By - Isaac Joseph
In a country with law and order, the destiny of our democracy hangs in a balance as a former presidential aspirant in Nigeria and a publisher with the Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore faces questionable trial over his role in the planning of the #Revolution protests that graced the streets of Nigeria and parts of Europe. In what many would have seen as an exercise of his basic human rights, to call for a better standard of living, it becomes ironical to see the publisher cum activist punished for his impeccable role in staging the protests.
Many years ago, one of Africa’s foremost writers and Nobel Prize winner, Wole Soyinka, who has been described as one who writes from a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones wrote a play titled the ‘Madmen and Specialists’. In the play, Soyinka emphasized on several themes which included the clash between the good and evil forces. The play, Madmen and Specialists, which is considered Soyinka’s most pessimistic play, dealt with “man’s inhumanity and pervasive corruption in structures of power”. The play exposes us to Dr. Bero, a corrupt specialist, who imprisons and torments his physician father. While it is debatable to assert who the madmen really are, it looks convincing to state that Dr. Bero is insane. This is a replica of the recent struggles faced by Omoyele Sowore.
Sowore was taken into detention by members of the DSS; Lauretta Onochie, a social media aide to Nigeria’s President later claimed in her justification for the detention that “with talks about setting himself (Sowore) ablaze, it’s in order for the security operatives, whose role it is to safeguard both lives and properties, to take him into custody to prevent him from harming himself and get him the help he needs”. Her statement has a striking contradiction to that of Mohamed Rachid Rida, a Syrian Arab reformator who said, “to revolt on behalf of an ignorant people, is like to set yourself on fire in order to light the way for a blind man!” The Federal Government later filed seven counts of treasonable felony and money laundering against Sowore. The charges were filed a day before the expiration of the detention order of the Federal High Court in Abuja permitting the Department of State Services to keep the activist for 45 days.
Being a long-term activist right from his days at the University of Lagos, Omoyele Sowore was a strong member of the vanguard of the pro-democracy struggle that chased away the military and restored constitutional governance to Nigeria. Later on, he founded Sahara Reporters with which he has exposed not a few Nigerian officials for corruption and misgovernance. Sowore returned from New York in 2018 to join partisan politics, and on his return founded the African Action Congress party, which platform he ran for presidency in Nigeria. He lost that election after which he commenced a series of advocacy to propel the Buhari administration to govern the country better.
Reactions to the Charges Filed Against Omoyele Sowore
In a reaction to the charges levied against the activist, Wole Soyinka stated that: “This is utterly depressing news. So, the Sowore affair has moved beyond harassment and taken on a sinister direction. Outside the country where I happened to be engaged at the moment, I can testify that the immediate reaction around me was to dismiss this as yet another grotesque product of fake news, of which Nigerians have become the greatest practitioners. I confess that I also joined in this school of thought – at the start. Further checks have however confirmed that this government has indeed attained an unprecedented level of paranoia. I do not believe that the Justice department itself believes in these improbable charges, as formally publicised. So, once again, we inscribe in our annals another season of treasonable felony, History still guards some lessons we have yet to digest, much less from which to learn. Welcome to the Club, Mr. Omoyele Sowore.”
The international community was not left out from the list of those who reacted to the questionable charges levied against Omoyele Sowore but in a swift display of diplomacy, the EU Ambassador to Nigeria, Ketil Karlsen, stated that the judiciary should be allowed to do its job and it was not the duty of the EU to tell Nigeria how to conduct its internal affairs. In his words, the ambassador said, “The European Union stands firm on the principles of freedom of speech and our fundamental values. Of course, it is important in any democratic society for people to be able to participate. I am not aware of any petition following the latest events in Nigeria but what I can say is that as long as people seek peaceful means to demonstrate and voice their political opinion, this is what we see as a natural part of a thriving democracy. Of course, any democracy or any society in the world must jealously guard and make sure that such pronouncements are always non-violent and that they respect the fundamental rules of the game and democracy at the end of the day and it is for the Nigerian justice system, in the end, to follow up on specific cases and as long as these cases are being dealt with in the Nigerian justice system, it is not for the EU or the EU ambassador to judge what is right or wrong in these occasions but of course we always follow very carefully when there are dissenting voices in the countries where we operate and we listen very carefully to all of them.”
At the Court…
Sowore was brought before the court and in a report by The Premium Times, it was reported that the judge, Taiwo Taiwo, stated that the law provides for the freedom of all Nigerians regardless of economic or political status. In the words of the Judge in a short ruling, “the order of the court has expired. It has not been renewed and cannot be renewed in view of the motion ex-parte earlier withdrawn,” the judge said of the continuous detention of Mr Sowore. The liberty of all Nigerians high or low, poor or rich is guaranteed by the constitution. It’s for this end that I’m of the view that the defendant ought to be released forthwith.” While his release comes as a brief relief and a ‘supposedly’ victory for democracy, his trial continues.
In one of Soyinka’s quote, he stated that “the greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism. The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.” While this statement seems to be a clarion call to speak out in the face of oppression, it comes with a price, which ‘brother’ Sowore is clearly willing to pay. Well, it might be confusing to tag the authorities ‘madmen’ as they have claimed to come to the rescue of Sowore not to set himself ablaze, it is still ironical to call them specialists as one is completely unsure where their interest lies. If reports in the news are anything to go by, one could easily assign roles, but with a cautious fear like that of Soyinka, who opined that most pedaled stories nowadays are ‘grotesque product of fake news, of which Nigerians have become the greatest practitioners’.
While the trial of ‘brother Sowore’ remains a topical issue, what is bothersome is that this issue would not go away anytime soon. This is evident in his intrinsic drive to effect a change. And just as the saying – ‘uneasy lies in the head that wears the crown’, the stage is set, the cast are ready and there will be more mad men and specialists and who knows, there might be an eventual ‘cobra dance’ or a repeat of the ‘python dance’…The world is watching!
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