OMOYELE Sowore, activist, founder of the anti-corruption news service “Sahara Reporters” and former presidential candidate, was not surprised when the Nigerian Security Service (DSS) forcibly entered his house early Saturday morning and arrested him. His crime? Organizing a protest against bad governance in Nigeria.
The DSS arrived Aug. 3 with four trucks, seizing his phones and other electronic gadgets.
Sowore launched his Revolution Now movement in part, he said, because recent elections which returned President Mohammadu Buhari to power were not credible.
But the calls for revolution were unlawful, according to the security officers.
“He crossed the line, he threatened public safety,” said a government spokesman.” Nothing will happen, there won’t be any revolution. The government, which has been elected democratically, will be in place.”
The arrest could interrupt plans for nationwide anti-government protests scheduled for this week.
In a recent meeting with supporters, Sowore declared: “This series of marches and rallies will continue until we have the Nigeria of our dreams.” Currently, he said, “there’s no respect for our dignity as a people. For you to get back your dignity, do what they’re doing in Hong Kong, in Algeria, in Tunisia and in Puerto Rico.”
“Shut down this unworkable system… The revolution is now.”
Among Sowore’s many friends is Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka who spoke out against the arrest in a strongly-worded statement.
“Beyond the word ‘revolution’… nothing that Sowore has uttered, written, or advocated suggests that he is embarking on, or urging the public to engage in a forceful overthrow of the government,” the writer said.
“His arrest is a travesty and violation of the fundamental rights of citizens to congregate and make public their concerns.”
Nigeria’s Premium Times newspaper editorialized: “Speaking out is becoming more dangerous in Nigeria as curbs on free speech and repercussions for taking stances opposed to the government of the day are on the rise.
“Without a contest of ideas fueled by dissent, Nigeria will grow more ignorant, timid, and ultimately, impoverished.”
Meanwhile, income inequality is hitting a new record in Nigeria. About 90 million people – roughly half Nigeria’s population – live in extreme poverty, according to estimates from the World Data Lab’s Poverty Clock while Nigeria’s richest man could spend $1 million a day and not run out of money for 46 years, says the global charity Oxfam.
Lisa Vives writes from New York City