Omoyele Sowore planned a nationwide demonstration against the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. He captioned it “RevolutionNow.” Every right-thinking Nigerian knows Nigeria needs a revolution of sorts. Things cannot just continue the way they have been over the years.
However, Omoyele’s so-called revolution was not designed to overthrow the government. It certainly could not have done that. You don’t overthrow a government by gathering a few thousand people in Lagos, Abuja and a handful other cities where you make speeches about what is wrong with Nigeria and the government.
At best, his “revolution” was designed to embarrass the government. It was intended to show that the presidential election result, where a do-nothing government was returned with an increased majority, was a figment of the imagination of INEC.
But the government panicked. It responded by arresting Sowore. Its lawyers then fought to deny him bail ostensibly because he had suddenly become a grave threat to national security. This is the same country where arrested Boko Haram terrorists are sometimes released back into society. After keeping Sowore locked up maliciously for 44 days, bogus charges were then filed against him the day before he would have had to be released so he can continue to be detained.
The charges themselves take the cake. Out of the blue, the government filed seven counts of treasonable felony and conspiracy against him for organizing demonstrations. These demonstrations were described as treason, on the grounds that he was planning to use them to violently overthrow the government.
This is quite simply preposterous. The same government that had just abrogated the will of the people by massively rigging itself back into power and whose dubious election is still in contention in the courts, is now accusing a man who organized a protest against this of treason.
Sowore and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare, were charged with committing treasonable felony in breach of section 4(1)(c) of the Criminal Code Act allegedly for trying to use the platform of a Coalition for Revolution to stage “RevolutionNow” protests in Lagos, Abuja and other parts of the federation to forcibly remove the president of Nigeria from office.
You may well ask how organizing demonstrations against a government is tantamount to treason under a democratic government, but this is what you get when a government is insecure and is suffering from acute paranoia. The government knows it did not win the February presidential election lawfully. The verdict of the Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal that awarded the president a WASC certificate without proof, and overlooked the president’s perjury has been serially lampooned by right-thinking Nigerians.
Buhari the revolutionary
The president himself should be the last person to take this line of action. In 1984, Buhari organized a military coup d’état that toppled a government that had just won a famous election in Nigeria.
In 2011, Buhari commended Egyptian revolutionaries who successfully toppled Mubarak from power in Egypt. Referring to Nigeria, he said: “It is time to demonstrate people’s power to free our country from those who have held it hostage for the last 12 years and are threatening to keep it so for 60 years.” Nobody arrested him: nobody charged him with treason.
As the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, Buhari told his supporters in Hausa: “First, you must register, come out and vote. You guard, protect, escort to the collation center and you wait until the result is counted. Anyone who stops you, kill them.” Still, nobody arrested him.
When he lost the election in 2011, his unguarded statements led to the killing of over 1,000 people in demonstrations in the North. Some asked that he be reported to the international court of justice in the Hague. In 2015, Buhari repeated the same threats of violence and mayhem. He said: “If what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.’’
If the present yardsticks had been used in the past, the president himself would now be cooling his feet in Kirikiri jail, instead of being in Aso Rock.
Declaring war on Nigerians
Imagine this, in Nigeria, a man is being charged with treasonable felony and conspiracy for organizing protests against a government under whose watch there has been an incredible upsurge in killings, kidnappings, terrorism, banditry, unemployment, poverty and debt. This government must be nuts to believe Nigerians will continue to siddon look under this situation. But it is determined that any little thing must be sledgehammered as treasonable felony.
In Buhari’s Nigeria, it is now a treasonable felony to organize demonstrations against the government. Religious organisations are now regarded as terrorist organisations. So also, are those so fed up with Nigerian federalism that they are insisting on self-determination. They are also terrorists. And this is coming from the government of President Buhari, who told us while in opposition that the Boko Haram are fighting for self-determination and should be given the same concessions and considerations as the people of the Niger Delta.
At the rate that this government is going, it is sure to come soon to grief. You cannot rule by making enemies. Nigerians are not as powerless as the government thinks. It is obvious the president and his men don’t understand the democratic system. It is a bit much for the president’s media assistants to lecture Nigerians that the only way to remove an elected president from office is through the ballot box. If so, how did Buhari himself become Head of State in 1984? When coup plotting is in your CV, you will always be afraid of coups if you become president.
But there are even other legal means of removing an elected president outside of the ballot box. President Buhari can be impeached and removed from office by the Senate. One way of doing this is by mobilizing Nigerians through public demonstrations to reject him, thereby sending a clear message to the legislature that his presidency is no longer acceptable to Nigerians.
The Constitution enables Nigerians to do this by guaranteeing our right to freedom of speech and assembly; rights that the president and his subalterns are now clearly intent on squelching.
But just in case this overkill of seven counts of treason, which commands life imprisonment under Nigerian laws, is too ridiculous to nail him; the government also came up with additional charges of money-laundering against Sowore.
These charges are just as ridiculous as those of treasonable felony. Pray how much money is he supposed to have been laundering. According to the government, Sowore laundered $16,975 and $20,475 from his domiciliary account with the United Bank for Africa.
In a situation where over $1 billion dollars is reported to have been stolen from Nigeria’s oil proceeds in the past year alone, the sums Sowore is accused of laundering becomes pathetic. Who knew that the Nigerian government can be overthrown with a meagre budget of $36,000?
Herein is the new Nigeria in a nutshell. If you are accused of stealing a cow, the government might insist that you go to jail for 20 years. But if you steal 10 billion naira you will go scot-free, as long as you declare for the president’s party: the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Insulting Mr. President
Talking of overkill: Sowore is also accused of cybercrime offenses in violation of section 24(1)(b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention) Act, on the allegation that he “knowingly” sent false messages by means of a press interview granted on Arise Television network designed to provoke hatred and ill-will against the person of the president.
This shows conclusively that what we now have is a government overtaken by paranoia. At this rate, soon the police will be sent to raid beer parlours and arrest anyone who dares to abuse or insult the president.
Anybody who says President Buhari is clueless, or who dares point out that the president does not possess a school certificate can now be arrested on the spurious grounds that he or she is trying to bring the president into disrepute, after all the Presidential Elections Petition Tribunal, PEPT, has recently awarded him a WASC certificate.
In its insecurities, the government is fast abrogating our freedoms, or at least it is stepping on them. When people exercise their freedom of assembly today, some are likely to be shot by the very people who are supposed to protect us from outside aggression with their guns. The idea is to intimidate Nigerians to suffer in silence by using the courts to cow us.
We should not be threatened with prosecution for laughing at our leaders. The same people who were lavish in castigating Goodluck Jonathan as clueless should not now insist that we should not call Mohammadu Buhari incompetent.
Goodbye to judicial independence
The government is making a mockery of Nigeria’s judicial system. The bogus charges leveled against Sowore come from the confidence that the judiciary is now in the pocket of the executive and would do its bidding. At this rate, people will soon be arrested and tried for treason for begging in the streets. Any Nigerian that tries to emigrate from the country and go to Canada or Australia will soon be arrested and tried for being a traitor.
SERAP deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, says: “Sowore’s case and several similar cases instigated/brought by state governors make a hideous mockery of Nigeria’s criminal justice systems, rule of law, freedom of expression and media freedom. These cases are persecution and not prosecution.” “These cases set a dangerous precedent for the misuse and subversion of the justice system, which may lead to the politicization of judiciary.”
In addition, the government has embarked on a program to intimidate the judges by strategically probing all of them. This is tantamount to hanging a sword of Damocles over their heads so they can give the judgments that suit its agenda. Let us not forget that this is the government and the party that says if you cross-carpet to the APC, all your sins are forgiven. Three of the judges who gave the ridiculous judgments in favour of the president in the PEPT have in no time at all already been rewarded by promotion to the Supreme Court.
Trivializing the judiciary
The government should stop trivializing the criminal justice system by misusing it for political ends. It should also stop its current headlong attempt to politicise the judiciary. The judiciary cannot and should not be an arm of the government’s agenda. It is not an agent of the APC. The independence of the judiciary must be preserved. Long after this government has been removed from power, we would still have the judiciary, and we would still need it to protect our rights and freedoms without fear or favour.
These bogus charges against Sowore should be dropped. Barring that, they should be thrown out of court. After the ignominy of the PEPT judgment, the onus is on the Nigerian judiciary to show that it is not in the pocket of the executive.
Femi Aribisala is an iconoclastic church pastor in Lagos. He is also a syndicated essayist for a handful publications in Nigeria. Connect with him on Twitter at @FemiAribisala and at his website, www.femiaribisala.com.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.