Last week’s arrest of Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe is largely believed to be located more in politics than the official reasons advanced by the DSS, writes Emmanuel Ugwu
Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe saw his arrest and detention coming. On May 28, 2018, he told a gathering of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at Obingwa Local Government that Nigeria was at a crossroads, noting that the nation was saddled with “a very vicious and dangerous government”.
He said the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari was deceitful and had been over-indulging in all the bad things the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had accused PDP of doing.
Worse still, “they don’t want people to talk,” he said, adding that “if you talk they come after you”.
On Friday, June 22, 2018, “they” came after Abaribe. So his statement has turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy for the Senator representing Abia South. He was picked in Abuja by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS), who waylaid him at his barber’s salon.
The arrest was followed immediately with a search of the Senator’s residence at Abuja and then detention. It was not until Tuesday, June 26, 2018 that he regained his freedom.
The DSS, in their characteristic nature, did not disclose the reasons for the arrest of the Senate committee chairman on works. This unbridled silence by the security agency sparked wild speculations as to why the Abia South Senator was clamped into detention by the secret service.
But one reason bandied about was that the arrest was in connection with the role Abaribe played in the release of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu.
The IPOB leader, whose whereabouts is presently unknown, was released from Kuje prison on May 12, 2017 after 18 months in detention. His freedom did not come easy as Justice Binta Nyako had granted the IPOB leader bail with very stringent conditions.
It was in fulfillment of one of the conditions that Senator Abaribe came into the picture as he was mandated by the South-east caucus in the Senate to stand as surety for Kanu.
The Senator also deposited a bail bond of N100 million. Two other people that stood as sureties for the IPOB leader were a Jewish Rabi, Emmanuel Shallom Ben and Mr. Tochukwu Uchendu, an accountant.
The theory of linking Abaribe’s arrest to his role as Kanu’s surety was reinforced by the threat of Justice Nyako, who on October 17, 2017, warned that Abaribe and the other sureties of the IPOB leader would be jailed and made to forfeit their N100 million bail bonds if they failed to produce the IPOB leader in the next sitting of the court.
Expectedly, there was a rash of angry reactions over the arrest and detention of the Senator. The Ohanaeze Ndigbo, was among groups that believed that Senator Abaribe’s travails were as a result of his role in securing freedom for Kanu.
In its reaction, the apex Igbo socio-political organisation insisted that Abaribe lacked the capacity to produce the IPOB leader, who disappeared from the scene, along with his parents after the troops of Nigerian army invaded their residence at Afaraukwu Umuahia on September 14, 2017.
President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, said in a statement he issued condemning Abaribe’s arrest that the circumstances at the time of the “disappearance” of Kanu were beyond the “contemplation of the law that a surety could guarantee the production of an accused person”.
He blamed Kanu’s disappearance on the controversial and bloody operation python dance, which the Nigerian Army launched to capture Kanu and flush out members of his separatist organisation camped at his residence.
“The army in the name of ‘Operation Python Dance’ invaded Nnamdi’s home and destabilised normalcy there,” Nwodo said in the statement, insisting that “it is only the security agency that can disclose Nnamdi’s whereabouts” because “what happened in Umuahia was an invasion, a war of a kind” hence “Nnamdi may have been killed or captured in the imbroglio or even escaped into hiding”.
According to the Ohanaeze leader, “Senator Abaribe has no capacity, nor has any surety in the circumstances to know the whereabouts of Nnamdi Kanu (hence) “the onus lies on the security forces to disclose his whereabouts”.
He also blamed the court for holding Abaribe and other sureties responsible for the IPOB leader’s disappearance, noting that “the judiciary is beginning to tow the line of the executive by throwing the law overboard in matters that affect the South-east”.
Aside Ohanaeze Ndigbo, there were other strident voices that condemned Abaribe’s arrest and called for his immediate release.
The Abia State House of Assembly in a resolution vehemently condemned the DSS for clamping the Abia South Senator into detention.
The Abia lawmakers took their stand following a motion of urgent public importance presented on the floor of the assembly by the member representing Obingwa West state constituency, Hon Chidiebere Thomas Nkoro, who called on the Abia legislature to condemn the arrest.
The legislators expressed deep anger while making their contributions to the motion, some pointing out the unbridled bias which the present federal government has always displayed on matters concerning the Southeast.
The lawmakers described the action of the DSS as “undemocratic and uncivilised”, adding that it was a flagrant breach of the constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria and trampling on the fundamental rights of the Abia South Senator.
The Abia assembly also called on the National Assembly to rise up and condemn what has become incessant harassment of federal lawmakers by the DSS and other security agencies.
On its part, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) saw Abaribe’s arrest as orchestrated political intimidation by the ruling APC.
National publicity secretary of PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement pointed out that the arrest had further laid credence to the opposition party’s earlier alarm that the Buhari administration had begun a “clampdown” on perceived opposition members.
“The clampdown on Senator Abaribe is feared to be in furtherance of the moves to intimidate and emasculate members of the National Assembly, who are known for their outspokenness against the constitutional violations and misrule of the APC administration,” he said.
The PDP spokesman noted that it was unsettling that the federal government gave no reason(s) for the arrest and detention of Senator Abaribe thereby heightening apprehension that the ruling party was steadily dragging the nation into authoritarianism.
According to the party, the apprehension of Nigerians was exacerbated by the alleged plots by the federal government to frame up other lawmakers, including Senate President Bukola Saraki, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, as well as Senators Dino Melaye and Shehu Sani.
“Nigerians can now see that our dear nation is fast descending into a fascist state, where constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech no longer obtains and citizens are marked, arrested and detained on the whims and caprices of those in power,” the PDP lamented.
It however reminded the Buhari administration and its security agencies that “the laws of our nation are clear on the process of arrest and prosecution of any citizen and not recourse to clampdown and intimidation.”
But contrary to the widely held views that Abaribe was arrested over the disappearance of its leader, IPOB said such view was untenable.
The organisation through its media and publicity secretary, Emma powerful, adduced the 2018 budget padding controversy as the reason for Abaribe’s travails.
IPOB insisted that the Abia South Senator was being hunted down “for exposing the N30 billion fraud” adding that linking the organisation to Abaribe’s arrest was diversionary and an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the Nigerian public on the fraud contained in the 2018 federal budget.
“Attempting to use the issue of IPOB agitation to deflect attention away from the real motive behind the public arrest of Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe is a ploy that will not wash with the public. The only plausible reason he was arrested is because of his public exposure of 30 billion Naira budget fraud perpetrated by the APC government,” IPOB stated.
The Biafran group said no matter how hard the federal government tries, no amount of blackmail with the name of IPOB would ever succeed in covering the injustice being perpetrated in the land by the powers that be.
“Attempting to link Senator Abaribe to the fanciful concoction of proscribed organisation, guns and terrorism is a cheap and tacky attempt, designed to appeal to the base instinct of those core northerners opposed to the idea of self-determination as championed by IPOB”.
In Abia South, news of the arrest of the senator was greeted with palpable anger. Though there were no street protests, strong feelings were expressed in public discussions and phone-in radio programmes condemning the arrest and detention.
The strong feelings emanating from Abia South over the arrest and detention of their senator was expressed by a socio-political group, Abia South Peoples Assembly (ASPA), which at a news conference condemned the arrest with strong words.
Leaders of the group, Chief Isaac Ogbonna, president general and Mr. Chizuru Kanu, secretary general, told journalists at Aba that they were convinced Senator Abaribe was arrested for raising the alarm over budget fraud.
The group noted that Abaribe not only exposed the fraud but also signaled his intention to investigate how N30 billion found its way into the 2018 budget for the ministry of power without his knowledge as the chairman of the Senate committee on power.
“Senator Abaribe’s unlawful detention came on the heels of the comments on the floor of the senate on the issue of N30 billion which found its way into the 2018 budget for the ministry of power where he is the chairman,” the ASPA said.
It also described the arrest as an attempt to stifle opposition voices and further marginalise the South-east zone, adding that it was a contradiction that a government that prides itself in waging war against corruption turned round to persecute somebody for blowing the whistle over a colossal fraud in the budget.
The wide spread concern and condemnation generated by the arrest and detention of Abaribe derived from the Senator’s rising profile as an outspoken lawmaker.
He has never hidden his disdain for the undemocratic tendencies of the Buhari government and has continued to speak out against its misdeeds.
Most importantly, the South-east zone has come to see in Abaribe, a replacement for the late Senator Uche Chukwumerije. This is because Abaribe has never shied away from speaking out against the policies of the federal government especially, the perceived marginalisation of Ndigbo in the scheme of things.
For this Abaribe is now regarded as the “Voice of Ndigbo”. Indeed the profile of the Abia south Senator has shot beyond the confines of his home state as he has continued to enjoy a wide spectrum of admiration and support across the South-east zone and other parts of Nigeria.
It is unlikely that he would be deterred after the DSS harassment. ASAPA said those trying to stifle their Senator were chasing after the wind, warning that “no amount of intimidation and arrest would stop the Senator from speaking out against injustice and marginalisation of the people of the South-east zone”.