The President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government has been accused of shrinking Nigeria’s civil space and suppressing freedom of speech, by using the Department of State Services, DSS.
DSS had severally invited critics of the Buhari government ranging from human rights activists, politicians, and religious leaders.
The likes of Deji Adeyanju, human rights activist, a former Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Obadiah Mailafia, Pastor Isa El-Buba, Apostle Johnson Suleman of Omega Fire Ministries; Rev Fr Ejike Mbaka, amongst others, have been invited by the secret police over their comments against the Federal Government.
Mbaka, the Spiritual Director of Adoration Ministry Enugu, DSS, in June 2021, claimed that the DSS had invited him for questioning.
It was learnt that operatives of the secret police had visited the adoration ground to deliver the letter of invitation to Mbaka, but missed him.
The invitation might not be unconnected with the priest’s criticism of the Buhari government in recent times.
In January 2022, the Catholic Priest re-echoed that the secret police invited him over his prayers for Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.
El-Buba, who is the General Overseer of the Evangelical Bible Outreach Ministries, was invited by the secret police for questioning after participating in a peaceful prayer walk in Plateau State in October 2020.
The Jos-based pastor and many other EndSARS protesters marched peacefully between the Old Airport Roundabout and Secretariat Junction, singing and praying God to heal the land.
Mailafia, a former CBN Deputy governor, was invited by the DSS for linking Boko Haram to a serving governor.
In a radio interview in August 2020, the late Obadiah had claimed that a serving Northern governor was a Commander of the insurgent group.
He, however, did not disclose the identity of the governor.
Apostle Johnson Suleman
In 2017, the secret police had invited Suleman of the Omega Fire Ministries after he asked his members to allegedly kill Fulani herders seen around his church in Edo State.
At the height of the farmers, herders’ crisis, Suleman constantly criticized the Buhari government over its inability to tackle insecurity.
Tanko-Yakasai, a former aide to Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State was arrested and locked up by DSS after calling on Buhari to resign, in the wake of a spate of abductions targeting school students in the North. He was later released by the secret police.
Idris, popularly known as Dadiyata, has been missing since 2019 after he was allegedly abducted by security agents. However, the DSS has not owned up to his arrest.
Dadiyata, a lecturer at the Federal University Dutsinma, Katsina State, a staunch critic of the Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, was abducted on August 1, 2019 in Barnawa area of Kaduna State. Since his abduction nothing has been heard of him.
Steven Kefason, a staunch critic of the APC-led government in Kaduna State has been in jail for over 100 days because of a Facebook post.
Sahara Reporters founder and also one of Buhari’s challengers in the 2019 presidential poll, Omoyele Sowore is facing a lawsuit filed by the Nigerian government after he was arrested and detained by the DSS for calling for a nationwide protest against the government.
Another journalist, Agba Jalingo is facing trial for a publication in which he accused the Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade of funds diversion.
Reacting to these invitations, Adeyanju, the convener of Concerned Nigerians, accused the Buhari government of trying to suppress critics in the country.
Adeyanju lamented that DSS invitation tends to inhibit freedom of expression in a democratic setting.
According to Adeyanju: “Democracy is not possible without the internal vigilance of the citizenry, and what active citizens do is to leave up to their responsibility as citizens. If you look at the Nigerian constitution, it places duties and obligations on leaders and citizens alike. Our continent is falling because we have citizens who are not living up to their expectations, so leaders get away with everything.
“So, what people like us and those who criticize the government do is that we try to make the office of the citizen as active as possible. This is what undemocratic and tyrannical governments are uncomfortable with, and it’s synonymous with the Buhari regime. Severally, I have been invited by the DSS, especially the FCT Command and the reason is to bully, threaten, or harass, but we will never let it get to us.
“Such invitations seek to shrink the civil space, take away citizens’ rights, take away the freedom of expression as guaranteed in the constitution. And critics are those who safeguard our Democracy. It’s like the obligation of the mass media in Section 22; a lot of media people have been threatened and harassed under this so-called democratic government. Even under the most authoritative regime globally, citizens still have the right to speak up against their government.
“In the word of Thomas Jefferson, when the citizens are afraid of the government, there is tyranny, but when the government is afraid of the people there is Democracy; so every citizen of Nigeria should be able to express their views without fear for his freedom after speech, it should be freedom of speech and freedom guaranteed after speech, and this is what we don’t have in Nigeria, and it’s unfortunate.”
When asked the solution to the challenge, the rights activist said: “The remedy is to have more active citizens who live up to their responsibility because nobody will give you your right. You must stand up, claim it, protect the civic space.
“The only thing oppressive regimes fear the most is to be confronted by active citizens. They know the implications, so no government anywhere will guarantee your right if you don’t stand up for it. We saw a simple demonstration of this during the EndSARS, where active citizens said they were tired and fed up.
“This led to the complete ban on that rogue unit of the Nigeria Police Force. Citizens must be active enough to defend and protect their rights, so that is the panacea to this.”