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INTERVIEW: Sowore's Trial Has Exposed Hypocrisy Of Nigerian Government, Charges Against Him Baseless And Should Be Dropped—Adegboruwa

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, in this interview with SaharaReporters, speaks on human rights violations by the Nigerian government as the #RevolutionNow struggle clocks a year.


What is your opinion of many human rights violations under the government of President Muhammadu Buhari?

It is sickening. As a matter of fact, I am presently researching the case of Mr Gabriel Emperor Ogbonna, a human rights activist arrested for over 100 days now. He has been in custody despite several orders issued by the court for his release.

Aside from my personal opinion, I think the general belief is that President Muhammadu Buhari, from his body language, encourages these abuses of the rights of citizens. This is why we have many 'awaiting trial' cases in many correctional centres in the country.

It is unacceptable. When you check the records of this particular regime, you will notice that indeed, they have not done well in the area of respect for the liberty of Nigerians.

I think the President should take steps to comply with provisions of the constitution on the liberty of citizens of this country.

What would you say might have gone wrong since Nigeria has a constitution that spelt out these rights? 

Section 35, chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution says that every person shall be entitled to his/her liberty and no person shall be deprived of such freedom except, and in accordance with, the procedures permitted by law.

After the right to life, guaranteed under section 33 of the constitution, liberty should be next. Any government that cannot ensure respect for the freedom of citizens doesn't qualify to describe itself as democratic.

In this regard, the wrong aspect is that the President has elevated national security above human rights and above the liberty of citizens such that policemen hide under guise of 'national security' to violate the rights of citizens.

We are unable to account for the whereabouts of a number of our citizens. That was why I said the human rights record of this administration is abysmal, considering the disrespect to the judicial system and court orders.

SR - Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of SaharaReporters, was arrested last year for planning to organise a protest to demand good governance. How would you assess the trial in the light of standard legal practice?

When you consider the experience of the publisher of SaharaReporters, Mr Omoyele Sowore, a prominent Nigerian, you can imagine what other less prominent Nigerians pass through when their constitutional rights are also being abused.

The constitution states clearly that every citizen of Nigeria shall be entitled to freedom of expression and freedom to hold an opinion, to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.

The court case involving Mr Sowore has further exposed the hypocrisy of the government in the area of charging people to court for exercising their rights to freedom of expression. Section 39 of our constitution allows citizens of this country to express their views and opinions without interference.

I am not surprised that since the charge was filed against him, it has been one dingdong affair. The government has not been able to come up with any tangible proof to sustain that charge. It is clear that they couldn't sustain that charge.  

It is better to save face and withdraw the case rather than keep him in custody, and limit him to a particular town where he won't be allowed to travel to see his family members. Sowore's case is indeed a clear example of how the rights of citizens have been trampled upon by this regime over the years.

Since the matter is still in court, we cannot comment further. Again, I hope the President would direct relevant security agencies, especially the Ministry of Justice, to do the needful in Sowore's case because he committed no crime.

How do you think Sowore's arrest has affected agitations generally in Nigeria? Do you think it has made people more scared to demand their rights?

I don't think so. It depends on knowing your right and being brave about it. My appeal is that the people should not give up; they should continue to stand up, to demand their rights, irrespective of political or religious affiliations.

The abuse of human rights knows no race or religion. We should not sit down and do nothing -- when a particular regime turns our nation into a banana republic where citizens disappear at will.

We can't continue to have a country whereby a leader doesn't want to hear another view. We cannot also have a democracy where there is no opposition. We cannot run a system, which we claim is democratic, and rallies cannot be held peacefully.

People, who support the government, are given police protection. They hold rallies all over the country without any form of arrest, brutality, intimidation or molestation in the hands of security agencies.

The government should be fair and apply equal standards to citizens, irrespective of their political or religious opinion. No one should get scared to exercise their franchise and fundamental human rights.

Sowore has demanded a revolution for good governance. What do you make of the government's claim that this is treason?

If a citizen demands revolution or demands a change and he bears no arm, if all he does is to organise a peaceful street protest to galvanise the citizens; I don't think that should qualify for treasonable felony.

Sadly, it is the government that doesn't recognise its role. Omoyele Sowore was only following the intent of the drafters of our constitution in demanding better welfare, infrastructural development and policies that would better the life of the masses of our country.

If you go to chapter 2 of our constitution, which we call the fundamental objective, it stated clearly that the economic capacity of Nigeria should not be concentrated in the hands of a few.

The government is supposed to subsidise services that affect the masses like electricity, education, health, among other things because they have collected the taxes from the people, and they are holding our purse.

They are supposed to use those funds to build roads, electricity, good schools and hospitals such that those who are unable to have access to loot our treasury can still be able to feel the impact of the state in their lives.

I would use myself as an example. I don't think I could have afforded secondary and primary education, but for the free education policy of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Through his free education policy, I was able to go to school.

We can't have a state whereby private universities are more than government-owned schools, a state where private jets outnumber public flights that we should have.

The current experience we have is that the rich people are getting richer while the margin between the poor and the rich is widening every day. The middle class has been wiped off; it is either you are so rich, or you are so weak. That is not the intention of the founders of our nation.

In that regard, I think that Mr Sowore has found support in the generality of the people of Nigeria because he is the one doing what the founders of our nation expect our leaders to do.

There is a general opinion that the judiciary is also culpable in the abuse of human rights through slow trials and corruption that mar the system. Do you agree?

The case of our judiciary deserves some sympathy. We need to interrogate the judges to know their plights. I have undertaken a study and discovered that the executive is deliberately at war with the judiciary. They are frustrating the judicial institutions with lack of fund and undue interference in the discharge of their responsibilities.

Take the judiciary at the state level, for instance. Virtually the judiciary in the states is under the executive. Many judges have embraced self-timidity; they are scared to declare the law the way it is for fear of intimidation and persecution.

Corruption in the judiciary institution is an unfortunate development. I see many judges as upright. I have had the opportunity to appear before many of them. If given the free will to perform their duties, they are capable of dispensing justice, especially to all kinds of citizens.

Upon his election in 2015, President Buhari declared clearly that the judiciary was his headache. The constitution requires a judge to dispense justice without fear or favour. The law enforcement agencies have been doing a lot in investigating and shaming judiciary officers who have compromised their positions.

The majority of our judges have displayed exceptional courage, despite the odds. Look at the case of Mr Sowore. Initially, the DSS acted as if they were above the law. On the day that the judge stood her ground, and gave an ultimatum of 24 hours to the DSS to obey court order, you saw that everywhere was shaking. 

They have the power, the force and people behind them, but they need to exhibit that courage to declare the law, as it is, notwithstanding what the leaders think.

The record of the democratic experience of Nigeria is that the judiciary has been the stabilising factor in attaining our democracy. They should not shy away from that responsibility of being the last hope of the common man. They should also speak truth to power whenever there are cases of abuse on the right of citizens.

What is your assessment of our security agencies as people have alleged they are being used as machinery to abuse the rights of citizens?

Unfortunately, our security personnel have become tools in the hands of authorities or those in power to infringe on the rights and also privileges of citizens. They use them against us, and when they finish the job, they are dumped.

Again, just imagine the case of Mr Sowore and how he was arrested and maltreated by the DSS operatives. These are the same set of people you are fighting, on their behalf, for a better country where everyone can remain equal.

It is sad that these set of guys, who are our brothers, are the ones being used by the authorities to trample on our rights. They feel it is the right thing they are doing. Many of them forget that we would still meet on the streets, go to the same mall or market to get something for our family.

So, we can't continue to have a system where the security agencies would continue abusing the rights of citizens.

Insecurity in the country is growing worse, mostly in the north with many senseless killings, what should we do as a nation?

I don't think there is any way we can speak louder, in terms of indictment and declaration of incompetence on our security agencies, than the National Assembly has done. The lawmakers have demanded the sack of the service chiefs.

The attitude of our security personnel can be summarised in the proceedings of the Senate about a week ago, whereby a resolution was unanimously passed, calling for the sack of the service chiefs.

For instance, you would have noticed that over 300 officers of the Nigeria Army voluntarily applied to be discharged from the service recently. The reason given was that there was no moral, welfare and lack of equipment.

That is the condition of our security agencies generally. That is why there is an upsurge in crime, including the abuses of the rights of citizens. 

We now have a security apparatus, whose leader is building a university in his town. In this country, people have left the core mandates of protecting the territorial integrity of our country and ventured into the business of education.

We have no security presently. That is why the Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, made it clear that there is a conspiracy going on in the northeast because those who attacked his convoy were not Boko Haram insurgents. They didn't want him to see the secret of what is going on in Baga.

The Boko Haram war has become a business. It may not end, given the amount of money budgeted in prosecuting the war and because it was one of the reasons President Goodluck Jonathan was voted out of office.

In President Buhari's hometown in Katsina, bandits have taken over. We all thought that in the first year of his government, activities of Boko Haram would have been a thing of the past. It is unfortunate to say this government has lost it, and he (Buhari) has not performed up to the expectation of Nigerians in terms of protecting lives and property.