Recently I learnt that a dear friend and sister of mine, human rights activist, Barrister Sai’da Saad Bugaje is currently being ruthlessly and brutally harassed and persecuted by the authorities over her critique of the gormless governor of the State she hails from. It has gotten so intense that friends and family are now scared for her safety and life. Some months back, she had initially been subjected to a special kind of extrajudicial harassment by, what is believed to be the governor’s henchmen, over utterances she made on the alleged mismanagement of COVID-19 funds in her State. At that time, she was almost whisked away by personnel claiming to be working for the authorities in her home, had it not been for the timely intervention of the police and government of a different State.
As part of that ordeal, Barrister Sa’ida Saad, the wife of renowned politician of esteemed pedigree and national treasure, Dr Usman Bugaje, was bombarded in her home when members of the police arrived in two vehicles and demanded for her to follow them to her State of origin even though they made that demand without an arrest warrant. Being that Barrister Saida is very much aware of her rights, she asked them to produce an arrest warrant and refused to follow the authorities unless she was furnished with one. Apart from the fact that the, so called, authorities sent to take her were not equipped with a valid arrest warrant, Barrister Saida was also cognizant of the insecurity in Nigeria and concerned. Given the spate of kidnappings and abductions across the country, it is no wonder that she was adamant on not blindly following strangers who barged into her house far into what could have been the great abyss. Luckily, while she stood her ground in refusing to follow them, they were eventually persuaded to leave.
With the ink hardly dry on that particular incident in which Barrister Saida escaped arrest, another confrontation was to ensue when the same group of personnel returned and forced their way into her home. In that particular incident, it looked as if they meant business because, according to eye witnesses, they intimidated members of her household, charged into her rooms, took pictures of the house, property and car number plates, amongst other forms of aggression. Perhaps Barrister Saida’s saving grace on that faithful day was her absence. Thankfully to the Almighty, my friend was not at home. One cannot imagine what would have happened to her if they hoard of people sent had met her and her children at her home. Having had no way of locating her, they subsequently made their exit.
Presently, the persecution has continued with that particular State governor relentlessly setting members of the authorities in his State against her for allegedly speaking her mind.
On the morning of March 15, 2021, unidentified men visited the apartment she stays in Abuja with her picture demanding that the occupants of the residence produce her. They arrived at 6.30 a.m. and got all occupants of the building out in the car park, where they searched through everyone harassing and intimidating them to produce Barrister Sa’ida. Some of the occupants where even just half dressed, as it is expected that time of the morning.
It has been reported that the men sent by the State governor are currently going round every residence Barrister visits in Abuja relentlessly looking for her despite the fact that there is an ongoing court case on her matter and ‘an order from a high court against her indiscriminate arrest.’
Only in Nigeria can the kind of mutiny of the rule of law that seems to characterise this governor become commonplace. Reading the account that Barrister Sa’ida had been subjected to in the first incident, one is compelled to question which authority the police personnel sent to apprehend her empowered them to the extent that they would leave their jurisdiction in their State and go to another State to arrest Barrister Sa’ida without a ‘Warrant?’
For goodness sake, we are supposed to be operating a democratic system of government. Freedom of speech to speak, analyse, question and criticise within the annals of the law is supposed to be part of the bedrock of which our hard fought democracy is based on. No longer do we operate a military system where Nigerians are restricted from free speech. Alas, the action of this particular governor against Barrister Saida Saad Bugaje is reminiscent of the military era. We are no longer in that era neither are we under a dictatorship, hence such actions must not be condoned. The governor should note that the rights of individuals to express themselves even in a critical manner are enshrined in the Constitution. He should realise that the people have a right to see things differently and critique policies of his administration.
It is unfortunate to see this dangerous growing trend where some State governors, as well as powerful-individuals feel entitled and empowered to illegally use police personnel to intimidate and arrest their critics or Nigerians who speak freely about matters that inconvenience and irritate those in authority.
Why is this the case? Recall the curious case of Abubakar Idris a.k.a Dadiyata who has been missing for almost two years now after he was abducted from his home in his State. He is a well-known fierce critic of his government. This outspoken activist was whisked away by the authorities almost two years ago and till date, his whereabouts are unknown to the vast amount of the Nigerian public. And many fear the fate of Dadiyata, which are invariably linked to his criticism of government.
While speculations and confusion still dominates narratives of Dadiyata’s whereabouts, it is no wonder that Barrister Sa’ida Saad Bugaje used her intellectual resources to resist becoming a statistic in the manner that this young man may have become.
The siege and attempted abduction of Barrister Saida Saad Bugaje by security personnel speaks volumes on how impunity is being employed by certain individuals to circumvent due process. And despite the danger of being apprehended back to her State, under the daunting force of her governor, Barrister Sa’ida Saad maintained that she is willing and ready to face any valid charges the State Government might have filled against her, as long as correct procedure were followed and the safety of her and her family was guaranteed.
As we live in Nigeria during a time when we are fighting a ferocious internal war against violent crime, armed robbery, banditry and kidnapping, it is indeed shameful that our scarce resources, particularly during this period of COVID-19 and dwindling revenues, are being expended to achieve selfish agendas against those who have the courage to exercise their Constitutional right to free speech, rather than for the greater good. Why scarce resources would be spent on large numbers of security personnel on a fool’s errand is really ‘Stoooopid’ with a capital S!
With several crimes and criminality across the country, especially the North, sending equipped police personnel all the way to one State from another to pick up an ordinary citizen for airing her views against a sitting government is the new definition of crime fighting. As a country, have we really sunk that low? Is appeasing some individual’s ego more important than the safety of people’s lives and properties? Where exactly is the priority of some of these governors?
With her pedigree as an activist and human rights advocate, understandably, about 50 civil society organisations (CSOs) had, in the past, demanded that security personnel desist from hounding Barrister Saida Saad Bugaje and follow due process in instituting criminal proceedings against her. These CSOs previously went ahead to sign a petition calling on the police to desist from laying siege to Barrister Saida Saad Bugaje’s house. However, despite this, Barrister Sa’ida Saad Bugaje is being hounded and tracked as if she has no Constitutional or human rights.
While this particular governor is supposed to be an academic genius and first class student, it might be pertinent for someone to sit him down and educate him on the very basic tenants of our democracy and Constitution. Should he not be aware, in Nigeria, freedom of expression is protected by section 39 (1) of the Constitution. The Constitution protects the right to freedom of expression and provides that any restriction to this right must be justifiable in a democratic society. The declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa also provides that any restriction to freedom of expression must “serve a legitimate purpose, necessary in a democratic society.”
Freedom of expression is also a primary requirement for democracy to thrive. Any society, which indiscriminately regulates what can be said and what cannot be said will ultimately collapse. Free speech is inherent in man; thoughts are free and for man to blossom, such thoughts should be given expression. Societies such as ours should endeavor to appreciate the need to allow citizens to freely express themselves.
While Social media in particular has become a very important tool for shaping public discourse in Nigeria, the apparent desperation to intimidate, suppress and silence public opinion and free speech by some people in power as well as further entrench a siege mentality on the citizenry is beyond belief. The authorities should not exploit concerns about hate speech or fake news as a pretext for the repression of free speech. Actions like that of the Governor in this particular persecution of Barrister Sa’ida appear to actualise a dangerous drive to muzzle free speech in Nigeria.
While one is aware that some people hold very dangerous views; dangerous in the sense that their views are myopic, inciting, destructive or inflammatory and threatening to the ideals of mutual respect, the courts are there to interpret and persecute erring offenders. But in order for any matter to get up to that level, due process must be adhered to according to Nigerian law. It is not for an individual, no matter how powerful they are or how highly placed they are, to be t’he judge, jury and executioner!’
Notorious dictator Idi Amin once said, “there is freedom of expression; however he will not guarantee freedom after the expression.” Perhaps this very expression is what this Governor is, himself, governed by!
Barrister Sa’ida Saad Bugaje continues to live under extreme fear for her safety and that of her family since the September 16th, 2020 incident and the exercise of her free speech that set her and her family running helter skelter in preservation of mind body and soul.
It is important for her story to be put on public record should anything happen to her. It must again be noted that there are court orders and subsisting court cases for the enforcement of her ‘fundamental human rights’ presently in the law courts. Despite this, the governor’s team has become more determined and relentless in picking her up for charges, which appear to be completely baseless. The governor needs to Simmer-down and allow the Courts to determine the next cause of action instead of this manner of extrajudicial persecution.
Barrister Sa’ida Saad Bugaje has declared that she is and will continue to be a law abiding citizen who “loves her country deeply and is known for her deep respect for the rule of law, Justice and fairness.” She has said that she will, therefore “continue to seek all legitimate means to protect herself and her family against the governor’s excesses!”
Recently, in her own words, she posted that, “What the governor and his men are doing is completely against my basic and fundamental rights! If he truly believes that he has a genuine case of defamation of character against me then he should go to a proper court to institute a CIVIL ACTION. This is the proper thing to do but not to set the machinery of justice that is meant to give protection against me…”
I have personally known Barrister Sa’ida Saad Bugaje for decades and I can contest that she is one of the most honorable, decent minded people I know; a brilliant lawyer who continuously fights for the most downtrodden in society, a fantastic wife and mother, a good and loyal friend, a patriotic Nigerian and an all round decent human being. She does not deserve the treatment allegedly given to her by the governor of her State’s not-so-merry men!
With that I throw my gauntlet in to exercise my constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech by stating that “I STAND WITH BARRISTER SA’IDA SAAD BUGAJE” in exercising her Constitutional right without fear of intimidation!”
“My thoughts and prayers are with you my dear friend and sister. May The Almighty keep you safe”
No matter what happens, Barrister Sa’ida Saad Bugaje MUST be kept ALIVE AND WELL… One hopes that her State Governor gets this message… “LOUD AND CLEAR!!!”
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