A SOCIAL media campaign has commenced with the hashtag “#FreetheOwerri112, demanding the release of the 112 women that were arrested in Owerri, the Imo State capital, on Friday, August 17, for staging a protest and asking for the whereabouts of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the now proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Some reports put the number of arrested women at 114.
The women were later arraigned before a magistrate court on Monday, and after pleading not guilty to the eight-count charges brought against them.
Some of the charges against the women read: “That you did, assemble yourselves together and publicly exhibited banners, emblems, flags or symbols of Indigenous people of Biafra, and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 88(b) of the Criminal Code.
“That you conspired with others now at large to commit felony to wit treasonable felony and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 516 of the Criminal Code”, among others.
The Magistrate, S.K. Durumba, ruled that the women should be remanded at the Owerri prisons until September 3. He said his court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the suit, so the adjournment was to enable him to seek legal input from the Imo State Attorney General.
Many Nigerians took to the social media on Thursday to demand that the release of the women, whom they say were merely exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights to peaceful protest.
Obiageli Ezekwesili, former Minister of Education, described the development as a “blight on our democracy”, and unacceptable.
“IG of police, how in the world did you put this level of blight on our Democracy with this saga of the protesting Imo women?” Ezekwesili tweeted.
“Please, is President Buhari aware of this unconstitutional act of his staff, the IG Police against the
#ImoWomenProtesters? Remanded in jail until early September for protesting? Women jailed for protesting? A guaranteed right? This is unacceptable?
IG @PoliceNG , how in the world did you put this level of blight on our Democracy with this saga of the protesting Imo women? I read that “the Magistrate says her #court lacks jurisdiction, adjourns till 3 Sept for attorney general’s advice. #Women remanded in #prison.” Wow. How? pic.twitter.com/567eBCDUO2
— Oby Ezekwesili (@obyezeks) August 23, 2018
Similarly, former Director General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms, Joe Abah, and former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also condemned the actions of the police.
“We need to completely reorientate the Police. It is wrong and illegal to arrest and harass everyone who peacefully protests against their government. The Owerri women have a Constitutional right to free speech and free assembly. They don’t need a permit,” Abah tweeted.
We need to completely reorientate the @PoliceNG. It is wrong AND ILLEGAL to arrest and harass everyone who peacefully protests against their government. The Owerri women have a Constitutional right to free speech and free assembly. They DON’T need a permit. #FreeTheOwerri114
— Dr. Joe Abah (@DrJoeAbah) August 23, 2018
Odinkalu, on his part, wrote: “I’m struggling to get this. Unarmed women herded to jail while killers in different parts of Nigeria roam free?”
— Chidi Odinkalu (@ChidiOdinkalu) August 22, 2018
Journalists were not left out in the social media protest: “In a supposed democracy, Nnamdi Kanu and his family just disappeared and we, as citizens, go to sleep because we feel we don’t agree with him or his politics? This official terrorism must stop,” tweeted Ahmad Salkida, a journalist.
In a supposed democracy, #NnamdiKanu and his family just disappeared and we, as citizens, can go to sleep because we feel we don't agree with him or his politics? This official terrorism must stop, #FreeOwerri112. #NnamdiKanu's crime is not overly big for the courts to handle.
— Ahmad Salkida (@A_Salkida) August 23, 2018
Here are some other tweets:
This is a gross violation of the fundamental human rights of these people. They are women and mothers for goodness sake. Why are the authorities in Nigeria maltreating those that they are meant to protect? Nigeria is exhausting #Owerri112 https://t.co/TsjUFydqZR
— Kelvin. Igwe (Esq.) (@IgweOfficial) August 23, 2018
The number one way of assessing the success of any government is by observing the extent of its respect of your civil and political rights & your social and economic rights. #FreeOwerri112
— friarsomadina (@friarsomadina) August 23, 2018
— Chidi Odinkalu, CGoF (@ChidiOdinkalu) August 23, 2018