A coalition of civil society organisations in Nigeria has issued a 14-day ultimatum to President Muhammadu Buhari to release Omoyele Sowore and other illegal detainees in SSS custody or brace for nationwide protests.
Mr Sowore, the publisher of Sahara Reporters, was initially released by the SSS on Thursday after prolonged refusal by the State Security Service to obey a court order for his freedom.
On Friday, the SSS invaded a courtroom in Abuja and rearrested the activist. Mr Sowore called for protests to demand good governance. The government accuses him of treason, money laundering and insulting Mr Buhari.
The coalition demanding his release includes Centre for Democracy & Development (CDD), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Concerned Nigerians, Enough Is Enough Nigeria(EiE) three others.
Amnesty International said it was in support of the call for the immediate release of all unlawfully-held detainees.
At a press conference in Abuja on Monday, the groups also faulted the invasion of the court by the SSS.
In a joint statement read by Yemi Adamolekun of EiE, the groups presented five demands to the government.
They asked Mr Buhari to speak to the media and show his commitment to the rule of law; and to release of all illegal detainees in DSS custody, including the unconditional release of Mr Sowore.
They also demanded that the administration obey all pending court orders, and investigate the officers who invaded a federal court on Friday.
“Tomorrow, December 10, the world will celebrate Human Rights Day. It will also be marked in Nigeria as we review the crackdown of the freedom of the press, proposed bills to curb dissent, and a general environment of shrinking civic space of which the recent actions of our security agents is just an example,” the statement said.
“We represent a cross-section of the Nigerian Civil Society actors that have played various roles in the journey of Nigeria to civilian rule.
“Two key issues that are of concerns to us, namely: number one, attack on our judiciary and number two, attack on free speech and pattern of silencing the press,” Ms Yemi read.
The executive director of CISLAC, Auwal Rafsanjani, said the government acted with the same impunity its party condemned in the past.
“Just in 2015, when DSS went to invade APC data centre, they were crying. Lai Mohammed was shouting, saying this is the worst that has ever happened in Nigeria history. But today they all kept quiet, in fact, justifying this group violent violation of fundamental human rights in Nigeria,” he said.
Mr Rafsanjani said judged by the recent development, the Buhari administration was worse than past military regimes.
He called on all Nigerians to join the activists in “checkmating” bad governance rather than treat the matter with indifference.
“We want the whole world to know that what we are experiencing is military dictatorship because during the military regime, as fascist as they were, they were not going against the precedence of the court carrying out illegal and irresponsible attacks,” he said.
An activist, Deji Adeyanju, said the government must meet the demands to stop the protests.
“Whether we like it or not, mass action is inevitable if the government refuses to comply with our demands. The reason it is important to all Nigerian to own this trouble is that everyone is an activist; whether you are a journalist, market woman, social media,” Mr Adeyanju told pressmen.
In Lagos, civil society organisations urged the government to act within seven days or face mass protests.
An activist, Ayo Ademiluyi, who addressed journalists, said they were shocked but not surprised that the Buhari-led Presidency backs the barbaric invasion of the courts by the SSS.
“We condemn the position of the Presidency that the agency had acted within its constitutional powers and did not need to seek Buhari’s approval to act on security matters,” he said.
Towolawi Jamiu, a representative of the Take It Back Movement, said the government has until December 17 to release Mr Sowore and other “political prisoners” or face nationwide protests.