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Growing Repression Of Free Speech And Attack On Human Rights Defenders In Nigeria

 By Victoria Ohaeri

Victoria Ohaeri

The growing repression of citizen reporters and advocates that challenge the never-seen-before levels of corruption and political under-performance going in Nigeria has now assumed frighteningly alarming dimensions. For some time now, I have been the target of deliberate attacks, threats, accusations leveled against me by persons who hold themselves out as Igbo ethnic champions and supporters of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.  Their main grouse is that I have refused to heed their ‘wise counsel” to support a president from my tribe and region. Over time, they have continuously launched series of deliberate campaign of calumny against me on the social media, employing all sinisterly bewildering means to coerce me into silence.

Particularly on December 12, 2013, I had made the Facebook posting below:

Yes, Obasanjo clearly lacks the moral ground to write GEJ and level accusations he himself was, and is still guilty of. But that’s not the issue. The issue is whether there is any question OBJ has asked in that letter that isn’t true, and deserving of compelling answers. If all that most Nigerians can do after reading that letter is to hurl tirades at OBJ, then the bigger joke is on us all.

The truth is that GEJ may chose to call his estranged godfather’s bluff, but citizens, the diplomatic and international community are alarmed, and are taking the contents of that letter very seriously. He should also keep in mind that OBJ isn’t the kinda person whose hard questions can be wished away or dismissed with a wave of the hand.

GEJ is free to order his aides to decline a response, but most of the grave accusations – especially those bordering on all kinds of presidential corruption, oil theft, arms-piling and pursuit of a regional agenda – in that letter MUST be answered. Many issues raised in that letter have given the calls for regime change more tonic. And if these questions aren’t answered, then a regime change by “all means necessary” has become very imperative.

Capitalizing on the phrase, “by all means necessary” contained in the above post, a Facebook group named, Nigerian Liberation Movement (NLM) published hate messages with very malicious and defamatory content with intent to harm my reputation, and promote their characteristic ethnic bigotry. Very preposterously too, the above post was misinterpreted to mean that I was calling for the assassination of President Goodluck Jonathan, and on that basis, they urged the State Security Service to arrest me.

The statement contains in part:

Mrs Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri with ties to northern Nigeria has been a vocal critique of the Jonathan-led administration and believes that for the country to move forward the president should be removed by impeachment or through a military coup, which may result in his assassination.

Many Northerners have reacted to the call by Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri with suspicion and view her as a spy amongst them while their eastern counterparts have distanced themselves from the call. The Northerners view such a move as another repeat of the 1966 debacle for the eastern people of Igbo origin to seize power while using a “detribalized” mole like Mrs Ibezim-Ohaeri to wade off suspicion. Easterners on the other hand see such call as an attempt to push the country into another round of “Igbo killing and massacre” which they called pogrom.

Ordinarily, the above interpretation is laughable and undeserving of a response as there is clearly no way that the phrase, “by all means necessary” connotes or even suggests a recommendation of an assassination plot.  Such mischievous misinterpretation, steeped in incurable idiocy again brings to the fore, the continuing rot in the Nigerian educational system, which has seen the universities churn out retards as graduates. Determined to overturn this rot, Nigerian lecturers under the auspices of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on a protracted strike, refusing to yield to official intimidation and all untoward pressures aimed at breaking their resolve.

There is simply no way a statement made within the limits of free speech, and again, made well within the context of  established modes of democratic ascendancy could be myopically construed to mean a backing to murder a serving president! A subsequent post made the following day (December 13, 2013) specifically referenced an impeachment process, confirming my original intent on constitutionally-prescribed modes of political changeover. Sight must not be lost of the fact that the call for regime change “by all mean necessary” was preconditioned on the president’s refusal or failure to provide cogent and compelling responses to the allegations of  “presidential corruption, oil theft, arms-stockpiling and the secession agenda” contained in General Olusegun Obasanjo’s infamous letter to President Goodluck Jonathan.

This trend is however, not entirely new. In the last two years, there has been a clearly defined pattern of branding anybody who boldly speaks against the frustrating levels of bad governance and unprecedented corruption in Nigeria as an “enemy”.  Patriotism is now defined as loyalty to the serving president, and not to the country itself. While this persecution against real and imagined critics of government persists, ex-militants and warlords famed for their inflammatory statements continue to enjoy the support and protection of the authorities.

Even more hurtfully, the statement by the NLM demonized the northern part of the country, insinuating that anyone “who has ties to the north” is inherently evil or a terrorist. Never in the chequered history of this country have we seen such alarming levels of bigotry and polarization along ethnic, tribal and regional lines, as we are witnessing since President Goodluck Jonathan came to power. Almost every issue, analysis,  advocacy and even policy interventions that affect generality of the populace are now understood and dissected through ethnic prisms and warped regional predispositions. That is why an important bill like the Petroleum Industry Bill has remained on the parliamentary shelf, gathering dust, blocking billions of investments and oil revenues that could have been used to provide infrastructure, create jobs for restive youths and clean up the environmental mess in the Niger Delta.

It is difficult to believe that the Nigerian authorities are unaware of the ignominious activities of overzealous pests and rodents on the social media purporting to be acting on its behalf. No known attempt has been made to dissuade the activities of these often faceless groups and actors who have succeeded in making more enemies for the government of the day. These nuisances, mainly characterized by their low intellectual depth, fake identity and abusive expertise spend long hours on the social media throwing mud at personalities, citizen advocates and human right defenders perceived to be strong critics of President Jonathan’s administration. That these cyber rodents never use their real identities to mobilize public support for the present government is compelling proof that they are ashamed of the wicked roles they play, and wounded by their conscience.

For more than a decade, I have been actively involved in the promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria, mainly through public interest litigation and other channels of popular expression to achieve these goals. Having come this far, I cannot be intimidated by the ranting of cheap blackmailers and lazybones.  The struggle to restore sanity to Nigeria’s democratic and political climate has only just begun!

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