An activist group, the National Youths Standing With Accountability and Good Governance (National Youths S.W.A.G.G Network), has called for the immediate and unconditional release of Tonye Okio, a citizen reporter and social media activist.
Mr. Okio was allegedly arrested over two months ago on the direct orders of the Governor of Bayelsa State, Mr. Henry Seriake Dickson.
According to National SWAGG, in a statement signed by Ahman1 Victory, Julius Ebi and Brown Ayo, Mr. Okio spent Christmas in detention with hardened criminals, denied access to his family, and seems set to spend the New Year there as well.
“As we write to you today in freedom, a fellow Nigerian is suffering an unimaginable political persecution,” the group lamented.
The statement said Okio was abducted from his Abuja residence by agents of Governor Dickson.
“He is in prison where he is being subjected to deliberately harsh and dehumanizing conditions. Currently, due to the kind of food that Mr Tonye Okio has been fed with, he is weak, malnourished and may die unless urgent action is taken to save this Nigerian citizen. That action is for him to regain freedom now. Tomorrow may be too late.”
Launching the “FREE TONYE OKIO GLOBAL CAMPAIGN” in solidarity with the Nigerian human right community (NHRC), the group pointed out that he was accused of starting a rumour on the social media platform that a serving South-south governor had been arrested in the U.S. in connection with financial crimes involving $5 million.
“Although, the said story did not name anyone, the allusion that a former governor from the unnamed state was in a similar circumstance arrested some years ago was said to be the reason why Okio was picked up. The Bayelsa State Governor, Mr. Dickson, was said to be abroad when the story hit the social media circles.”
Despite the fact that under Nigerian law the Police are not allowed to keep anyone in its custody beyond 24 hours without being charged, Okio has been held for 10 days without trial.
“We insist that keeping Tonye Okio in prison custody ostensibly for social media activism is a national embarrassment,” the statement said. “It insults our collective intelligence. There is no doubt that the persecution of Tonye Okio only symbolises the state of human right violations that is on-going in Bayelsa State. In many homes, people have been forced to flee for fear of political persecution. It is disgusting that Bayesla, is gradually assuming the status of a Police State where dissent is not allowed and repression of the opposition has become a state policy.”
Drawing attention to other examples of Governor Dickson’s impunity, the group said:
“For several weeks, a businessman, Engr Fakuma Ilagha, was held in the same Prison with Tonye until he was granted bail. He was charged as an accomplice to Tonye just because his phone number happened to have been found in Tonye’s handset!
“There is also the case of Mr. Melford Esinte, another social media critic of Governor Dickson. Melford had been arrested on two previous occasions for his Facebook postings based on directives from Mr. Dickson.”
Flagging off the new campaign, SWAGG called on human right activists all over the world to blacklist Governor Dickson of Bayelsa State for impunity, and assault on free speech.
They also called on the National Human Rights Commission to institute a fact-finding mission to Bayelsa to ascertain the state of human right violations in the state, and on the Attorney General of the Federation to investigate the Bayesla judiciary for allowing itself to be used by unprincipled politicians holding the state hostage.
“We call on all media houses to speak out now for the people of Bayelsa State before it is too late,” National SWAGG said.