A coalition of activists has accused Nigeria’s main opposition party, PDP, of ignoring the harassment of journalists and disturbing cases of human rights violations by its governors.
The activists in a letter written to the party chairman, Uche Secondus, and submitted to the party’s National Secretariat in Abuja on Friday, expressed their displeasure.
The group noted “the rising intolerance and disturbing cases of human rights violations, in some states where your party members presently hold sway” and therefore called on the PDP and other opposition parties to speak against this tide.
They noted the arrest and detention of Agba Jalingo, a journalist, and Michael Itok, a bank marketer with Prudential Microfinance Bank, by Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State and Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State.
Mr Jalingo is standing trial for charges of treasonable felony, terrorism and attempt to topple the Cross River State Government.
Mr Itok was arrested and remanded in prison custody for allegedly publishing “damaging and annoying” articles on Facebook against the governor of Akwa-Ibom.
“It is unfortunate that as the leading opposition party which regularly condemns the lawlessness of the ruling party at the centre, some of your governors, specifically Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State and Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State, have chosen the odious path of intolerance while embarking on coercive campaigns of arrest and arbitrary detention of social critics and political activists, perceived as enemies for being critical of their governments,” the group said.
They described the actions as executive tyranny and said it is a gross violation of the fundamental human rights of the victims as guaranteed under Sections 39 and 35 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
“We make bold to say that the kitchen of leadership is not meant for those who cannot stand the test and heat of public criticism. At every level, leaders must develop the capacity to respond to criticisms with facts and figures to set the records straight,” they stated in the submitted letter signed by the conveners.
Deji Adeyanju, the convener of Concerned Nigerians, said the purpose of their visit is to call the attention of the party to the unlawful arrest of journalists by two of its governors and its take on the controversial hate speech bill sponsored by a lawmaker of the ruling APC.
He also described the silence of the PDP and other opposition parties to mean consent aimed at gagging the public from criticising bad governance.
“Acts like this cannot be tolerated in a constitutional democracy. The reason why we came here is to prevail on the National Chairman to call the two governors to order, especially that of Agba Jalingo is very worrisome, because a secret trial has been proposed for him,” he said. “We are here to also say journalism is not a crime and cannot be criminalised under a democracy. We are aware that when freedom of speech is criminalised in a democracy, we have reached rock bottom.”
Another activist, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said the PDP was exhibiting similar traits of the APC “and no one is calling them to order.”
“Nigerians cannot indulge the PDP because you are in the opposition, you must stand up and act what you speak,” he said. “You cannot criticise the government at the centre and be indulging your governors who are violating the rights of Nigerians. This is our simple message.”
“We also want the PDP to take a stand as a political party and sending messages to other members of the opposition, about ‘eighty something’ of them to take a stand on the two draconian bills before the National Assembly. We want to know the position of the PDP, ADP, SDP, APGA and other opposition parties,” Mr Ariyo-Dare told PREMIUM TIMES.
Adebayo Raphael, the Convener of Free Nigeria Movement, also registered his displeasure.
“It makes no sense that a governor would allege that because a man makes a post on his blog, therefore he is attempting to carry out a coup on its government,” he said. “It makes no sense that a governor that was duly elected under a democratic dispensation would carry out a dictatorial act in this country and there will not be a public outcry?”