By Gbenga Odunsi, Editor, AljazirahNigeria Newspapers.
SEVERAL criticisms have trailed the policies of the Buhari-led administration, as most of them have posed a serious threat to the nation’s economic growth. However, indications have shown that criticizing President Buhari’s policies could lead people to probe or arrest. This poses as a major problem with democracy, and with the Buhari led government.
President Muhammadu Buhari has been criticized for trying to cage the press and deny many Nigerians freedom of expression as many feel he thinks he is still under a military regime.
While the constitution of Nigeria guarantees freedom of speech and the press, it is obvious that those rights are under attack.
The actions and activities of security agencies, who are meant to secure lives and properties, ensure freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom to hold opinion indicates they are not ready to ensure these rights.
Police officers in Abuja splashed water and fired tear gas canisters on a group of concerned Nigerians led by musician, Charly Boy, calling for the immediate return or resignation of President Buhari. Uyi, a journalist who works with Silverbird TV, was monitoring the protests, when he was brutalised. Armed police men who also used dogs to scare away the protesters manhandled some of them which led to one sustaining injuries.
However, the security operatives who were said to be acting on the directive from the Federal Government to disrupt the rally because the protest on Monday went viral and embarrassed the government also dispersed the protesters who gathered at Millennium Park for the day’s business.
In recent month, there were instances where security agencies went after people simply because of something they said or wrote against President Buhari.
A series of arrests of bloggers, newspaper reporters, media houses, and even a dog owner have been arrested in connection with freedom of expression. Musa Azare, a blogger known for being critical about the government of Bauchi state in the country’s northeast, found himself under arrest sometimes last year. When a journalist is attacked, the perpetrators of the assault rarely face charges.
It is not only journalists that are facing threats. Police remanded a man in the southwestern Ogun state for naming his dog “Buhari”.
Apostle Suleiman was arrested by DSS simply because he asked Nigerians to defend themselves against terrorist group. In same vein, Governor Fayose of Ekiti state was probed because of his constant criticisms against Buhari government.
Special Assistant to president Buhari on media, on a radio program, told a co-guest to ‘shut up’ simply because he criticized Buhari’s government.
Opinions and protests anywhere in the world are part of democratic process.
Recently, anti-government protests were held across the UK with crowds calling on Theresa May to resign over the government’s response over housing policy in wake of Grenfell Tower disaster that killed at least 80, and the general election result. Chants of ‘May must go’ were heard in Westminster.
In the United States, protests were held in more than 135 cities and around the world to demand an impartial investigation into any potential collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia to influence last year’s election in Trump’s favor.
In Nigeria, unfortunately, there is freedom of speech, but one cannot guarantee freedom after speech.
It is safe to say that the right to freedom of speech in Nigeria is gradually going into extinction as it appears anyone who criticizes Buhari’s policies might get probed, arrested or jailed.
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