Nigeria’s government has placed the Nigerian branch of the human rights group, Amnesty International on a watchlist in order to determine its interest in nationwide protests that were planned by a former presidential candidate. The decision followed a series of posts on social media posted by the group. An unnamed government official told the Punch that this action was taken because of AI’s previous anti-government antecedents. Amnesty International had retweeted posts supporting the call by Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of online news site Sahara Reporters for a revolution. The official said the Presidency had noted with concern reports by AI “that had portrayed the government in a bad light.” On his part, Sowore was arrested by the secret police in the early hours of 3 August in his Lagos apartment. Some #RevolutionNow protests, scheduled to hold in different parts of Nigeria on 5 August were broken up by the police, with the most high profile one in Lagos leading to the police shooting at the crowd in front of the National Stadium, injuring two and arresting many others.

An Assistant Superintendent of Police, Vincent Maxwell, said police officers killed by soldiers in Taraba on 6 August were among the best on the Inspector-General’s Intelligence Response Team. The team is known for handling special crime cases across the country. On 7 August, police spokesman Frank Mba said the personnel, led by Felix Adolije, an assistant superintendent, were on a covert mission to arrest a high-profile kidnap suspect when they were attacked by the troops. Three policemen and a civilian lost their lives while many officers sustained injuries in the incident. Reacting to a post on the incident shared by IRT head, Abba Kyari, Maxwell said the deceased officers were part of a team responsible for a number of high profile arrests, including suspected kidnapping kingpin, Chukwudumeme “Evans” Onwuamadike; the apprehension of over 20 Boko Haram members responsible for the Chibok abduction; the arrest of Umar Abdulmalik, a Boko Haram commander suspected to be the mastermind of the bombings in Nyanya and Kuje areas of Abuja in 2015 and the release of Musa Umar, father-in-law of President Muhammadu Buhari’s aide de camp, who was kidnapped in May.

Kogi’s deputy governor, Simon Achuba has accused Governor Yahya Bello, of sponsoring violence within the state. Speaking on Channels Television’s morning show, Sunrise Daily on Monday, Achuba claimed that he was being victimized “for doing the right thing”, then went on to stress the need for tight security in the state during the coming governorship election. Achuba also accused Bello of being intolerant of criticism and failing to deliver on electoral promises. On his part, the governor had admitted last week that Achuba was being owed some allowances, but said that would be paid after verification and when funds are available, but stressed that his deputy was not being owed any salary.

The leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibrahim El Zakzaky was granted permission by the Kaduna State High Court to travel for medical care on 5 August. Justice Darius Khobo ordered that Zakzaky could travel to India in the company of Kaduna state government officials, and added that he must return to Nigeria immediately upon discharge to face the charges filed against him by the Kaduna government. El Zakzaky was arrested in 2015 following a crackdown by security forces and has been in detention since. The next day, the Kaduna state director of public prosecution said it would file an appeal against the High Court’s judgement. The statement by the Kaduna government came following the secret police’s pledge to obey the court order and release El Zakzaky for treatment.

Commentary

  • Nigeria’s government has always had a frosty relationship with Amnesty International due to the latter’s constant criticism of the government’s human rights record, particularly in its war against Boko Haram. Lately, Amnesty has expanded its scope to include criticising clampdowns on freedom of speech and the right to assemble. It was inevitable that these actions would put them in Aso Rock’s crosshairs. Amnesty will not be the first international organisation on a warpath with the Nigerian government or an agency – in December 2018, the Nigerian Army banned UNICEF in the North East after accusing it of spying for Boko Haram only to lift the ban a few days later. In April 2018, the army had declared three UNICEF employees “persona non grata” in connection with alleged leaks about soldiers sexually abusing children in the northeast. Unfortunately, Nigeria desperately needs these NGOs for the work that they do. Just as importantly, Nigeria’s government has to learn to obey its own laws.
  • The implications of the attack in Taraba are alarming. It suggests a high level of collusion between rogue elements within the security forces, and organised crime syndicates, particularly those involved in kidnapping for ransom. Such a situation is usually the first step and if not nipped in the bud, usually metamorphoses into these elements becoming the crime syndicates themselves, as seen in places such as Mexico with the Los Zetas. This is frightening as the total breakdown of law and order that is suggested when members of the security services become criminal entrepreneurs is better not even imagined. A thorough investigation into how information about a covert mission was leaked as well as the identity of the soldiers in question has never been more imperative and the President has ordered just such an investigation. The investigation must be followed through, the results made public, and appropriate punishments meted out. The officers particularly and the Army at large must also account for the whereabouts of the alleged kidnapper the police team was transporting. For much of Nigerian history, following incidents of this nature, there is a misplaced attitude of “esprit-de-corps” by the host services of the perpetrators. This cannot be one of such times. The potential fallout from this incident is a further depletion of already historically low levels of trust in Nigeria’s security architecture, and this dent in the confidence that people repose in the security services will show up in the country’s already dire crime statistics as more people begin to resort to self-help. Justice must be done, and must be seen to be done.
  • Indisputably, the political machinations towards the upcoming Kogi gubernatorial elections have entered full swing. It is telling that the timing of these accusations by the deputy governor is so close to the elections in November. Also, it is telling that the response of the governor and his faction has been political – initiating impeachment proceedings against Achuba. This is sadly not unusual in Nigerian politics where deputy governors are often picked only for the practicality of balancing a ticket along ethnic or religious leanings. In governance terms, deputy governors often have no influence or stated portfolio. On many occasions, attempts by a deputy governor to show any form of independence has led to impeachment, a scenario which ironically also proves the lack of independence of state legislatures. Since 1999, only one deputy governor has run for the state governorship with his principal’s support (Zamfara’s Mahmud Shinkafi in 2011), which punctures the argument that being a deputy governor is an excellent path to becoming the next governor (except through death or impeachment). If Achuba survives the impeachment proceedings, a highly unlikely scenario, he is surely going to be dropped from Bello’s reelection ticket. While it is too early to assess if the breakdown of the Bello-Achuba relationship will dampen the former’s chances of re-election, what is truly important remains the security of the state. Past SBM research has shown a clear link between fiery pre-election rhetoric and the prospects for electoral violence. Kogi experienced significant violence during the General Elections despite the fact that there was no gubernatorial race there. We urge all stakeholders to take note of this in the preparations towards and monitoring of the elections.
  • This court ruling will not be the first time Zakzaky has been granted bail. What is different this time is the secret police’s pledge to finally obey the courts on its handling of Zakzaky. We believe this offers a path to defusing tensions that have been rising with the increasingly bold IMN protests seeking his release. While the Kaduna State Government is well within its rights to appeal, the strategic benefit of such a move, in this case, is in doubt, considering that the court has mandated Zakzaky to return to face criminal charges once he is given a clean bill of health. If achieving justice is the KSG’s aim in the case, then surely it is important to ensure Zakzaky is healthy enough to answer to his case. However, if punishing him with continued incarceration before a legal conviction is an aim, then the appeal option the KSG has taken makes perfect political sense. This does not obfuscate its moral questionability.