By Emmanuel Addeh
Prominent Nigerians, including Prof. Pat Utomi; human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) and former All Progressives Congress (APC), Legal Adviser, Dr. Muiz Banire, yesterday called on the federal government to forthwith stop the persecution of last year’s #ENDSARS protest organisers.
The group, which also included Prof. Anthony Kila, Mr. Olutola Mobolurinn, Innocent Chukwuma and Pastor Itua Ighodalo, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to uphold the legitimate right of Nigerians to express dissent.
The group of eminent persons noted that if Nigeria’s democracy is to be sustained and thrive , the country must have strong respect for difference of opinions and perspectives amongst the populace.
According to the coalition, whereas the nation must work to avoid vindictiveness in high places, it would seem that this is not the case from what it described as the apparent persecution of EndSARS perceived leaders and supporters.
The group maintained that this alleged vindictiveness in high places is being epitomised by the recent acts of the federal government as shown in the continuous harassment of the EndSARS protesters and their perceived sponsors.
“While the government claimed to be committed to the right to freedom of speech, right to peaceful protest and to voice out dissent, treatment being meted out to the conscious youths who organised the EndSARS protests is constantly portraying this government in the negative light and as one with poor human rights records.
“The Central Bank of Nigeria does disservice to its core function in allowing itself to be seen as victimisation tools in the hands of the executive.
“Whether this act of witch-hunting the perceived enemies of government from CBN is native to the institution or prompted from outside is not clear but suffice to say that it is troubling,” the group explained.
The coalition, which came under the umbrella of “The New Fabián Society of the Concerned Professionals”, noted that it was inappropriate that after the pledges of the president, including those in his New year address, there is still continuing harassment of the young men and women who organised protest.
It noted that using the court of law as an instrument to obtain ex-parte orders to freeze people’s accounts is an insignia of dictatorship that manipulates judicial institutions to give a façade of lawfulness to tyranny.
According to the concerned professionals, the judges involved too have not been giving a good account of their oath as these cases are given unreasonable lengthy adjournments while the central bank claims that the allegations against the people are still being investigated.
It insisted that the law is clear about presumption of innocence until proven guilty, stressing that no matter what has happened, the protesters are still Nigerian citizens and are entitled to presumption of innocence until the prosecution proves otherwise.
The group added: “Ex-parte orders by law are not supposed to last for more than 14 days but recent draconian legislations have been enabling tyrants to obtain ex parte orders for 180 days and more under the guise of continuous investigations.
“We must recall that even the president claimed recognition of the right to protest and still pledged to uphold his promises.
“A situation that despite this presidential promise and pledge, Nigerian Immigration Service refuses to renew the travellers’ passports of EndSARS protesters and their sponsors is quite abominable.”
The group stated that the right to freedom of movement is a fundamental right which is not possible where the authorities unjustifiably refuse to renew one’s passport, saying that such practice, by parity of reasoning, has been condemned by the Supreme Court in Agbakoba v. DSS.
In the light of this, the group called on all professional bodies and other Nigerians to rise up and condemn what it said is the tyrannical practice and uphold ethical standards.
“We also urge professional groups like the NBA, ICAN, etc to call their members in government who behave inappropriately to order and hold them accountable.
“All conscious individuals and organisations must call the government to order otherwise we all are potential victims awaiting their turns,’’ the group lamented.