Sunday, December 08, 2019 / 09:17AM
/ OpEd By Ahmed Sule* / Header Image Credit: Van Norman
As the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a country with a population of 200 million people (approx.), you are in the enviable position of being not only the second most powerful person in the country but also the most influential Yoruba man and indigene of Ogun State. But when one puts aside the trappings of political office, you are a spiritual being who lives in a body and has a soul. Like many of us, you have feelings and experience joy, sorrow, elation and pain. It is to your soul that I make an appeal for the journalists and other activists locked up under your regime. I make my appeal in your capacity as Vice President, as a lawyer, as a human being and as a clergy.
When you and President Buhari were first elected in 2015, there was so much joy in Nigeria. For the first time in the nations' history, there was a transfer of power from a ruling political party to an opposition party. Buhari's austere demeanour and your cerebral nature gave hope to millions of Nigerians that the tyranny of the past will come to an end. But seven months into the second term of your regime, Nigerians have watched in horror as the ghosts of 1984 are being resurrected. Journalists are being harassed by the state apparatus, government critics have been silenced while mechanisms have been put in place to censor expressions on social media via the government Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and other Related Offences bill.
In case you are wondering why this open letter has been addressed to you and not President Buhari, it is because with regards to respecting human rights, I don't expect much from the President. Although he is a civilian president, he is a military man at heart. He has a long history of silencing dissent and disregarding the rule of law. I don't need to remind you of how during his first stint as president in the 80s, he introduced the draconian Decree 4 which helped cage Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, got his military boys to brutalise Nigerians for being "undisciplined" and had the now revered Fela 'Anikulapo' Kuti thrown into prison on trumped up charges of illegal foreign currency possession.
Although the President might hide under the guise of his military training, you should know and do better in the arena of upholding the rule of law and respecting human rights. Le Prof, you are an embodiment of the law and justice. You did your undergraduate studies in law; you have a master's degree in law; you were once a senior lecturer in law; you were a legal adviser to the Minister of Justice; you were a professor of law ; you were a Head of Department of Public Law ; you were the Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice; you were a partner in a law firm. You have written on law covering topics like Perspectives on Human Rights in Nigeria; Democracy and the Law; and Towards a Better Administration of Justice System in Nigeria. How then Le Prof, can you be a bystander in the gross abuse of the law and administration of justice?
Just as you are an embodiment of law and justice in Nigeria, in the last five months, Omoyele Sowore, the human rights activist and pro-democracy campaigner has become an embodiment of everything that is wrong with the justice system in Nigeria.
After Sowore was arrested on 3 August 2019 and charged for treasonable felony and insulting President Buhari, the world has watched in real time as he has been deprived of his human rights. Sowore has experienced physical abuse, psychological torture and illegal detention. On 5 December 2019, 125 days after his arrest, he was eventually released by the Department of State Security (DSS) only to be re-arrested less than 24 hours later. As the security details 'strangled' Sowore and hit him on the face, a number of camera people were present to broadcast this ugly incident to the world.
You might argue that you are unable to act because issues of law and justice are not under your remit as you are not the Attorney General of the Federation. You might even argue that Sowore has breached the law of the land and hence, the law should run its course.
However, as Martin Luther King once wrote, "Sometimes, a law is just on its face value and unjust in its application." As far as the law has been applied to the likes of Sowore and other prisoners of conscience in your regime, it has been unjust. I am not sure how you find it so easy to sleep at night when the country which you preside over is one of the 14 countries included in the Committee for the Protection of Journalists 2018 Global Impunity Index. Le Prof, your silence on this matter is deafening .
There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.
Rather than speaking out on the abuse of the law by your government, we have come to hear you mouth sanctimonious trivialities like Gbese, Skelewu, Shakitibobo, Shaku-shaku and Zanku. Mr Vice President, I urge you to be true to your calling as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria by speaking out.
I plead with you to see the humanity of those impacted by the repressive deeds of your government. Spare some thought for Jones Abiri, Olawale Bakare, Joe Ogbodu, Prince Udemude and other missing and detained journalists and activists whose cases are yet to be seared into the nation's consciousness. I am not sure if you have watched the Sowore's mother appeal to your boss for her sons' release. If not, please take time out of your busy schedule to hear her say, "Omoyele is only asking for a better Nigeria so that all our children can have good future ... I am a widow, release my son. I cannot eat, I cannot sleep and it is affecting my health. Please release Omoyele Sowore, my son." As the father of three children, I am sure you can appreciate the torment that Sowore's mother is facing.
As a minister of the gospel of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, you should be fighting for the cause of the least of these. You ought to be a conscientious objector in the face of tyranny. From Scripture we learn that we are to seek justice, defend the cause of the oppressed and plead the case of the widow. Scripture also tells us not to pervert justice and not to show favouritism to the great. I appreciate that being in a position of influence can create an echo chamber where one continuously hears the voices of the high and mighty while the voices of the oppressed is drowned out, but as a man of God please be attentive to the cry of Lazarus who is at your mercy as the DSS licks his sores.
The history books are filled with chapters about men and women of influence who came from humble backgrounds and entered into the corridors of power, but instead of using their position of influence to end tyranny, they reinforced it by either turning a blind eye to it or participating in it, only to be thrown out into a life of irrelevance after they departed the institution of power.
Le Prof, since evil prevails when men and women of goodwill stay silent, I plead for you to use your good office to speak up and put an end to the government's disregard of our human rights. To paraphrase Henry Thoreau, "Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is outside of that government." If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. Look into your soul and ask yourself the question: Am I on the straight and narrow path? If not, please retrace your step and stand for justice.
History is watching. #FreeSoworeAndOthersNow #RuleOfLaw
About The Author
Ahmed Olayinka Sule is a CFA Charterholder, photojournalist and social critic. He is an Alumnus of the University of Arts, London; where he obtained a Certificate in Photojournalism. He has worked on various photojournalism projects including Obama: The Impact, Jesus Christ: The Impact, The Williams Sisters etc. He can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and via Twitter @Alatenumo
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For the Records
PRESS RELEASE: DSS AND THE 6TH DECEMBER, 2019 FEDERAL HIGH COURT, ABUJA INCIDENT
It has become important that the Department of State Services responds to the serial misinformation being circulated in the media about its involvement in the incident that occurred on 6th December, 2019 at the Federal High Court, Abuja. It is instructive to note that during the court proceeding of the day under reference, Defence Counsel, Femi FALANA (SAN), called the attention of the Judge to a suspicion that the Service was planning to re-arrest Omoyele SOWORE immediately after the court session. The Court discountenanced his alarm and asserted that the Service was law abiding and would not engage in such and subsequently adjourned to February, 2020.
However, when SOWORE stepped out of the court and sighted operatives of the Service within the premises, he ran back into the courtroom. In a bid to shield him from an imaginary arrest, his uncontrollable supporters mobbed him while chanting "you can't arrest him" thus the pandemonium that ensued.
A critical look at the videos in circulation would convince any objective viewer that there was no DSS personnel during the entire period the Sowore crowd acted out its orchestrated drama. Its personnel were never, at any time, involved in the incident. In actual fact, it was his people who seized him. And from the latest developments, it has become obvious what the intent for such mischief was meant for â€“ simply to serve a propagandist purpose as well as bring the Service to disrepute.
Eye witness and several media accounts have disclosed that the Court had adjourned peacefully without an untoward incident when suddenly the unruly crowd imported into the Courtroom went into frenzy on the mere suspicion that DSS was sighted at the court premises. The eventual re-arrest of Sowore by the DSS was effected outside the courtroom. His lead counsel has affirmed this.
The DSS, as a professional, responsible and law abiding Organization, could not have invaded a courtroom including the one presided over by a respected Judge who is not only handling its case but whose Order was unconditionally obeyed within a 24 hour ultimatum. The Service holds the judiciary in utmost respect and will continue to work with it for national peace and public safety in Nigeria.
It has therefore become unarguable and raises a moral question as to who, between Sowore and the Service, dislikes or disobeys the Courts. In this regard, public attention may be drawn to the 25th July 2019 statement of SOWORE that "I'm not talking of protest. I'm embarking on revolutionâ€¦ Don't tell me about legal implications or what a Judge will say. I don't care ..." On 5th December when SOWORE was released, he had, at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja addressed a group of persons who, he reassured of his cause to create anarchy in the country.
It may be recalled that the Service had on 3rd December, 2019 raised alarm about a plot to destabilize the country. It is quite remarkable that the plot has already started playing out. To ensure this objective is further achieved, some persons and groups are scurrying to seize the opportunity of the misleading court incident and the wrong narrative against the DSS to organize an insurrection in the country. They have continued to falsely curry and mobilize international sentiments and attention, through clear misrepresentation of the facts, for their selfish ends.
For emphasis, it should be noted that SOWORE is facing trial not as an activist, journalist or a politician, but for his resort to call for violence, forceful takeover of government and suspected transnational illegal activities. It is most unfortunate that SOWORE, shortly after being released from custody, based on court order, resorted to acts inimical to security. To this effect, only SOWORE has been re-arrested as his co-defendant, Olawale BAKARE, was not picked up even when FALANA had promised to deliver him to the Service that is not presently interested in him.
Though sections of the populace have been fed with spurious narratives about these developments, Nigerians and the International Community should not be gullible or even vulnerable to the machinations of groups desirous of misleading them.
The Service is committed to the discharge of its mandate of detecting and preventing threats against the internal security of Nigeria. It supports democracy in the country and will do all that is legal to protect it. It will also ensure that efforts of anti-democratic forces are frustrated.
Peter Afunanya, Ph.D
Public Relations Officer, Department of State Services, National Headquarters, Abuja
7th December, 2019
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