By ‘Fisayo Soyombo
FOR a moment, it appeared the Police had a case against Deji Adeyanju, the Convener of ‘Concerned Nigerians’ whom it picked up on Wednesday just at the start of the ‘Police Not Politicians’ protest to raise public awareness of the apparent Police bias for the ruling party. There were at least two reasons: the identity of its latest victim, and the occasional vulgarity of his campaign.
Background information: until early 2017, Adeyanju worked for the Peoples Democratic Party, as Director of New Media, handling the party’s social media platforms. It’s a dent on his recent claims to activism; if you’ve worked for a party, you can’t claim to be an activist without being questioned, and you won’t have that full-scale public sympathy typically enjoyed by the out-and-out, non-partisan activists during their enforced ‘visits’ to the police cell or prison. Adeyanju’s motives for doing what he does are debatable, and activism — as practised by the likes of Gani Fawehinmi, Omoyele Sowore, Beko Ransome-Kuti — is not one of them.
Adeyanju’s style of ‘activism’ can sometimes be offensive. Inasmuch as the hypocrisy of the Muhammadu Buhari government’s anti-corruption campaign is there for all (who have eyes) to see, all criticism should be civil and intellectually marshalled. If, for any reason, anyone must write on social media that the country’s Vice President is a “thief”, that person must be in possession of incontrovertible evidence. “Osinbajo Oleeeeeeeeeeee, Osinbajo Oleeeeeeeeeeee, Osinbajo Oleeeeeeeeeeee, Osinbajo Oleeeeeeeeeeee, Osinbajo Oleeeeeeeeeeee” is not a tweet anyone should be proud of posting. Neither are many others containing such terms as “motherf**er Buhari”, “bastard Buhari”, “only bastards and cursed people support Buhari” or “mad man, idiot Buratai.” But Adeyanju got this uncouth, and for it, the Police could have facilitated his trial for defamation.
Unfortunately, as with every right move steeped in the wrong intentions, the Police ruined it. And the first evidence: some of Adeyanju’s offensive posts were made three days before his arrest. If those posts were the genuine reason for which the Police wanted to pick him up, the arrest would have been made before the protest. In essence, had Adeyanju not protested, he wouldn’t have been arrested regardless of his allegedly defamatory social-media posts.
The Police are yet to provide screenshots, as it did with Adeyanju, of the offensive social media posts of Daniel Abobama and Boma Williams, the other two protesters arrested with Adeyanju. It does appear that Abobama does not even have a Twitter on Facebook account, while Williams, if he does, is largely anonymous. This leaves us with no doubt: the Police are offended that the protesters have accused them of political bias, which is the truth anyway.
On the merit of recent happenings, is there sufficient reason to worry about the tendency of the Police to side with the ruling party at next year’s polls? Absolutely. I am in complete agreement with Adeyanju — even though his Fayose example is inapposite — that someone needs to remind the Police that their allegiance is to civilians and not the rulers. As we saw with the Osun State governorship election, if next year’s election will be rigged, it will be with a helping hand from security agents. The unifying theme among journalists who physically covered the election, particularly the rerun, is that security agents were complicit in the disenfranchisement of voters by intimidation to the advantage of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In a normal democracy, it wouldn’t be a problem that Adeyanju and co hit the streets of Abuja. Asides providing cover to ensure the protest doesn’t get messy, the Police had no business interfering with proceedings.
The Police have levelled roughly 10 allegations against Adeyanju and co; nine of them are not only laughable, they are a mockery of the institution of policing. But there’s one — criminal defamation — where Adeyanju might be in trouble. At the moment, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is not a “thief”. Ali Isa, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness, has stated clearly that the report being latched on to by the likes of Adeyanju was not targeted at Osinbajo. “There was nowhere in our report that we said we indicted the vice president or even mentioned the name of Prof Yemi Osinbajo,” he told Leadership in an interview.
“We only asked questions about the approval, release and the utilisation of N5.8billion when he was Acting President. There are questions that people feel the Vice President, when he was Acting President should answer on the process that was used to release the money.” This is clearly a procedural matter rather than embezzlement; therefore, Adeyanju has a real task on his hands proving how the VP stole this money.
But until then, he should be released. Much as I’m no fan of anyone who can’t express dissent without hurling insults at a fellow human, Adeyanju should be released. Yes, let him have his day in court. Heartiest congratulations to him if he succeeds in convincing the court he has done no wrong. But to keep him in detention with stringent bail conditions, when he hasn’t committed rape or murder, is an overkill. At the moment, the law recognises Adeyanju’s innocence; he should be set free. No one, not even me, needs to like Adeyanju to advocate his freedom. Humanity and equity — not affinity — are the principles at play here.
In any case, Adeyanju is not the only one who periodically spews vitriol on social media, and the irony of it all is that the ruling party is populated by such people. Before he got into government, Tolu Ogunlesi famously tweeted that then President Goodluck Jonathan was a “bloody sadist” for having Lagos on lockdown during an official visit — never mind that he suddenly lost his voice when the scenario recurred during Buhari’s reign. Only a little over two months ago, Lauretta Onochie, Buhari’s social media aide, attached the photos of Bukola Saraki, Aminu Tambuwal, Rabiu Kwankwaso and Atiku Abubakar to a tweet about the “sponsors of the Fulani herdsmen killings”. If the Police didn’t go after Lauretta, Ogunlesi and the numerous vulgar supporters of the President, arresting Adeyanju is hypocritical. If Adeyanju is tried for defamation, his ilk in government or close to government must face the music, too. Unless that happens, the Police will have to live with the truth they don’t want to hear: they’re no different from politicians; they’re Siamese twins with the APC government that fights corruption in the opposition but pampers corrupt elements in its own house.
Soyombo, former Editor of the TheCable and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), tweets @fisayosoyombo