The government of President Muhammadu Buhari has come under a fusillade of attacks for allegedly being high-handed.
On August 8, protesters, who converged on the Unity Fountain in Abuja to demand that the president either resume office or resign, were assaulted by the police. The president was in the UK, where he was receiving medical treatment, at the time. He returned to the country on August 19.
The action of the police drew the dander of many Nigerians who accused the government of clamping down on dissenting voices.
The administration has also been accused of stifling free speech and intimidating citizens, but did the preceding government perform better in guaranteeing freedom of speech, right to protest and other personal liberties?
CLAIM: NIGERIANS ENJOYED TOTAL FREEDOM UNDER JONATHAN
Citizen angst was heightened on Wednesday when the military said it was now monitoring social media for hate speeches and anti-security information.
It was against this background that former President Goodluck Jonathan shared a quote on his Facebook page on Thursday to remind Nigerians that they enjoyed “total freedom” under him.
“I am the most abused and insulted president in the world, but when I leave office you will all remember me for the total freedom you enjoyed under my government,” the quote read.
But did Nigerians enjoy total freedom under Jonathan? This is not true because individuals and groups perceived to be opposed to his government got doses of assault and intimidation.
FACT: SECURITY CLAMPED DOWN ON #BBOG
The Jonathan administration did not spare the BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) group a quarter. In May, 2014 – just a few weeks after the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno state, on April 14, 2014 – a citizen movement led by Oby Ezekwesili and Hadiza Bala Usman emerged. The emergence of the group was due the government’s lethargic response to the abduction.
The group began an advocacy for the rescue of the girls. They held daily sit-ins at the Unity Fountain in Abuja. All through their campaign under Jonathan, the police threatened and occasionally used force on them. The police even assaulted Fredrick Nwabufo, TheCable journalist, in one of the group’s sit-ins.
To extirpate the movement and its advocacy, Joseph Mbu, who was police commissioner of the federal capital territory at the time, on June 3, banned all forms of protests and rallies in the city. It was after a mass condemnation of the action that Mohammed Abubakar, former inspector-general of police, lifted the ban.
On May 29, 2014, thugs allegedly sponsored by the government attacked the BBOG group at its sit-in, destroying chairs, cameras and other valuables.
The Jonathan administration also described the group as the advocacy arm of the then opposition party – the All Progressives Congress (APC); hence its clampdown on it.
FACT: ARMY ATTACKED NEWSPAPER VANS
In June, 2014, the Nigeria army began a crackdown on newspapers. Print media organisations in Abuja and Lagos were blocked from distributing their papers to other parts of the country. And this continued for days. The offence of the newspapers was a report by Daily Trust alleging that the army shared out land meant for barracks in Abuja to generals. The report also alleged that “439 beneficiaries in the land sharing are spouses, relations, friends, associates and companies of senior army officers”.
This was a time the government appeared to be losing the war against insurgency. Boko Haram launched attacks without ceasing on soft targets as well as on military formations. It also carried out attacks in the federal capital territory. So, the government did not take critical reports against the military reclining.
Soldiers seized newspaper copies, and the army flooded the offices of media organisations with its men. The offices were ransacked and journalists were harassed.
Although the army gave the lame excuse that it had information newspaper vans were being used to smuggle bombs, no single incriminating item was found in the vans.
FACT: AMINU TAMBUWAL HOUNDED FOR JOINING APC
On October 24, 2014, Aminu Tambuwal, former speaker of the house of representatives, defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the APC. Jonathan took immediate repressive steps to punish him for his action. He asked the police and other security agencies to withdraw Tambuwal’s security.
On October 30, 2014, after speculations, the police confirmed that they had withdrawn the speaker’s security because he was deemed to be an impostor, having joined the opposition.
On November 20, the police besieged the national assembly to prevent Tambuwal from presiding over a sitting of the house. There was pandemonium as the police fired teargas canisters at the speaker and his colleagues who were making their way into the complex. The national assembly was subsequently shut down.
FACT: DSS RAIDED APC DATA OFFICES
On November 22, operatives of the Department of States Services (DSS) raided the data centre of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ikeja Lagos.
The DSS claimed it raided the centre because it had information that voter cards were being cloned there. This was in the build-up to the 2015 general election.
The secret police launched further raids on APC data centres across the country, vandalising office equipment in the process, over the same allegation.
However, the service was unable to substantiate it claims even while Jonathan was in power. The raids, which were considered as politically motivated, won public sympathy for the opposition.
FACT: SOLDIERS SHOT AT ‘FUEL SUBSIDY’ PROTESTERS IN LAGOS
On January 1, 2012, the Jonathan administration announced the removal of subsidy on petroleum. The action irked many Nigerians who did not want the burden of paying more for fuel.
Many Nigerians then poured into the streets to protest against the government’s action. There were protests in most parts of the country, but the cynosure of the protest was Lagos.
Citizens converged on Gani Fawehinmi square in Ojota to demand that the government rescind its decision. On one occasion on January 16, soldiers shot at the protesters in a bid to disperse them.
Ademola Ade, a protester, was mauled down by police bullets in one of the rallies.
The government later tempered its decision.
CONCLUSION: FREEDOM NOT ‘TOTAL’
It is clears that Nigerians did not enjoy “total freedom” as Jonathan claims. But there is a verisimilitude of truth that citizens enjoyed some level of freedom on social media. Nasir el-Rufai, a member of the APC and Kaduna state governor, used a string of expletives on the former president on social media, but he was not arrested for it. Other members of the opposition also exercised the freedom of critically excoriating Jonathan, but they were not picked up for it.