Sahara Reporters, CDHR Offices Blocked As Police Disrupt Pro-Sowore Protests


• Activists demand the release of detained Ekere, Jalingo, others
Forty-seven days after Omoyele Sowore was arrested and detained by the Department of State Services (DSS) officials for planning a nationwide protest tagged #RevolutionNow, his supporters yesterday staged a protest in Ikeja, Lagos to demand his release and other Nigerians in detention across the country.

Sowore, who is the publisher of an online publication, Sahara Reporters, was arrested at a Lagos hotel and has been charged at a Federal High Court with treason and plot to destabilise the government. The court refused him bail and granted an order that he be detained in the DSS custody for 45 days, which expired on Monday.

His supporters, including members of the Coalition for Revolution (CORE), who could not be held back by the rain that swept across Lagos during the protest yesterday, also defied intimidation and threat of arrest by the police and other security agencies. The police had laid siege to the secretariat of the Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), the initial convergence point of the protesters, barring them from kicking off the protest. The protesters later converged on another point in Lagos to continue the demonstration, while they distributed their leaflets titled “Free Them All Now” to motorists and passersby along Awolowo Way, Ikeja, and its environs.

The CORE said the activists were being detained by the government for calling for an economy that works for all Nigerians and not a handful of super-rich persons; justifiable end to insurgency and freedom for all political prisoners; an end to systemic corruption and system change; payment of N30,000 minimum wage as agreed with unions; and free and qualitative education for all.

The co-convener of the movement, Seni Ajai, told reporters that the protesters would not give in to threats from the government over their demand for Sowore’s freedom. “Our message is simple. Sowore was abducted on August 3, Agba Jalingo was abducted on August 22, Olawale Adebayo was abducted on August 5, and it has been 48 days since social media critic, Dadiyata went missing, Jones Abiri is still in detention. We are gathered here to say free them all now,” he said.

Earlier, the armed policemen disrupted the protest organised by the human rights groups to call for the release of Sowore and other detainees. It was learnt that the policemen stormed the office of Sahara Reporters, owned by Sowore and located at Isaac John, GRA in Ikeja. The security agents also laid siege to the office of the CDHR in Ikeja.

The police arrived at the CDHR office as early as 7:00 a.m. to prevent the protest scheduled for 10:00 a.m from being held. A CDHR official said: “They have been here as early as 7:00 a.m. They came inside the compound and took over the security post. They did not harass anybody but the presence of policemen armed with guns affected those who were even doing their legitimate work in the building, which houses other business outlets.

“The planned protest today is just to distribute leaflets marking the 45 days of Sowore in detention and to sensitize our people to call on the government to release him and others. Unfortunately, they are not even allowing that to happen.“The government is sitting on a keg of gunpowder now. People are angry, people are suffering and any chance they get to protest, they will come out en masse. If there was a rally today, our people will be asking questions about many issues that have died down on Babachir Lawal and Ikoyi money. We are actually going back to that military era when you will be arrested for speaking up. Even critics are being arrested now. Agbo Jalingo was arrested because of his criticism of Ben Ayade’s government,” he said.

Sowore’s wife had, in an interview on a TV show in the United States, said the Federal Government pinned its grievance on her husband over a meeting he had with the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu.

“They also mentioned he may have taken money from foreign countries when he met them in Dubai. He had never been to Dubai before, which was an interesting statement on the Nigerian government’s part. And no money, basically, has been found with him,” she said. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) yesterday urged the government to end the siege to the offices of Sahara Reporters and the CDHR and allow journalists, activists and civil society to operate freely.

According to SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the security agents and state governors should also immediately stop the nationwide campaign of arbitrary arrests against journalists, activists, and protesters. He said the attack on Sahara Reporters and CDHR came on the heels of a staggering crackdown on critics, journalists, and activists by many state governors.

“The federal authorities and many state governors are targeting journalists, critics and activists, in clear violation of Nigeria’s constitution of 1999 (as amended), and international obligations, as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requiring the authorities to respect fundamental rights and the rules of law.

“These attacks are clearly aimed at silencing the kind of journalism and investigative reporting that makes federal and state governments uncomfortable. President Muhammadu Buhari now needs to make it clear that he doesn’t want any part of this kind of behaviour and that unacceptable and dangerous threats and attacks against journalists, protesters and activists will be fully investigated.

“Otherwise, when state security forces arbitrarily arrest and detain brave journalists and protesters like Agba Jalingo, Omoyele Sowore, and Mary Ekere and continue to get away with it, they benefit from a climate of impunity. These journalists are prisoners of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally.

“We strongly condemn the arrest of Mary Ekere of The Post, for taking photos of task force officials who raided a city spot, and Agba Jalingo, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of CrossRiverWatch, following his publication of an article asking Governor Ayade of Cross River to come clean on the whereabouts of the N500 million that was released for the state’s microfinance bank”, he said.