army Staff at the time. He was held in detention with his wife for a long time and was finally charged in court after public outcry, protests, and a court order for his release. Despite the fact that a High Court in Kaduna recently ruled that the Sheikh’s alleged crime was unknown to law at the time it was purportedly committed, the Kaduna State government has brought new accusations against him, including terrorism and treasonable felony.
Colonel Sambo Dasuki, the former National Security Adviser in the Jonathan administration, was detained by the Department of State Security until December 2020, despite a court order for his release.
Following an Oyo State High Court judgment awarding Sunday Ighoho N20 billion in damages, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, intimated in a recent interview that the Government may pursue further charges against him. The Government’s charges appear to be an afterthought in the aforementioned cases, as the state lacked adequate evidence to prosecute its alleged offenders at the time of their arrest and incarceration. A government that is constitutionally mandated to defend and guarantee the liberty of its citizens should not be the perpetrator of constitutionally secured fundamental rights breaches. Furthermore, public agencies and institutions that are supposed to be emblems of upholding the rule of law should not be perceived as breaking the rules that they were created to enforce.
Security agencies should, of course, seize and punish those who pose a threat to national security, but they should do so based on reliable evidence rather than using the justice system to settle political scores. True, terrorists proliferate throughout most parts of the country’s Northcentral and Northwestern regions, killing, maiming, and abducting hundreds of people every day; nevertheless, the Attorney General and the White House have not judged their heinous acts to be terrorism. That is unmistakably a case of double standards and discrimination.
The Nigerian State is today divided along ethnic, religious, and political lines, and as a result, Government must be more careful and just in its judgments in order to avoid tipping the balance of a nation on the verge of a huge calamity. At a moment like this, the Government would be wise to engage its citizens, now labeled “agitators,” in dialogue in order to understand their problems and identify acceptable solutions, rather than resorting to persecutory punishment.
Without a doubt, there is a link between the current condition of instability, secessionist agitations, and political corruption, as well as inadequate leadership. For personal gains, public officials have ignored the values of unity, resulting in the deaths, impoverishment, and injustice of countless citizens. It is incumbent on President Buhari’s government to justify the Nigerian State’s ongoing existence by persuading the people that he does indeed belong to everyone and nobody, by enacting policies that are fair and just to all. The Government will not be able to accomplish this by preaching forgiveness in one part of the country while brandishing the heavy stick in another.