The government of President Muhammadu Buhari has launched an all-out offensive against people who played a prominent role in the weeks-long nationwide rebellion against police brutality.
The crackdown follows the brutal suppression of the #End SARS protests—the most widespread in decades—that led to the deaths of 69 people and the wounding of hundreds across the country.
It is aimed at intimidating and criminalising peaceful protests and media reporting in the interest of Nigeria’s kleptocrats and the transnational energy corporations that have looted the country’s wealth.
Some 1,500 people have been arrested, some in Gestapo-like operations. Detainees include a number of activists and journalists arrested in the capital Abuja who face charges of criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly, inciting public disturbance and public nuisance. Others have been arrested for managing a WhatsApp platform to coordinate the protests in Osun State, while an artist who had played a prominent role in the protests in Lagos and was planning another protest, was seized at his home and thrown into jail.
Pelumi Onifade, a 20-year-old reporter with Gboah TV who was arrested and wounded by the Lagos State Task Force on October 24, was found dead two weeks later. Wearing a jacket clearly identifying him as a reporter, he had been filming clashes between protesters and the Task Force.
Having set up panels of inquiry into the well-founded accusations of systematic intimidation, extortion, kidnapping and murder by the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) as a means of placating the protesters, the government is using them as a means of harassing and intimidating activists.
Two youth panelists have boycotted the hearings after one of them had his bank account frozen by Nigeria’s Central Bank, which has frozen the accounts of at least 20 activists involved in the protests as well as six financial institutions, alleging they are involved in “terrorism financing.” While protest organisers have sued the central bank to have their accounts unfrozen, they are unlikely to get a speedy court decision.
The authorities at Lagos’s international airport seized the passport of Moe Odele, a lawyer who arranged free legal aid for protesters and is involved in the defence of Eromosele Adene, a musician who helped organise protests in Lagos and was released on bail after being held for 11 days without charge. Prevented from travelling, Odele was only given her passport back a week later after a public outcry.
Other high-profile activists have reportedly gone into hiding or left the country. Those targeted include journalists and the broadcast media. Gatefield, a communications firm based in the capital Abuja, had an account dedicated to funding independent journalism frozen. Adewunmi Emoruwa, lead strategist at Gatefield, accused the government of clamping down on the protest movement and instilling fear, saying “The instruments of state are being weaponised in unprecedented ways, especially the [central bank], which should be highly independent and steer clear of political issues such as this.”