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Nigeria slipping into lawlessness, IYC, Afenifere, others warn

By Terhemba Daka, Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze, Oludare Richards (Abuja), Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos) and Julius Osahon (Yenagoa)
09 December 2019   |   4:15 am
The apex Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, again warned yesterday that the country is sliding into a state of despotism.“If Nigerians do not assert constitutionalism with all peaceful and democratic means, this country might well be resting in pieces...

• Presidency absolves DSS, declares agency acting ‘under its powers’
• No court invasion in 30 years of military dictatorship, Falana says

The apex Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, again warned yesterday that the country is sliding into a state of despotism.“If Nigerians do not assert constitutionalism with all peaceful and democratic means, this country might well be resting in pieces in the grip of dictatorship and arbitrariness,” the group said in a statement by its publicity secretary, Yinka Odumakin.

The admonition followed Friday’s invasion of an Abuja court by the Department of State Services (DSS) in a bid to re-arrest activist, Omoyele Sowore and consequent justification of the action by the presidency.“Does it occur to them that what the DSS did on Friday was a coup against the judiciary, worse than the un-staged revolution of Sowore? The statement shows this administration is far too gone in its way of riding roughshod over all that we hold dear as a nation,” Afenifere said.

In the statement referred to by Afenifere, Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, the presidency had said: “This is a matter for the DSS, acting under its powers. The DSS does not necessarily need the permission of the presidency in all cases to carry out its essential responsibilities that are laid down in the Nigerian Constitution – which was the foundation for the restoration of democracy in our country in 1999.

“It should not surprise anyone who has followed his actions and words that Sowore is a person of interest to the DSS. Sowore called for a revolution to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nigeria. He did so on television and from a privileged position as the owner of a widely read digital newspaper run from the United States of America.

“He founded an organisation, Revolution Now, to launch, in their own words, ‘Days of Rage’, with the publicised purpose of fomenting mass civil unrest and the elected administration’s overthrow. No government will allow anybody to openly call for destabilisation in the country and do nothing. Mr. Sowore is no ordinary citizen expressing his views freely on social media and the Internet.

“To believe in and desire armed revolution is not normal amongst ‘human rights activists’, as Sowore has been incorrectly described. Nigeria is already dealing with an insurgency that has left millions of people displaced and desperate in the northeastern region of our country.

“The Boko Haram militants, who are behind the violence, also fancy themselves to be fighting for some sort of revolution. Nigerians do not need another spate of lawlessness and loss of life all in the name of ‘revolution’, especially not one that is orchestrated by a man who makes his home in far away New York – and who can easily disappear and leave behind whatever instability he intends to cause, to wit, Nnamdi Kanu.”

The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) also warned: “Nigeria is fast sliding into a state of lawlessness under the watchful eyes of President Buhari. He must act now to save our dear country and democracy.”In a statement by IYC president, Eric Omare, the group said: “It is on record that the Buhari administration has one of the worst records of disobedience to court orders and desecration of the judiciary. The latest of this act of impunity is the invasion of the Federal High Court, Abuja Division, presided over by Justice Ojukwu, to forcefully arrest Sowore.

“We strongly condemn this act of impunity by security agencies under the Buhari administration. This is a worrisome development and gives the impression that these acts of impunity have the blessings of Mr. President.” Similarly, the Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria (CCFN) said: “Any democracy that is not entrenched on the rule of law will breed anarchy.” It noted the nation’s democracy is in danger if someone who has been granted bail by the court could be rearrested within the courtroom.

The executive secretary of the group, Rev. Fr. Uchechukwu Obodoechina, said: “It is very worrisome that such happens in our nascent democracy. The law should take its course. Nobody should be above the law. If anyone or any institution of government infringes on the dictates of the law, the law must take its course.”CCFN was established to serve the poor, promote charity and justice worldwide.

The Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project (SERAP) also condemned the statement by the presidency, which seems to compare Sowore with Boko Haram militants.”SERAP said: “We are concerned that Nigerian authorities continue to openly scorn the Nigerian constitution and the country’s human rights commitments. This concerted attack on the rule of law must stop.”

Meanwhile, in a statement yesterday, Sowore’s lawyer, Femi Falana, faulted “the self-contradictory press release of the SSS (DSS) in which an unsuccessful attempt was made to absolve itself of responsibility for the armed invasion of the Federal High Court, Abuja.”He explained: “Though, ordinarily, officers of the Service do not wear any uniform, on the 6th day of December, some of them were in mufti, many were not only armed but also masked while others disguised in lawyer’s black and white suit. Regardless of the form of appearance, the officers of the service inside Court No. 7 were identifiable by their roles and acts of seizing Sowore and pinning him down.

“It is an utter poor reasoning to say that Sowore’s supporters were also those bent on injuring him in order to arrest him. The argument of the service in this respect is as unfortunate and pitiable as the earlier argument of the service in respect of the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi who was once accused of wanting to set ablaze his own house.”

Falana added: “In the light of the foregoing, we reiterate our demand for the release of not only Sowore in obedience to court orders, pending the verdict of the court in their trial. We equally call for the release of all other political detainees, and criminal suspects who have been admitted to bail pending trial by competent courts.

“Finally, it is common knowledge that this country was ruled by military dictators for about three decades. On no occasion did security operatives invade court premises to arrest political activists inside a courtroom. Therefore, the bizarre harassment of courts cannot be tolerated under a democratically government that claims to operate under the rule of law.”