Tell Them Freedom, Mr President!


The Ogidigborigbo of Oghara, James Onanefe Ibori, the kleptocratic ex-Governor of the oil-rich Delta State, returned home from London recently. Ibori had spent years in prison in the UK for money laundering and high-wire corruption. Since his return his country home in Oghara has been witnessing low and high-profile visitors including the incumbent Governor of the state and his predecessors as well as other dignitaries. His media assistant has dutifully rebutted insinuations by many of his critics and enemies that he was deported from England! For him he voluntarily came back home after serving out his jail term. Right now Ibori is enjoying home and freedom again after being caged overseas for years! That is good enough for him and his friends, followers and associates. But for us, however, the Ogidigborigbo represented everything wrong with leadership in Nigeria. Today, there are other Iboris at government mansions across the federation still looting criminally the treasuries of their states providing little or no leadership to the people that put them in power. How to stop them or nip this scourge of mind-boggling self-enrichment in the bud is what we are up against.

There is something infinitely beautiful about freedom. You may not know to which extent freedom is a virtue until suddenly you lose yours by detention or imprisonment. I love freedom and enjoy same hence the need to always obey the laws of the land of wherever I am found and do the right thing at all times. The only time I had slept in a police post, detained overnight, was some two decades back in Lagos at the notorious Ajeromi Police station in Ajegunle area. We were waylaid by one-chance police officers as we were heading home from a night outing in Coker area of Lagos. We were not told what our crime was but ordered at gun point to keep quiet upon inquiries! In the next morning our relatives came to bail us by paying some money for our freedom! It was a rough and tough night — sleeping rough in hundreds in a stuffy room with some standing and others sitting on bare floor!

This intervention is about freedom and justice in Nigeria especially as they concern three detained personalities: Nnamdi Kanu of IPOB fame, Sambo Dasuki of Dasukigate fame and Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakyzaky of IMN fame. These three men represent many things to many people. They command some followership even in solitary confinement. Unless a court of competent jurisdiction says so we cannot treat them as criminals no matter the degree of crime they may have deemed to have committed or charges brought against them by the authorities.

Late January this year it was reported that the Nigeria Police and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (Shia group) had clashed in Abuja over the continued detention of their leader even when a high court had granted him bail. According to the online reports the placard-wielding protesters, in their hundreds, arrived the main gate of the National Assembly complex singing anti -government songs and calling on the government to obey a court ruling directing the Federal Government to release their leader languishing in the custody of the Department of State Security Services (DSS) for over a year.

They were tear-gassed and scuffles broke out as the determined protesters headed towards the main gate of the national assembly complex. The police managed to disperse them using water cannon but no arrest was made as the police were unable to lay their hands on anyone. The protesters left for home but the anger is still boiling over against a system that refuses to comply with bail conditions offered to their incarcerated leader. And in the South-east thousands of Independent Peoples of Biafra members had protested (sometimes violently) against the continuing incarceration of their champion. Kanu had been charged to court for challenging the unity of the nation and granted bail but each time he stepped out of the courtroom the security operatives would re-arrest him and charge him with other offenses. Ditto Sambo Dasuki.

When Reuben Abati was arrested few months again for his involvement in Dasukigate (he actually received and pocketed millions of Naira or Dollars from the munificent Santa Sambo) the popular journalist/writer upon his release penned angrily an article in which he accused the government of leaving out the elephant in the room (Goodluck Jonathan) to roam about while hammering away on ants and rats! His argument was instructive since Dasuki purportedly acted under the instruction of the then President! So, against this backdrop, some laymen could not comprehend why the boss is being left out while the boys that executed his orders were being molested and harassed.

The popular war against graft has seen the docking of some prominent men and women who stole money from the public purse. The Obanikoros, Fani-Kayodes, Metuhs, Mohammeds, former Ministers and Directors and many others especially of the PDP opposition party have had their days in court. Millions of Dollars have been recovered in plea bargaining but billions more are still lying in bank accounts at home and abroad! The war, in our reckoning, has no political, ethnic or class colouration whatsoever. When the confused opposition say that their members are systematically being targetted it could be because they were found to have exploited their power status to raid the national treasury. There is no persecution; we have only the prosecution of those who abused the system!

The war against the Boko Haram terrorists in the north has yielded huge dividends. While Abubakar Shekau could mock the President and his security chiefs by saying in series of videos that he was still alive and kicking against speculations that he was dead it is widely believed that a lot of damage has been inflicted on the terror machine. But Islamic activism or radicalism as represented by those based in Zaria whose leader is still under detention cannot be classified in the same way as Shekau and his murderous group. We have never heard that Zak-Zaky and his followers had ever threatened the existence of the nation, its secular state or any other faith. None of its members had ever been arrested for carrying out suicide bombing or attacking any community in the north or elsewhere.

The IPOB group in the south-east were calling for true federation or secession in the event of non-satisfaction of their yearnings or demand. The Nigerian federation as presently constituted is not working for the benefit of every stakeholders hence the disenchantment with the system. We advocate for unity but justice must be done to any ethnic group that feels marginalised in the scheme of things. Victimising them for voicing out their frustrations cannot be a smart way of assuaging their feelings. The government must express understanding of their plight and seek out a lasting solution like the one being worked out in the Niger Delta.

Let us, at this juncture, restate our doubtless stance against corruption in Nigeria. Of course we support, without any reservation, the war against graft by the Buhari administration. Again, we believe supremely, as patriots, in the unity in diversity of our great nation! Our principled stand against Islamic fundamentalism, extreemism (or terrorism on the global scale) is beyond question. Yet we believe that the course of justice must not be impeded or imperilled by the quest for justice itself! Our commitment to true democracy, one in which the rule of law, justice and equity hold sway cannot be misconstrued or misinterpreted.

Democracy, in its true definition and tradition everywhere does not allow for the flagrant disobedience of court orders. That is why relatively in the US the controversial Trump anti-immigration decree has been annulled by a Judge. The presidential edict sought to bar the nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries (including Sudan and Somalia) from entering America for a period of three months! But as soon as the court ruled otherwise the law was rendered nugatory, null and void and the concerned agencies and institutions obeyed the ruling. The President did not approve of the ruling but he has initiated legal moves to have the binding decision quashed. That is all he could do under the present circumstance. And he has done just that and the appeal failed!

Ibrahim El-Zakzaky who leads the Shia Muslim Islamic Movement of Nigeria has spent more than a year in custody since clashes between his followers and troops erupted in the northern city of Zaria. The three days of violence left at least 350 IMN members dead according to human rights groups. Nigeria’s military has rejected the claimed death toll but offered no alternative figure. Nnamdi Kanu was picked up for operating an illegal secession-driven radio station. And Dasuki was put behind bars for misappropriating billions of Dollars budgeted for the military equipment of our armed forces. These three high-profile detainees had been granted bail by different courts yet freedom still remains in abeyance. The government thinks otherwise citing national security risk they constituted.

For purposes of emphasis it bears repeating here that we are against corruption but we must say that justice ought to take its course in cases of graft brought before Judges. The justice system ought to be reformed to meet the challenges of the moment. And while we believe in the unity and indivisibility of the Nigerian nation we believe those questioning its existence as one indivisible entity should be treated fairly and justly. It should not be a crime to voice out one’s opposition to belonging to a dysfunctiional federation as ours. The law should take its course and justice administered in such circumstance of non-violent rebellion.

While sincerely wishing President Buhari “soonest recover” in London we urge him to tell freedom to the aforementioned detainees. Tell them freedom, Mr President, in the spirit of the new year! Tell Kanu, Dasuki and Zakzaky freedom! Tell them freedom!!

Written by
SOC Okenwa
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