Nigeria: Omoyele Sowore, DSS, Both Crossed the Line

11 December 2019

Omoyele Sowore's altercation with the authorities dominated the week. When I wrote on Sowore in this column late September, I asked if he was a hero or a fool. I concluded the column thus:-

"As an opinion columnist, you live with the risk and likelihood that your pen might disturb the slumber of the people in power and their reaction would be to take away your freedom. Yet there is a tolerance of dissent that marks the level of maturity of regimes, enabling writers of opinion like me and activists like Sowore, to speak boldly to power, in hope that sensibilities would be affected for the appropriate attention given to issues that matter. I am inclined to speak tolerance to Government, and indeed submit that a settlement of the matter politically is in the best interests of the nation.

Every nation needs the likes of Sowore for democracy to thrive. Power corrupts and alienates those in the helm of affairs from the true reality of the situation of the country. Leaders are surrounded by a hoard of aides who do everything to hide reality. A nation is better off where advantage is taken of all the Sowores of this world to expose the ground reality and in most cases, it helps leaders to take popular decisions not only for the benefit of the people but as well for the strengthening of democracy and its offspring, good governance."

Matters went a notch higher during the week, with the men of the Department of State Security making a re-arrest of Sowore. Their attempt to effect the re-arrest led to a scuffle between the DSS operators and Sowore's horde of supporters, lawyers and family members. The scuffle which began outside the court ended up in court and has left the nation united in condemning the desecration of the court and the disgrace of the judge. The DSS crossed the line.

I still feel that authorities have made a mountain out of a molehill. Sowore is a small matter now blown out of proportion because authorities fell for the gimmick. Sowore has wound up getting much needed publicity mileage locally, and sympathy of the US State Department - assets that the journalist will exploit to full advantage when he is eventually released. Now the Department of State Security is on the back foot as it tries to weather the storm. I still feel that Sowore's handlers and lawyers specifically Senior Advocate Femi Falana should seek an amicable political solution that achieves release of Sowore and his normal prosecution as long as he also acts normally.

Freedom of expression is a necessary ingredient for democracy and even governance. But we must not be mistaken. Equally so is adherence to lawful conduct. You can call for a revolution. It is a mere opinion, an expression of wish. An entitlement. But if you make the move, the powers that be will assert themselves. Activists can chose their methods but can not chose for the State Security what methods to use in forestalling threats to national security.

Many may cite Chief Bola Tinubu in 2015 when he merely called for a revolution but was busy about his private business. Was any one on the streets in a protest with Tinubu on the lead? We can also observe the BBOG protests spearheaded by Obi Ezekwesili. As much of a thorn in the flesh of the regime as they are, Ezekwesili and her people walk free, because they remain effective within the limits of decorum allowed by the law. A protest in itself is not a revolution. But a protest can be criminal, if due process is not followed, and if it gets out of hand and violence ensues, particularly the type that leads to destruction of property, disturbance of public peace, and loss of lives. Meanwhile, a revolution, like a military coup, is a plan. It can be legitimately successful, and examples abound to buttress this.

We operate a democracy that gives the winner a term in office. And former Vice President Atiku Abubakar today, gets a thunderous ovation wherever he appears in a public function. 'Strong Man', the admirers shout. He is a lion, wounded by the Buhari regime which he believes 'stole' his mandate. But he has fought valiantly, only legally. Sowore did not join Atiku at the courts in sympathy and did not take the legal option even if he were certain to lose the struggle as Atiku Abubakar must have been certain. Yet fulfilling all righteousness, Atiku lost at the Supreme Court. He is home with his family, giving them missed quality time, reorganizing his battered business, and at every opportunity, revealing his glowing and admirable vision of how things should run in Nigeria. He gets his ovation and is left the choice all democrats have. The choice is to sit out the Buhari regime for the next 3 more years. And while we wait, you can criticize publicly, point out faults, and propose a better approach to issues. This is needful and helpful for democracy.

In America, they lock you up and throw away the key if you threaten to overthrow the government or even hint at attacking the President. But you can criticize the President to his face. When it comes to national security, no system allows a small problem to become a big one, the way revolutions come about. Jammal Kashoggi was brutally murdered in a prejudicial killing of the most gruesome kind. President Donald Trump appeared instead, as a lead publicist for the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince bin Salman. National interest first. The US even prepared to compromise its ally Turkey if need be. And do Nigerians know what Kashoggi did as well as they know what Sowore is accused of? Nothing will come out of the threat from New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez who is in fact using the Sowore case to ensure re-election by getting Mrs. Sowore's vote.

My position remains that wrong is wrong and can not be right. You don't confront a duly elected regime with a call to a revolution. But you can protest. There is a difference. Sowore crossed a line no regime would ignore. But the DSS crossed a line no public would forgive.

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