© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Violation of court orders, arrest of journalists, other anti-democratic actions of Buhari administration
DESPITE constitutional provisions that guarantee Nigerians’ freedom of expression, association, and assembly, the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari, several times, has demonstrated it has no regard for such provisions.
In the nearly five years of the Buhari administration, journalists have been arrested and detained without trial, protests have been met with force by the government agents, voices of dissents have been stifled by the government, and court orders, ignored.
Critics have upbraided him for banning protests, while calling attention to how he led civil disobedience before the 2015 elections against the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
“The same President Muhammadu Buhari that took the Nigerian Police to court for stopping his peaceful protest and got a judgment that police have no right to give permission (and that) only a notification to them was required for protest, is the same person using the police to shut down protesters,” wrote Aisha Yesufu, a social critic.
While the constitution is clear about the role of the press and journalists in holding government accountable, the law also spells out clearly the duties, rights and obligations of the citizens in a democratic setting. But the government disregards this rights and privileges of Nigerians from time to time.
The ICIR takes a look at some of the constitutional provisions that guarantee freedom of speech and of association and of the right to protest, as well as the instances of violation of these provisions by the Buhari government.
Section 22: The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.
Section 39: (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas, and opinions:
Provided that no person, other than the Government of the Federation or of a State or any other person or body authorised by the President on the fulfillment of conditions laid down by an Act of the National Assembly, shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for, any purpose whatsoever.
(3) Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society –
(a) for the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or
(b) imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law.
Showore arrested over planned #RevolutionNow protest
Government is not backing down on its anti-democratic behaviours— the latest was the Saturday arrest and detention of Convener of #RevolutionNow protest, Omoyele Sowore.
The crack down on Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters and presidential candidate of African Action Congress (AAC) in the last general elections has shown the extent to which the government disregards constitutional provisions for citizens to exercise their rights.
Sowore was coordinating a national protest, which he called ‘a day of rage’ in 21 states on Monday August 5 against the government of President Buhari over the maladministration and insecurity in the country.
Former Politics Editor arrested over Facebook post supporting #RevolutionNow protest
After Sowore’s arrest, other Nigerians have also been picked up by security operatives for their support or involvement in the #RevolutionNow protest.
A former Politics Editor at Daily Trust newspaper, Ibrahim Dan-Halilu, was arrested on Monday by the Department for Security Service (DSS) in Kaduna for allegedly supporting the activities of #RevolutionNow in a Facebook post, according to PRNigeria which broke the news.
Dan-Halilu a former staunch supporter of President Muhammadu before the 2015 elections was once a communication specialist with USAID, Information Assistant at the US Embassy and a Regional Communication Specialist for Family Health.
Operatives of DSS, it was gathered stormed his residence in Rigachikun, Kaduna State, on Monday night and whisked him away at about 2 am.
He had posted on his Facebook timeline that he endorsed and supported the activities of #RevolutionNow.
The post reads: “I feel I should share because it resonates with me. If resonates with you too, please share until all oppressed people of Nigeria get the message and domesticate it. This is #Not the Nigeria of My Dream.
“Somebody asked me why we need a revolution now, this was my reply: The aim of the revolution is to challenge the uncommon hardship why we have 16 m children on the street; challenge why we have become the poverty capital of the world; challenge why we have 20 persons with corrupt cases as federal legislators and would-be Ministers.
“We need to restructure the country. We need to put an end to trillions spent on electricity while we live in darkness and pay an estimated bill for electricity and meters. Why do we have huge oil reserves but our refineries are dead and we are re-importing what we exported as crude oil? It is time to ask why those in government travel abroad for medical care when they have left our hospitals dilapidated; why they send their children to school abroad when our children learn under mango trees.
“We are revolting against the continuing killings that have left 20,000 Nigerians dead while those in office move around under state-paid security and do nothing. We are revolting against the because over a thousand Nigerians soldiers killed by Boko Haram have been secretly buried without identifiable graves, dignity or honour. $16m was purportedly spent on mosquito nets but our children die daily from malaria. $320m Abacha loot was purportedly distributed to the poor. Where is the verifiable list? N500bn was purportedly distributed to the poor as so-called Trader-moni. Where is the verifiable list?
“…With divine grace, God gave us about 40 natural resources spread across the length and breadth of the country. No country on mother earth is as blessed! The persons destroying Nigeria in and out of government are less than 10,000. For how long will the 201 million of us be silent? Forever? It will be sheer stupidity and very unfair of us to be silent and bequeath today’s sorry Nigeria to our children. For how long shall we continue to endure bad leadership from certificate forgers, election riggers, ritualists and yahoo politicians, hoping upon hope for a better tomorrow when things get worse by the day? We are too rich to be poor. We are too blessed to be a mockery of the world!!! No!!!”
Arrest and detention of Premium Times reporter, Samuel Ogundipe
Samuel Ogundipe, a defence correspondent with Premium Times spent three days in detention after he was arrested by the police.
“I laid on the rough knitted polyester blanket at the benevolence of the cell president inside the police Special Tactical Squad detention centre in Abuja, sweating profusely as I read an old copy of a Christian daily guide printed by Paul Enenche’s Dunamis Gospel Centre,”Ogundipe recounted his ordeal after gaining freedom.
His story about the then Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris’ interim report to then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on the State Security Service’s siege on the National Assembly on August 7, 2018, landed him in trouble with the police.
In his account of what led to his arrest and detention, Ogundeji said he wrote the piece on the night of August 9, after receiving the report from a source and successfully getting two high-ranking police officers to help authenticate.
“The police had no complaints about the accuracy of the story,” he had said, but, “They only assumed it was not meant for public consumption.”
While working to hold government accountable, in accordance with section 22 of the 1999 constitution, he was incurring the wrath of the government.
The journalist’s arrest and detention attracted public and widespread condemnation and forced the government to release him after three days in detention.
That was the second time the government agents would harass journalists working with Premium Times.
On January 19, 2019, police raided Premium Times head office in Abuja and arrested the newspaper’s publisher. Dapo Olorunyomi alongside the paper’s judiciary correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu.
Plain-clothed officers conducted a search at the office shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday and said they were acting on a complaint filed by the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai.
The arrests came days after Premium Times turned down the army’s demand to retract news stories about the Nigerian Army and its operations.
Jones Abiri: Arrested and detained for two years without trial
Jones Abiri, a journalist based in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, was arrested on July 2016 for alleged terrorism. He was detained at the DSS headquarters until July 2018, when the Service took him to court on charges of criminal intimidation.
He was briefly remanded at the Kuje Prison in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and was later released on bail.
However, while his case with the DSS is still ongoing at a magistrate court in the Wuse District of Abuja, Abiri filed a human rights enforcement suit at the Federal High Court, demanding that the DSS should pay him N200 million for violating his rights. The suit was filed on Abiri’s behalf by popular human rights lawyer, Femi Falana.
When the case was decided, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, Abuja, awarded the sum of N10.5 million against DSS over the illegal arrest and detention of Jones Abiri.
Delivering the judgment Justice Dimgba held that the DSS acted outside the provisions of the law regarding the terrorism prevention Act.
The government was forced to release the journalist in September 2018 after public outcries kept coming. But he was later arrested by DSS, and he still in detention till date.
Police arrest Deji Adeyanju while leading protest in Abuja
For staging a protest demanding that the police should be neutral in the 2019 election, Deji Adeyanju, Convener of Concerned Nigerians, was arrested on November 2018 by the officers of Nigeria Police.
The protest was tagged ‘Police Are Not Politicians, Save Our Democracy’ in Abuja.
Adeyanju was picked up alongside two others at 10:55 am by armed policemen stationed in front of the Force Headquarters in Abuja.
He was with some of the protesters at the premises of the building and while they were arranging the banners and placards in preparation for the rally, the police arrested him.
The activist was later released early December same year and later got picked up for trumped-up charges and spent 78 days in Kano Prison before he was released in March after the conduct of the general elections. His arrest on December 13, 2018 was linked to a homicide case that was concluded in 2009.
Police tear gas BringBackOurGirls protesters in Abuja
Members of BringBackOurGirls (BBOG), a movement campaigning for the release of abducted Chibok Secondary School girls were dispersed by police on April 23, 2018, on a protest demanding government to secure the release of the girls in captivity of terrorists.
Police fired tear gas at the protesters who gathered at the Unity Fountain, Abuja. The BBOG members as they are known gathered at the Unity Fountain for daily sit-out to deliberate on the abducted schoolgirls and demand they should be rescued by the government until recently when security operatives took over the place, preventing them from gathering.
Soldiers invade Daily Trust Headquarters
Members of staff and management of Trust Media, publishers of Trust titles in Abuja also have had raw deal from the present administration. January 6, 2019 is a day they would not forget quickly.
Earlier that day, some armed soldiers had stormed the Maiduguri office of the newspaper arrested its regional editor, Uthman Abubakar, and a reporter, Ibrahim Sawab over a publication the Army Headquarters was uncomfortable with.
The newspaper said the invasion might be connected to its lead story on a particular Sunday which focused on military operations in the North-East
While the whereabouts of the two journalists were yet unknown, some other armed officers of the Nigerian Army invaded the Daily Trust Headquarters in Abuja.
During the Gestapo-like operation, the armed soldiers packed away computer sets while ordering all members of staff to leave the newsroom.
“About two dozen armed soldiers came in five vehicles invaded our Utako Headquarters about 6 pm. They didn’t manhandle anyone, but they ordered all of us out and asked of Hamza [the reporter]. They took some laptops. They have taken over the office and asked us to leave,” a journalist with the newspaper had said.
A line editor at the newspaper told The ICIR that some of the soldiers came in plain cloth, and ordered everyone to leave the premises as they started to pack all the computers they could find.
“Though Jonathan administration also mistreated our paper by seizing some of our publications a few months to the election, it never went as bad as shutting down our office,” he said.
The Army bowed to public outcry and pressure and released the arrested journalists. While Abubakar was released on January 8, Sawab had gained his freedom earlier.
He was taken back to the Maiduguri office by an unnamed Army major who handed him over to security staff at the paper’s office.
Refusal to grant El-Zakzaky bail despite court pronouncements
Before Monday, August 5, when Kaduna High Court granted leave to the detained leader of Shiites, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife Zeenat, to seek medical attention abroad, the Federal Government had refused to release the IMN leader from prison even when the court ruled he should be released.
El-Zakzaky and his wife were arrested by the military on December 14, 2015, after a clash between his followers and officers of the Nigerian Army. At least 347 Shiites were killed with no army officer charged for the crime ever since. But, El-Zakzaky and his wife have remained in detention following the event.
On December 2, 2016, the Federal High Court in Abuja ordered El-Zakzaky and his wife released from detention, citing that the continued detention violates their rights and is against Section 35(1) of the constitution which provided “every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty save…in accordance with a procedure by law.
This Government is anti-Constitution, writes Liberty Africa, a blog dedicated to advancing individual freedom, peace, and prosperity in Africa. It was complaining about the continued detention of El-Zakzaky and his wife.
The Nigerian government detained El-Zakzaky using the exemption provided in Section 35 (1)(c), that an individual can be detained “…upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed a criminal offense.” “But El-Zakzaky’s continued detention is against the other provisions of the constitution,” African Liberty argues.
Subsection 4 of the same section states that “any person who is arrested or detained in accordance with subsection (1)(c) of this section shall be brought before a court of law within a reasonable time…,” and according to subsection (5), “…the expression ‘a reasonable time’ means –
(a) in the case of an arrest or detention in any place where there is a court of competent jurisdiction within a radius of forty  kilometers, a period of one day; and
(b) in any other case, a period of two days…”
It took the government two years to get El-Zakzaky a hearing before the court.
Therefore when he and his wife were granted leave to travel abroad for medical attention, not many Nigerians believed the government would obey the ruling.
“I hope the government will respect the court ruling and let him travel for his medical…” said Kayode Ogundamisi, a strong supporter of the Buhari administration.