Igboho, terrorism and secession agitations
Going by suggestions by the Attorney General of the Federation and feelers from the Department of State Services, the Federal Government may have decided to file charges of terrorism and treasonable felony against some aides of Sunday Adeniyi Adeyemo a.k.a. Sunday Igboho, rather than release them on bail as ordered by a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja. That decision is curious and has once again brought to question President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s respect for the rule of law. This is particularly so given that the citizens concerned were known to publicly agitate for rights to self-determination of the Yoruba, informed by various incidents of criminality in their region being perpetrated without the government’s counteraction or even condemnation. It is instructive also that the charges are being formulated more than two months after the arrests of the aides, and weeks after they were granted bail by the court.
Effectively, the government is instituting charges of terrorism and or treasonable felony against citizens who express dissenting opinions to state policies, or as a means of deflecting protest of unlawful detention by the State Security Services. It may well constitute abuse of the process of the court, waste of taxpayers funds and an infringement on the rights of citizens for no just cause.
Not only does this make a mockery of a state security agency that should be alive to the real security challenges currently bedevilling the country, particularly as it has failed to establish such charges filed in similar circumstances in the past; it is equally an affront to the democratic system of government, which the nation currently profess to practice as it seeks to muffle views, which are otherwise contrary to that of the government of the day.
The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is chronicled by cases of unlawful arrest, detention and disobedience of court orders. Omoyele Sowore, a political activist, former presidential candidate of the African Action Congress and convener of #RevolutionNow was arrested and detained in 2019 over a planned protest to demand good governance by the Buhari administration. Prior to the institution of formal charges against him, the DSS had sought and was granted an order by the court to detain Mr. Sowore for 45 days. Leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky was arrested in 2015 following a clash between members of the movement and the entourage of the Chief of Army Staff at the time. He was detained alongside his wife for a prolonged period of time and was only charged to court following public outcry, protests and an order by the court for his release. A High Court in Kaduna recently held that the offence for which the Sheikh was charged was unknown to law at the time it was allegedly committed, in spite of which the Kaduna State government has filed fresh charges against him bordering on terrorism and treasonable felony. Former National Security Adviser in the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Col. Sambo Dasuki, was until December of 2020, held by the Department of State Security against a court order for his release.
The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami in a recent interview hinted that the government may file fresh charges against Sunday Igboho following the Judgment of an Oyo State High Court, which awarded N20 billion in damages in his favour. Charges filed by the government in the aforementioned cases appear to be an afterthought, as the state lacks sufficient evidence for the prosecution of its alleged offenders at the time of their arrest and detention. A government that is constitutionally empowered to protect and guarantee the liberty of its citizens should not be the culprit in the violations of fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. Moreover, state organs and institutions that should serve as symbols for upholding the rule of law should not be seen to be violators of rules, which they are instituted to uphold.
By all means, security agencies should apprehend and prosecute persons constituting threats to state security, but the same should be premised on credible evidence rather than employing the prosecutorial system as a means of levelling political scores. Real terrorists by the very definition of the word abound in most parts of the Northcentral and North West of the country, killing, maiming and abducting people in their dozens daily; yet the Attorney General or the Presidency have not deemed their homicidal activities atrocious enough to be terrorism. That is clearly an exhibition of double and discriminatory standards.
These are troubled times in the history of the Nigerian State, currently divided along ethnic, religious and political lines, and as such, the government must be more circumspect and just in its decisions so as not to tilt the balance of a nation sitting on the brink of a major disaster. At a time like this, the government will do well to engage its citizens now considered “agitators” in discourse to appreciate their grievances and find appropriate ways of addressing them, rather than opting for persecution in the guise of prosecution.
Without a doubt, there is a corollary between the current state of insecurity, secessionist agitations and corrupt practices perpetrated by political office holders, coupled with poor leadership. Public office holders have neglected the principles of unity for selfish interest, which has led to the killing, impoverishment and injustice of many citizens. It behoves President Buhari’s administration to justify the continued existence of the Nigerian State by convincing the people that indeed he belongs to everybody and to nobody by adopting state policies that are fair and just to all. The government cannot achieve this by professing absolution in a section of the country while wielding the big stick in the other.