EDITORIAL: President Buhari must release Sowore Now!

Sahara Reporters publisher, Omoyele Sowore. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official Instagram account of Sowore]
Sahara Reporters publisher, Omoyele Sowore. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official Instagram account of Sowore]

On Friday, September 20, the Federal Government charged Omoyele Sowore, the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) in the 2019 general elections, with treason and money-laundering.

This is sequel to his arrest and detention for the past 45 days for having planned a series of protest marches against the state of the nation under the Buhari administration. This is an ominous sign. Opposition to the government of the day is not treason, however conceived. The additional claim that Mr Sowore “insulted” the president would make the whole episode laughable, were the liberty and freedom of speech of a citizen not at stake. Nigerians asserted and exercised the right to protest against successive military dictators, including Buhari, in his earlier incarnation as head of state, and that right does not become dormant under civilian rule. The government is doing itself a disservice by infringing this right by way of these ridiculous charges.

Since Sowore’s arrest at his hotel in Lagos on August 3 by operatives of the SSS, two days before #RevolutionNow, a planned protest that he was spearheading and until formal charges were filed on Friday, the government had put out one ridiculous “explanation” or another, none convincing, for the arrest and continued detention of this political activist and engaged citizen. As a matter of fact, many have speculated that the latest charges were a last-minute attempt to hold Mr. Sowore beyond the 45-day limit set on keeping political detainees in custody without trial.

Mr Sowore is certainly not the only victim of the Buhari administration’s highhandedness. Several citizens, including Ahmed Dadiyata, the journalist Jones Abiri, and others have fallen on the wrong side of this government’s definition of conduct it deems offensive and, therefore, illegal. We wonder what has become of Buhari’s vaunted claim of being a “reborn democrat” on the campaign trail.

Mr Sowore’s arrest and now arraignment is the latest instance of this government’s growing intolerance of criticism and brazen violations of citizens’ rights and liberties.

PREMIUM TIMES asserts that Mr Sowore is a patriot and a passionate crusader for justice, whose commitments to Nigeria are not in doubt. Since his days as a students’ union leader at the University of Lagos in the mid-1990s, Mr Sowore has put his immense gifts for organisation and mobilisation at the service of the disenfranchised in the country, including those of latter-day “democrats” like Mr Buhari.

From his work as an organiser among US-based Nigerian pro-democracy groups to the founding of the citizen-journalism platform, SaharaReporters, to his recent exertions as a politician, Mr Sowore has maintained a commitment to improving Nigeria’s civic values.

Is Sowore paying for remaining at the forefront of the struggle for a better Nigeria, displaying the courage of his conviction in a steadfast, fearless, truth-telling, and progressively influential way, while other challengers to Buhari’s presidency during the 2019 elections have either made their peace with things as they are or returned to their private businesses?

PREMIUM TIMES believes that the administration adds nothing to the legal merits in its case against Mr Sowore by proposing an imprudent charge of “insulting the president,” a funny retort unknown to the laws of our country. The hint is therefore difficult to dispel that, adding its serial disobedience of court orders, the increasing side-stepping of protocols that strengthen democratic norms, plus Mr Buhari’s own record of contempt for democratic preferences in the 1980s, President Buhari’s administration is now embarking on a steady march towards authoritarianism and the undermining of citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedoms of assembly, speech and protest.

Mr Sowore is a patriot and a genuine, compassionate defender of the freedoms that Nigerians are entitled to enjoy. His current ordeal is totally unwarranted. We call on the government to stop the persecution of this exemplary citizen, to release him from detention, and vacate all the charges against him.

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