Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Nigeria including organized labour unions, have condemned in very strong terms the recent arrest by men of the Department of State Security (DSS) of Omoyele Sowore. They stated that the arrest is one too many and against the principles of freedom of speech and association under a democracy as we now practice in the country, and expressed very deep concern about Nigeria:s steady drift to an authoritarian state under the President, Muhammadu Buhari regime.

Among the civil society organizations which jointly signed the release, include Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Rule of Law Development Foundation, Centre for Impact Advocacy Coalition in Refine of Nigeria Democracy and Constitution, Concerned Nigeria Groups, Centre Against Injustice and Domestic Violence, Nde Oduko Foundation, Community Agenda for Peace, Centre for Public Peace and Conflict Prevention), centre for Human Rights, Social Justice and Anti-Torture Initiatives, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Free Nigeria Movement, Sterling Centre for Law and Development, Media Initiative Against Injustice, Violence and Corruption, Centre for Citizens Rights.

In their release dated August 3, 2019 and captioned “Nigeria Civil Society Organizations condemn Omoyele Sowores arrest by the Department of State Security (DSS) over planned Revolution Now protest, they said, “We are worried that with its persistent and increasingly intolerant postures and undemocratic actions, Buhari’s government turns Nigeria into an authoritarian state.

Buhari who came into office through democratic elections in 2015 had stated during campaigns that although he was once a military ruler, he had transformed to a democrat, described himself as ‘a converted democrat’ and promised to subject himself and his conducts in government, if elected, under democratic norms and practices.

However, the style and approach of President Buhari’s government since 2015 and especially after his highly contested re-election in the 2019; his government’s increasing intolerance for criticisms and opposition; and his blatant disregard for the rule of law- all clearly paint a picture of a man still retaining his military mind-set and ruthless predilection.

The arrest of Omoyele Sowore in the wee hours of Saturday, August 3, 2019 is unjustifiable. Sowore has not committed any known offence except that he advocates for good governance. His arrest, coming just few hours after a rented crowd of pro-government protesters besieged the Abuja offices of the Amnesty International- for the second time under this government, in an attempt to intimidate the Human Rights Advocacy Organizations for its critical and factual reports exposing human rights atrocities and demanding accountability, it is yet another indication that under President Buhari, democracy is in retreat in Nigeria and the country is increasingly drifting towards full blown authoritarianism.

Under Buhari, human rights and basic freedoms have been recklessly and unabashedly curtailed on a scale only comparable to and reminiscent of the dark days of military dictatorship during which Buhari’s despicable role stands out.

Under Buhari’s government, freedoms of assembly and expression have been brutally repressed and suppressed, only compounding the already precarious state of insecurity in Nigeria which has turned life in Nigeria ‘nasty, short and brutish’. The blood of helpless and defenceless Nigerians is daily spilled by ruthless armed bandits and repressive state security agents. Yet, the same government has proved woefully incompetent and incapable of providing leadership in the face of steadily degenerating state of security and dilapidated economy.

The rights of Nigerians to peaceful protest are fundamental and guaranteed by the Constitution and other regional and international human rights legislation and treaties which Nigeria subscribes to. To protest is not a crime they stated.

Continuing in their observation of human rights, rule of law and democracy breaches of Buhari, they said, “In 2003, General Muhammadu Buhari led other ANPP party members in a protest rally over the rigged 2003 elections. The police disrupted the rally. Buhari and ANPP challenged the disruption of the rally in court and the court declared the action of the police illegal and unconstitutional. This was upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Again on November 20, 2014, General Buhari, as presidential candidate of APC, and his party men also staged a protest in Abuja against increasing insecurity and killings in the country under President Jonathan. Today, the situation is more tragic that it was when Buhari led that protest.

Freedom of expression as ventilated through a peaceful protest is a constitutional right. We can’t continue to behave like we are in the Stone Age.

Buhari government has already done so much damage to the international image of Nigeria. The arrest of Sowore will do further damage to that battered image.

It is a shame that the same government whose agents hire protesters to picket the offices of Amnesty international for being anti-government, will unleash security agents against critics and genuine peaceful protesters. The rented protesters were at Amnesty International’s offices again today and would be going there for the next five days having been paid to occupy the office every day for seven days.

We call for the immediate release of Sowore and an end to the repression of basic freedoms guaranteed Nigerians by the Constitution”, they insisted.