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25 Sep 2017

Groups criticise Nigerian Police, Saraki over attack on Sowore supporters

Two civil society organisations have criticised the Nigerian Police and Senate President Bukola Saraki over alleged attack on supporters of online platform, SaharaReporters.
The Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education, CHRICED, and Human and Environmental Development Agenda, HEDA, made their position known in a press conference in Ikeja, Lagos.
In a statement signed by Zikrillahi Ibrahim and Olanrewaju Suraju, the groups were reacting to reports of attack allegedly unleashed on supporters of the online news medium and other activists during a court sitting in Ilorin recently.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported the clash between supporters of Messrs. Saraki and Sowore who had thronged the court premises for the resumed hearing of the case involving Mr. Saraki and SaharaReporters, alongside its publisher, Mr. Sowore.
Earlier, in a Suit No. KWS / 23 / 2017, the court had awarded N4 billion against Mr. Sowore and SaharaReporters, who were the defendants/respondents in cases of libel brought before it.
Consequently, a judge, Adeyinka Oyinloye, had issued an order to the United Bank for Africa, UBA and Guaranty Trust Bank, GTB, bankers of Mr. Sowore and Sahara Reporters, to seize all funds held in a string of accounts associated with the defendants.
The judge also said SaharaReporters and Mr. Sowore must pay 10 per cent (N400 million) interest on the N4 billion monthly until both the principal damages and accrued interests are finally cleared.
Mr. Saraki instituted the case in Ilorin, where he ruled for eight years as governor, accusing SaharaReporters of publishing defamatory content against his personality.
Mr. Sowore later approached the high court presided over by Mr. Oyinloye through Falana and Falana Chambers to set aside its judgement.
At the resumed hearing on September 14, PREMIUM TIMES gathered that journalists were attacked, including other supporters of the online medium.
Also, a middle-aged woman identified as Funmi Ajayi, who travelled from Lagos to Ilorin to support Sahara Reporters, was reportedly stripped naked by Mr. Saraki’s supporters.
The police later said some suspects indicted in the violence had been arrested, many of them supporters of the online medium.
In their reactions, the civil groups alleged that in the last three weeks, supporters of Mr. Sowore who had belief in the Nigerian state and its judiciary’s ability to fairly adjudicate on the case, “have been visited with terror by thugs and miscreants, said to be sponsored by the Senate President and officials of Kwara State Government.”
The groups condemned the “barbaric assaults” on Ms. Jolade, an activist, who they said was beaten and her clothes torn in the full glare of the police, within the the sacred precinct of court premise.
“CHRICED and HEDA unequivocally condemn the mindless, wicked and criminal assault on the fundamental rights of fellow Nigerians to free speech and peaceful assembly,” the statement said.
“We make no mistake about the fact that the reason for these violent attacks is the resolve of citizens and activists to challenge the plunder of national resources, and hold powerful politicians to account.”
The groups wondered why in a democracy, citizens, student leaders, market women, artisans and journalists who converged at a court premise to observe and cover legal proceedings in the hallowed premises of court, would be brutally attacked, beaten and their clothes torn, while electronic gadgets were forcibly taken away by hoodlums.
“Has Nigeria descended so low to become a banana republic, where jungle behavior is tolerated?” they asked, stressing that it is a serious challenge to the authority, cohesion and stability of the Nigerian state.
“No group possesses the monopoly of violence; the Nigerian state, through its law enforcement institutions do not have to wait until the innocent citizens being attacked mobilise to launch reprisals before they act to stop this impunity.
“The police and State Security Service must act now to investigate and prosecute those responsible for this sacrilegious defilement of a court of law.
“Unfortunately, in the face of these egregious violations of the rights of these activists who converged at the court because of their faith in the rule of law, the role of the primary law enforcement institution, the Police has been ignoble.”
The groups said rather than arrest and haul the thugs perpetrating the violence before courts for prosecution, the police officers, at the behest of the state government either turned the blind eye to the violence, or turned round to arrest the victims of the attacks.
“We expect the Police to understand by now that every form of lawlessness condoned creates incentives and opportunities for further violations,” the groups said, adding that the use of thugs by powerful and corrupt political interests to intimidate opposition and subvert the rule of law, could well be a dress rehearsal as the 2019 General Elections approaches.
“It is therefore shameful and most disappointing that the Nigerian Security Agencies, apart from letting citizens down in the area of social justice, the embarrass spate of armed robbery and kidnapping, has not demonstrated the resolve to protect them from the jungle antics of corrupt and powerful interests,” the statement noted.
“For CHRICED and HEDA, what is playing out in Ilorin should not be seen as a normal skirmish. It is a sad commentary on the horrible and lopsided nature of the nation we are running, a place where the weak is not protected, a nation space where many now believe that might is right.
“This reality of constant impunity also puts the spotlight on the tendency of the nation’s primary law enforcement institution, the Nigerian Police Force, to shirk its responsibility to the Nigerian people. We must make it clear that it amounts to criminal dereliction of duty for the Police to look the other way, while innocent citizens are being violently attacked in the hallowed premises of a law court.
“CHRICED and HEDA alongside all patriotic human rights groups strongly denounces the silence of the police force, and at many times, their complicity in the face of this criminal use violence as a means of coercing concerned citizens, activists and journalists to remain silent over the plundering of national resources by corrupt politicians.”
The groups, therefore, called on the police, the Police Service Commission, the State Security Service and Office of National Security Adviser to “investigate this criminal breach of public peace and sanction officers, who looked on while innocent citizens were being attacked by sponsored miscreants.”
It also expressed reservations about the actions of the police, stressing that under the current Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Idris, the police is yet to demonstrate a clear strategy to rein in lawlessness in the land and effectively police the country.
“As the case of mindless, and unchecked violence against supporters of SaharaReporters shows, the state must now wake up to its responsibility of protecting all citizens from the corrupt and powerful interests, who have the cynical belief that might is right, and that everyone can be beaten into line. A stitch in time, as they say, saves nine,” the groups said.

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