Human rights defenders around the world are asking if Nigeria has been captured by a rogue body of intelligence operatives who overrule judicial orders and have kept activists locked behind bars for such “crimes” as freedom of speech.
This week, Nigerians marked the anniversary of the death of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight colleagues 24 years ago. The so-called “Ogoni 9” were lynched by the Nigerian state for exercising free speech and denouncing the actions of oil companies occupying lands of the Ogoni people. Their gruesome deaths opened a window for the world to view the destruction of water resources and the devastation of villages by companies engaged in pumping oil from the creeks of the Niger Delta.
An inspiring orator, Saro-Wiwa launched a movement – MOSOP – which energized members of the Ogoni people and in 1993 some 300,000 turned out for a mass rally.
The military dictator at the time, General Sani Abacha, allegedly conspired with oil giant Shell to capture and hang Saro-Wiwa. After years of litigation, in 2009, Shell agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle the charges while not admitting guilt.
Shell operated in Ogoniland from 1958 to 1993 and environmental campaign group Greenpeace points to the legacy of environmental degradation those operations and spillages have left.
Today, free speech is still unfree.
Recently, the broadcast licenses of African Independent Television and Raypower Radio station, were suspended, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), for vague reasons. A week later, the Department of State Security Services (DSS) declared a crackdown on social media users for posting materials described as threatening to the country’s peace and stability.
Accused of acting arbitrarily and with impunity, the DSS has been implicated in human rights violations including detention without trial and torture.
Provisions in Nigeria’s constitution protect the right to freedom of expression and provide that any restriction to this right must be justifiable in a democratic society.
Yet a 2015 cybercrimes law criminalizes a broad range of online interaction and has been used to prosecute at least five bloggers.
This week, another media activist remains behind bars with Nigerian Security Services defying an order by a federal judge to release him. Omoyele Sowore, the founder of Sahara Reporters news service and an outspoken organizer and presidential candidate, is now charged with treasonable felony, cyber stalking and money laundering when the initial cause for his arrest was his stated political platform – “revolution.”
“In utter contempt of the orders of Justice Ojukwu, the State Security Service has refused to release Messrs Sowore and Bakare from custody,” said Omoyele’s lawyer Femi Falana. “We shall embark on appropriate legal measures to ensure compliance with the court orders.”
SOURCE: Global Information Network