By Pius Okechukwu
For 10 days recently, Citizen Anthony Okolie was an unwilling guest of the Department of State Services (DSS). His alleged offence: Buying a SIM card of telephone service provider, MTN, previously used by Hannan, the youngest daughter of President Muhammadu Buhari.
As is public knowledge, MTN often invalidates SIM cards its customers for various reasons, one of which is proven non-use by the allottee for a considerable time.
It is standard practice, at least in Nigeria if not across the globe.
Citizen Okolie duly purchased the card from the company, unaware that it was a recycled SIM, much less that its previous owner was the daughter of the president.
How the purchase of a discarded SIM card from the service provider became a crime, punishable with detention – worse still, far beyond the maximum of 24 hours approved by law – and without obtaining an order of court – is yet another disturbing instance of Nigeria’s descent into fascism under the Buhari presidency.
Okolie’s plight was made public recently by the publisher of popular online medium, saharareporters, Omoyele Sowore, himself a recent victim of DSS high-handedness.
Sowore, and another Nigerian, Olawale Bakare are currently standing trial courtesy of the DSS, for allegedly planning a nationwide protest against the worsening state of the economy and – wonder of all wonders – for insulting the President!
The agency ignored court orders granting them bail and, at a point wrestled Sowore to the floor right inside a court in Abuja!
It took the resilience of the civil society, and an unambiguous intervention of the United States government before the Buhari regime reluctantly obeyed court orders for the release of Sowore and Bakare on bail.
Sowore became aware of Okolie’s plight while both were in the DSS dungeon. Bakare, who corroborated the story, shared detention cell with the victim.
The reign of impunity by the DSS did not start just now.
Former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki was in the DSS detention for about five years, courtesy of the agency. Several court orders for his release were ignored. He today breathes the air of freedom only because of the US government intervention in the Sowore saga.
he story has been the same for the leader of the Shiite Muslim group in Nigeria, Sheik Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky. Hundreds of his followers were mowed down by soldiers in December 2015 for allegedly holding down the convoy of Army Chief, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai. He has since then been in government detention along with his wife.
Sometime in September 2019, a Nigerian journalist and human rights activist Chido Onumah was arrested on arrival in Nigeria from a trip in Spain. His offence: Wearing a t-shirt bearing the inscription of Biafra.
A saharareporters journalist, Victor Ogungbemiro and several others were arrested by the DSS for holding street protest calling for the release of Sowore and Bakare. Currently in turmoil is the family of Festus Olabanji Omotoye, a leader of the Nigeria community in Pretoria, South Africa, who had among others received Sowore in South Africa shortly before the journalist travelled to Nigeria for the planned day of rage protest. His Nigeria home has reportedly been invaded by agents of the state.
Deji Adeyanju, a renowned activist, was severely beaten up by miscreants and left for dead for leading a protest demanding the release of Sowore and Bakare. He was rushed to a hospital in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates to receive treatment.
Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, had always been perceived to have a chummy relationship with the Buhari regime, having lent his moral weight against the then incumbent Goodluck Jonathan. Sowore’s lawyer, Femi Falana SAN was also a key ally of the Buhari regime, until the Sowore saga.
For demanding obedience of court orders by releasing Sowore and Bakare on bail, both Soyinka and Falana came under scathing media attacks by presidency officials and their social media Vuvuzelas.
Before our very eyes, Nigeria is sliding into fascism, and the gains of our hard-won democracy from the hands of military rulers in 1999 are gradually being reversed.
The question is: For how long shall the country be so debased and the people dehumanized? Of course, the answer is blowing in the wind.