Human rights groups and a lawyer have condemned the arrest and detention of Deji Adeyanju, a political activist, and two others, by the police.
Mr Adeyanju, the convener of Concerned Nigerians, was arrested on Wednesday morning at a protest tagged ‘Police Are Not Politicians, Save Our Democracy’ at the Police Force headquarters in Abuja.
He was subsequently arraigned before a Chief Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday afternoon.
The judge, Aliyu Kagargo, admitted Mr Adeyanju, Daniel Abobama and Boma Williams, the two others arrested with him, to bail.
They were to each provide sureties that included a level-14 civil servant, a businessman with N20 million bond.
But failure to immediately meet the bail terms allowed correctional officers to keep the three at the Keffi Prisons, about 40 minutes drive from Abuja.
But Ariyo-Dare Atoye, a long-time associate of Mr Adeyanju, told Premium Times the leader of Concerned Nigerians and his comrades met their bail conditions as of Thursday afternoon, but the magistrate was unavailable to sign the papers for their release from jail.
They are yet to be released despite perfecting their bail conditions, amidst allegations the police plan to file fresh charges.
Police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, said in a statement that the activists’ actions ”were criminally defamatory, and also capable of incitement and breach of public peace.”
Activists, Lawyer React
The Paradigm Initiative of Nigeria (PIN) in a statement signed by its communications officer, Sodiq Alabi, said every citizen is entitled to freedom of speech.
”Paradigm Initiative is deeply concerned about the arrest and detention of activist Deji Adeyanju and two other Nigerians by the Nigerian Police,” he said. “It is our position that the tenets of democracy entitle each citizen to free speech, freedom of peaceful assembly and of demonstration. Therefore, Mr Adeyanju is well entitled to his opinion on the bias of the police towards the incumbent president.”
The group also debunked the police defence that the activists’ actions were criminally defamatory.
”We do not agree with this position. Controversial or dissenting opinions do not automatically qualify as hate speech or defamation – and free speech and demonstration are the entitlement of every citizen of a democratic state,” it said.
Also, the director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, said the Buhari administration “has had a bad record on human rights since it came to power in 2015”.
The director also said the civic space in the country is becoming more restricted “as the nation approaches the 2019 general election”.
”It tells a lot of story in terms of what this government’s human right record really is all about,” she said. “The human rights record of the Buhari administration has never been any good till date, we still have (Ibrahim) El-Zakzaky in detention despite a court order, the same for (Sambo) Dasuki and other human right activists.”
”Abiri (recently released reporter) was the last one, now again Deji Adeyanju under lock of this administration. It means nobody is safe including me,” she said.
The national coordinator of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Hassan Taiwo, also weighed in.
”I condemn it and it is a clear sign of developing dictatorship that somebody simply trying to express his democratic right to freedom of expression and association to call on the Nigerian police to be impartial in the coming election is now arrested by the same police,” the official said.
Mr Taiwo said though he does not endorse Mr Adeyanju’s ‘politics’ he recognises him as a Nigerian who has a right to protest,
He said the government’s slide to repression was making it impossible for Nigerian to freely protest even on social media.
Also, Inibehe Effiong, a lawyer, in a telephone interview with Premium Times on Sunday condemned the detention of the activist.
He said the fundamental right of Nigerians to freedom of expression as guaranteed under Section 39 of the Constitution had been violated in Mr Adeyanju’s case.
”It is wrong for the police to be deployed as a tool for political vendetta,” he said. Given that the criminal charges against Deji were only initiated in response to his recent protest against alleged partisanship by the police in the crisis in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, it signifies apparent intolerance for dissent.”
He also said ‘while people should be held accountable for their statements on social media, they (police) should not use that as an excuse to violate the fundamental rights of Nigerians.
”Having perfected the bail conditions granted him by the court, the police should not have stalled his release,” he added. “If there is another case against him one would have expected the police to serve him with the new charge for him to appear in court. The police didn’t have to stop his release.”
He said the government should focus on clearing itself of allegations of corruption levelled against top officials of the administration than hounding perceived enemies.
”These, in my opinion, are more serious issues than the alleged insulting statements credited to Deji Adeyanju,” he added.