By - Makinde Ebenezer
Just recently, news outlets in Nigeria reported the decision of the Federal Government of Nigeria to file seven count charges of fraud and treasonable felony against the former presidential aspirant for the African Action Congress (AAC) during the 2019 General Election, Omoyele Sowore. Mr Omoyele Sowore was charged for treasonable felony and money laundering following his arrest on August 3, 2019 by the Federal Government of Nigeria under the leadership of President of Muhammadu Buhari for his #RevolutionNow protest. He was also accused of insulting the number one citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.
One of the charges reads “that you Omoyele Stephen Sowore, Male Adult of No 1 Mosafejo Street, Kiribo, Ese-Odo LGA, Ondo State, Olawale Adebayo Bakare (aka Mandate) Male, Adult of Olaiya Arca, Oshogbo LGA Osun State and others at large, under the aegis of Coalition for Revolution (CORE), sometimes in August 2019 in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of Nigeria within the Jurisdiction of this honourable court, did conspired amongst yourselves to stage a revolution campaign on 5th day of August 2019 tagged #RevolutionNow aimed at removing the president and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria during his terms of office otherwise known by constitutional means.”
Another part of the charges against him reads as follows, “knowingly sent messages by means of press interview granted on Arise Television network which you knew to be false for the purpose of causing insult, enmity, hatred and ill-will on the person of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria” which is in breach of Section 24 (1) (b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention) Act, and punishable under the same section of the Act. He was also charged for money laundering, another offence that breach Section 15 (1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.
Any Merits in the Charges against Sowore
Indeed, only a court of law can decide the merit of the charges brought before the convener of the #RevolutionNow protest, Omoyele Sowore. However, this very latest development presents another twist to the “brawl” between the federal government of Nigeria and Omoyele Sowore. Of course, the first twist was the decision of the DSS to lock up Omoyele Sowore, a man who only managed to secure about 33, 000 votes during the 2019 presidential election as against the president of the country, Muhammadu Buhari who won about 13 million of the total vote cast. It baffles many that the mighty can be scared of the scanty or how could a protest led by Omoyele Sowore threaten the corporate existence of the Nigerian State?
The second twist, unlike the first was the battle for meaning. Nigerians across all walks of life were forced to engage in operationalization of the word “revolution.” For the handlers of the DSS, revolution means revolution regardless of the practical reality. For DSS and the Buhari-led federal government, Omoyele Sowore is capable of fomenting trouble. So they were scared of another French Revolution of 1789 happening in Nigeria. It was also said that Omoyele Sowore and his #RevolutionNow colleagues had no right to operationalize “revolution” as peaceful protest. So the DSS arrested him at an ungodly hour, and sought evidence to justify the arrest.
The third twist, like the second one, relates to the issues of capacity and capability. It did not bother DSS whether Sowore had the army and the ammunitions or even the popular support to carry out a revolution. As the August 5 #RevolutionNow protest eventually revealed, Omoyele Sowore was merely jabbering and blabbing with no wherewithal to foment troubles. In August 5, 2019, rather than seeing a revolution, what we saw was police brutality and intimidation of the protesters. Like many would like to argue, it was not the urgency and foresightedness of the DSS and the police that halt the imminent troubles of the #RevolutionNow protest, but because there were no troubles in the first place.
After 45 days, while we are still on his detainment, the federal government of Nigeria presented formal charges against Omoyele Sowore in what represents an unnecessary show of force by the Muhammadu Buhari led government. The latest development on Sowore`s detention shows the extent to which the Buhari-led federal government can go to silent critics.
Is there a Dictator in Aso Rock?
The RevolutionNow hashtag was catchy and evocative, but feeble and frail. Of course, Sowore chose the wrong term to express his intention and he has been punished for that: 45 days in detention. But to charge him for treasonable felony and conspiracy to usurp the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari is to take his intention far fetch and more importantly to show the extent to which the people in Aso Rock can go to silent opposition. The mere use of the word revolution has now been taken to mean conspiracy to foment trouble and violent insurgency even against logic and common sense.
We can say something about Sowore as being reckless and impatience and that his RevolutionNow campaign was largely ill-conceived especially in the light of his participation in the 2019 Presidential Election where he lost grossly and clearly to the now Commander-in-Chief. Indeed, this writer does not see any sense in organizing a protest against a person that you just lost to in a democratic process- general election. Well, peaceful protest is also a democratic process.
However, while RevolutionNow protest was poorly conceived, there is a sense to which the Federal Government’s reactions to the antics of Sowore are much more dangerous to the country’s democracy and democratic credentials. Indeed, when the FG`s treatment of Omoyele Sowore is taken in relations to other suppression on peaceful protesters or opposing views in Nigeria, it is as if we are back under military regime. Which justified the question of whether there is now a dictator in Aso Rock?
It is now been said that there is no difference between Buhari as military Head of State and Buhari as a democratic President. There is now palpable and justifiable fear that the antecedents of President Muhammadu Buhari as a military head of state and his current romance with authoritarianism and highhandedness represented by his ruthlessness on open criticism, opposing views and dissenting voices are real dangers to the ideas of liberal democracy as espoused by the Nigerian State.
Of course, it can be said that President Muhmmadu Buhari has taken pettiness to another level by including the fact that he was “insulted” by Omoyele Sowore as one of the charges against him. But there is also another argument that President Muhammadu Buhari and the Federal Government has explored the democratic processes by charging Omoyele Sowore to the court of law which will decide the merits of the case against him and either finds him guilty of the offence, then punishes him accordingly or exculpates him.
However, how well has President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime done in terms of respect for the rule of law and court orders? Is it not the case of obeying favourable court orders and ditching unfavourable ones as we have seen in El Zakzaky vs. Federal Government, Namadi Sambo and others? It is perhaps difficult to trust the legal processes under President Muhammadu Buhari.
But if Omoyele Sowore can be treated this way for criticizing the current administration for maladministration, is this not a major signal that the current regime has no intention of accommodating dissenting voices? The mere use of the word, revolution has now been tagged “violent insurrection” by the same man who uttered the “blood and baboon rhetoric” after losing an election.
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