Under pressure and embarrassed by the gale of unusual protests sweeping through Katsina State over the bloody spate of insecurity, the Nigeria Police Force has resorted to its old, barbaric and Gestapo ways. Just as the protests were drawing attention to the breakdown of the security situation in Katsina and other Northern states, the police, on June 17, arbitrarily arrested the arrowhead of the mass action. According to international rights group, Amnesty International, the police have detained Nastura Sharif, the Chairman of the board of trustees of the Coalition of Northern Groups, part of the organisers of the swirling protests.
The CNG said after the protests, which were universally adjudged to be very peaceful as reported by the electronic and traditional versions of the international and national media, Sharif led the national executives of the CNG to the Katsina State Police Commissioner to show appreciation for the professional conduct of the police throughout the peaceful assembly. But after thanking him and handing him the petition for onward transmission to the Governor, Aminu Masari, at the Government House, the CP informed the delegation that the Inspector-General of Police wanted to see Sharif in Abuja.
In Abuja, Sharif was accused of insulting Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and organising a protest. This is ridiculous, unconstitutional, unjust and provocative. It signals the continued excessive use and abuse of state power by the police under the Buhari regime.
The raging fire of insecurity in the North is indicative of the fact that the Buhari regime was at its wits’ end. A few days before Sharif’s summary detention, the Presidency had talked tough. In a statement, a media aide to the President said that the protesters would have paid a huge price for their actions if not that Nigeria was in a democracy. The implication of the statement is that the regime is just tolerating any form of protests. The Presidency had unsuccessfully argued that the protests negatively affected the morale of the security agents, who were supposedly fighting the criminals.
The right to assemble and to seek redress of grievances is enshrined in our Constitution. It is also acknowledged that violence in protests is morally wrong and strategically counterproductive, but the group said it only exercised its constitutional right to protest peaceably. But it was not surprising that as the kidnappings, killings, wanton arson, blood shedding and maiming of the harmless people in the North festered, the overzealous police thought the best way to curtail the attendant protests was to clamp down on the organisers.
Certainly, the Mohammed Adamu-led police are unreasonably muzzling dissent. Many prominent people, including the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam, Sa’ad Abubakar III, have scathingly condemned rabid insurgency and mindless banditry across the country. Under the 1999 Constitution, the law and judicial pronouncements, there is no justification for Sharif’s detention. The intolerant Buhari regime, especially the security arm, should be reminded that protests are part of democracy, and Nigeria should not be found wanting in this. AI said, “He (Sharif) was simply asking the authorities to do their job. His arrest appears to be an attempt to intimidate and harass both him and others peacefully exercising freedom of assembly and expression. Protesting is not a crime; it is a right. Subjecting activists to such an arbitrary arrest is a violation of Nigerian and international human rights laws.”
For the past few weeks, protests have persisted in many parts of the United States over the callous police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Against the wish of President Donald Trump, the police ceded the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone to protesters to express themselves in Seattle, Washington. The governor, Jay Inslee, disagreed with Trump who wanted federal troops to disperse the protesters. That is a proper democratic practice. Other protesters joined from London and Hong Kong.
The Buhari regime should immediately release Sharif and allow the people to express themselves freely; they are not breaking any law. At home, the people have been staging protests in several parts of the country against the current rape epidemic. The police have let the protesters be. This is the right way to handle all forms of protests.
Katsina is in turmoil, not because of the protesters, but primarily because of the unusually high rate of killings and kidnappings. The bandits have executed village heads, raped and killed innocent people. They allegedly collect tributes from farmers before granting them access to their farmlands. About two weeks ago, they slaughtered 18 people in a bloody operation in the Batsari LGA, with many village heads also murdered as the security situation deteriorated. In April, the bandits killed 47 people in the state. In response, the Governor, Aminu Masari, had entered into an amnesty pact with the criminals in 2019. It did not work. Similarly, the military operations Buhari ordered have failed. That is how we got to this point, but the arrest of Sharif is not the solution.
Ominously, the Buhari regime is adding to its anti-democratic credentials, especially the clampdown on activists and journalists like Omoyele Sowore, Agba Jalingo and Jones Abiri, whom the State Security Service detained for months. Under this malevolent atmosphere, some state governors have taken a cue from the regime with the help of the complicit police and the SSS. The right of a person to not be arbitrarily arrested or detained is in Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 9 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The IG needs to end the police over-enforcement and abuse of the basic rights of the people. Buhari should order the immediate release of Sharif and many others who are being unjustly and unconstitutionally detained across the country.