By Olufemi Davies
It is an irony of immense proportions that the current government in Nigeria, which rode on the crest of free speech and clear avowal to tackle bad governance and corruption, has become the very anti-thesis of those problems,
How else can one comprehend the ongoing trial of renowned social crusader Omowole Sowore, and youthful Olawale Bakare on treason charges?
Their alleged offence: Planning a nationwide rally to protest misgovernance in the country and draw attention to critical sectors of the country that have been neglected by the current government! The planned protest was fittingly tagged: Revolution Now!!
Treason? Forcible takeover of power? Without an army – whether conventional or, even, ragtag ? How could the exercise of free speech by a citizen become treasonable?
These and many more posers cannot but agitate every rational mind.
Henceforth, all citizens must play the game of the three wise monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil!
That is the Nigeria that the Muhammadu Buhari administration desires and is bent on forcing on all citizens.
We have trod this path before.
Iconoclastic musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti was at the receiving end of state-sponsored repression for speaking truth to power. His house, the Kalakuta Republic, was burnt down by soldiers in broad daylight, his aged mother thrown down from the window – leading to her untimely death – and band members brutalized. He was eventually jailed by the then military administration of the then Major General Buhari for – wait for it – currency smuggling! The activist- musician who was arrested by the Police over 200 times on trumped-up charges, was accused of attempting to smuggle his own money out of Nigeria, whereas the money was to meet travel expenses for his musical band’s tour of Europe.
It took the change-over of power by another military adventurer, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, for Fela to regain freedom.
What riles is that Buhari, who was packaged as a “Born Again democrat” by his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is gradually turning full circle, returning Nigeria to the dark era of repression. Or, how can one explain the ongoing trial of Sowore and Bakare, I ask once again?
Chido Onumah, a Nigerian/Canadian journalist who visited Nigeria from Spain, was arrested by officers of the Directorate of State Services (DSS) right at the airport. His offence: Wearing a t-shirt expressing support for Biafra agitation.
Like its infamous predecessor, the Nigerian Security Organisation (NSO) under the late Muhammed Lawal Rafindadi, the DSS is gradually becoming a ready-made tool of repression. So, the arrest of Onumah did not come as a surprise.
If the Buhari civilian administration is fast losing steam on free speech and anti-corruption, could it kindly buck up and stop the growing cases of abuse of power by officers of state? A situation where a legal practitioner tries to enforce the right of his client who was illegally detained by Policemen, but is now daily being harassed by the officers, leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Fidelis Izegaegbe, a Lagos State-based reputable lawyer is currently under threat for no reason other than pursuing justice for his clients whose fundamental rights were savagely breached by the Police.
Bankole Babatunde, Gbadamosi Mutiu , Uboh Godfrey Effiom and Shittu Mufutau were all charged with conspiracy and stealing in 2015. Izegaegbe stood as their lawyer and showed the court that the purported confessional statements that the Police obtained from the accused persons were under duress.
The lawyer also filed for the enforcement of the fundamental rights of the accused persons, thus stepping, literally, on the tiger’s tail of the Police. At a point, the Police disingenuously attempted to rope the lawyer in, cooking up a charge of fraud and professional misconduct against him!
It was a simple trick of giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. They needed any excuse, however untenable, to arrest and make life difficult for the lawyer.
Like magicians that they are, the Policemen manufactured a man who accused the lawyer of fraud in the process of helping the man buy a house.
Of course, the devil is in the detail – In his over 10 years of legal practice, Izagaegbe has never been involved in the purchase of any house for a client. So, what is the proof for the said transaction? None! Where is the purported house? Nowhere!! Who was the seller? No one!!!
The accuser had no proof of payment to the lawyer; none to Izagaegbe’s personal bank account or that of the law firm. Then came the mother of all revelations! One of the Policemen kindly told the lawyer to drop the suit in which officers of the Police station were cited as defendants in the action to enforce the fundamental rights of his clients.
Men of the Nigeria Police have a peculiar history of barefaced lies to cover-up their misdeeds. Abayomi Ogundeji, a journalist and former aide of one-time Deputy Governor of Lagos State was found dead in mysterious circumstances at the Egbeda area of the state sometime in 2010.
He was shot in the head at the back, with the bullet shattering the rear windshield of his car. His dead body was found in his car facing the opposite direction to his house. Time of incident was between midnight and 1.00am. Policemen attributed the killing to armed robbery. Case closed.
However, the devil, again, is in the details. The late Abayomi had just about 20 minutes earlier left friends and colleagues at a pub and was driving home. So, how come his car faced the outbound direction, not the inbound?
The big bang: A miscreant in the neighbourhood swore thar Policemen on night patrol had set up shop for extortion at the area of incident. They ordered Abayomi to park, get down from the car to enable them conduct a nail-biting search for chassis number, vehicle license and other inconsequential items just because the journalist had refused to grease their palms. Apparently, the no-nonsense journalist protested and a Policeman drew out a gun and shot the citizen at close range.
Then came Police magic. To dispute the allegation that its men were responsible for the death of Ogundeji, the Police produced a hooded man at a press conference who claimed that Ogundeji was killed by armed robbers. Case closed. Eleven years on, no one has been arrested, let alone prosecuted, for the killing of Ogundeji.
The questions that agitate the mind: When will enough truly be enough for the victims of Police brutality and treachery, especially the senior lawyer? If the government has failed in fighting corruption, will it at least curb the impunity of its officers and men in the Police?
It is hoped that, like the soldiers who burnt down Fela’s Kalakuta Republic and threw his mother out of the window in a storey building, leading to her death, but got state protection – they were branded “unknown soldiers” by the government – Izagaegbe and his clients will find justice.