Siege to the court goes be­yond Sowore

The Punch - - VIEWPOINT - Azuka On­wuka

W0809-8727-263

(SMS only)

HAT hap­pened last week at the court premises in Abuja was an eye­sore. Videos showed op­er­a­tives of Nige­ria’s in­tel­li­gence unit, Depart­ment of State Ser­vices, try­ing to ar­rest Omoyele Sowore, pub­lisher of and con­vener of #Revo­lu­tion­now, in­side the court­room. The judge, Jus­tice Ijeoma Ojukwu, was re­port­edly spir­ited out of the court­room.

A day be­fore, Jus­tice Ojukwu had be­rated the DSS for form­ing a par­al­lel court by giv­ing con­di­tions upon which Sowore would be granted bail. She had, there­fore, asked for Sowore to be re­leased im­me­di­ately. Once Sowore left the court­room, the DSS tried to ar­rest him again. He ran back into the court­room. Op­er­a­tives of the DSS re­port­edly ran af­ter him into the court­room and tried to ar­rest him but were re­sisted by his as­so­ciates. They waited for him out­side the court and re­ar­rested him even­tu­ally.

How­ever, the DSS later de­nied the re­port that they in­vaded the court­room, claim­ing that the scene of melee seen in the vi­ral videos was acted by Sowore and his as­so­ciates to tar­nish the im­age of the or­gan­i­sa­tion. In a state­ment signed by its Pub­lic Re­la­tions Of­fi­cer, Peter Afu­nanya, the DSS said in­ter alia: “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 - sim­ply to serve a pro­pa­gan­dist pur­pose as well as bring the Ser­vice to dis­re­pute.

“Eye­wit­ness 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 a frenzy on the mere sus­pi­cion that the 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.”

But even be­fore the re­sponse from the DSS, the pres­i­dency had jus­ti­fied the re-ar­rest of Sowore. In a state­ment, Mr Garba Shehu, Se­nior Spe­cial As­sis­tant to the Pres­i­dent, noted: “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.”

Some peo­ple have mocked Sowore be­cause of the role he played in bring­ing in the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari. Through Sa­harareport­ers, Sowore in­tro­duced a shock­ing type of jour­nal­ism: jour­nal­ism that de­monises, stereo­types, black­mails, ha­rasses and ridicules in­di­vid­u­als, groups and in­sti­tu­tions in the name of ac­tivism.

True jour­nal­ism in­sists that facts are sa­cred, while opin­ions are free - it en­gages in “re­port­ing” the news and let­ting the pub­lic reach con­clu­sions. But Sowore’s Sa­harareport­ers would take a po­si­tion on ev­ery is­sue and pass judge­ment through the head­line and the body of the so-called news story.

Sa­harareport­ers would write un­con­firmed sto­ries against in­di­vid­u­als, groups and or­gan­i­sa­tions. If you write to Sowore and the ed­i­tors of Sa­harareport­ers, stat­ing your side of the story, Sowore and his ed­i­tors would refuse to pub­lish those re­join­ders.

In jour­nal­ism, it is the norm that be­fore you pub­lish a story, you should get the view of the other party; and if you have pub­lished a story with­out the view of the other party, any re­join­der sent by the other party must be pub­lished. It is called the right of re­ply. That is eq­uity and fair­ness. But Sowore has re­peat­edly gone against that in his at­tempts to push for­ward his pre­ferred nar­ra­tive on any is­sue. If Sowore could do that to peo­ple as the pub­lisher of an on­line news­pa­per, what would he do to peo­ple if he were the pres­i­dent?

How­ever, in spite of all that, it is dan­ger­ous to sneer at Sowore over his or­deal in the hands of the DSS. What is hap­pen­ing to him is a shame­ful abuse of of­fice and power by the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Buhari. There is no way to jus­tify the re­peated dis­re­gard for court pro­nounce­ments by Buhari on Sowore’s case. No mat­ter how the DSS and their apol­o­gists colour it, the in­va­sion of the court last week by the DSS is a des­e­cra­tion of our democ­racy and a slap on our na­tion.

It needs to be em­pha­sised that one does not need to sup­port or love Sheikh Ibrahim El-zakzaky, Nnamdi Kanu, Sambo Da­suki, Sowore, Jus­tice Wal­ter Onnoghen or Se­na­tor Bukola Saraki. It is your right not to like them. But when their right is breached and tram­pled upon and you sup­port it and jus­tify it be­cause you don’t like them, you make your­self a sup­porter and an en­hancer of dic­ta­tor­ship. When Adolf Hitler was killing the Jews, he had ed­u­cated and re­li­gious men and women who jus­ti­fied it, thereby stain­ing their hands and souls in that geno­cide.

Un­der Buhari, the homes of judges have been in­vaded in the dead of the night. The Na­tional As­sem­bly has been in­vaded. The Chief Jus­tice of Nige­ria has been un­law­fully re­moved. News­pa­per houses have been in­vaded. Jour­nal­ists have been ab­ducted and de­tained with­out trial. Mem­bers of the

In­dige­nous Peo­ple of Bi­afra who were pray­ing in a school were shot and killed. Shi­ites who were in their homes were killed by troops in cold blood with over three hun­dred corpses de­posited at the mor­tu­ary of the Ah­madu Bello Univer­sity Teach­ing Hos­pi­tal, Kaduna.

What has been hap­pen­ing to Sowore goes be­yond whether he has been a good ex­am­ple of what jour­nal­ism should be or not. It even goes be­yond the se­cu­rity op­er­a­tives like the DSS, the po­lice, the army or the Eco­nomic and Fi­nan­cial Crimes Com­mis­sion. The way the se­cu­rity op­er­a­tives act and re­late with cit­i­zens of Nige­ria de­pends on who is the Pres­i­dent and Com­man­der-in-chief of the Armed Forces. When a Pres­i­dent re­spects the rights of the cit­i­zens, the se­cu­rity per­son­nel will re­spect the rights of the cit­i­zens. Any of them who goes against that is promptly dis­ci­plined. Un­for­tu­nately, the Ju­di­ciary and Leg­is­la­ture have been con­quered. We are faced with ev­i­dence of dic­ta­tor­ship. And it will get worse if we keep quiet.

An­other point is that Pres­i­dent Buhari seems to be more con­cerned with teach­ing his per­ceived en­e­mies a les­son than en­sur­ing that they are served jus­tice. Vendetta is dif­fer­ent from jus­tice. From Sambo to Sowore to Elzakzaky and to Nnamdi Kanu (be­fore he was forced to es­cape af­ter the mil­i­tary in­vaded his home in 2017), Buhari seems to de­rive joy in hav­ing his per­ceived en­e­mies de­tained ad in­fini­tum rather than face judge­ment. He re­fuses them bail even when they are granted bail, and en­sures that their cases hardly progress in court.

Nige­rian democ­racy came at a high cost. It is sad that Nige­ria is be­ing taken back to the dark days of bla­tant abuse of the rights of the cit­i­zens by those in power. Be­fore be­com­ing pres­i­dent, Buhari said re­peat­edly that he was a con­verted democrat, but un­der his watch, the na­tion has been wit­ness­ing im­punity and dis­re­gard for the rule of law. It is not late for him to beat a re­treat.

–Twit­ter @Bran­dazuka

azon­[email protected]­hoo.com

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