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Press freedom and judicial independence threatened under Pres Buhari’s rule

Nigeria’s democracy is under threat, with press freedom and judicial independence in serious peril. State Security Service officers brazenly cocked guns at a Federal High Court leading to the re-arrest of Nigerian activist Omoyele Sowore and Olawale Bakare, raising concerns on the country’s shrinking democratic space.

The re-arrest of Nigerian activist and owner of Sahara Reporters Omoyele Sowore inside a court, minutes just after Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, a federal judge, gave the order for his release from the custody of the State Security Service (SSS) led to backlash from all over the world.

The SSS which is directly under the control of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari had kidnapped Yele Sowore on the 4th of August, keeping in him in custody for over 124 days. On Friday (Dec. 6), Sowore alongside Olawale Bakare, who was also arrested with Sowore, appeared before Justice Ojukwu who commended the SSS for complying with the court ruling and for allowing the rule of law take place.

The short-lived commendation led to a scuttle after 15 armed officers of the SSS attempted to re-arrest Sowore and Bakare just outside the court, prompting both men to return to the court to seek refuge, making Justice Ojukwu run to her chambers for safety.

Read: Cartoon: Buhari returns to Nigeria after unclear 10-day UK ‘private visit’

Read: In 2019, Nigeria has found itself back to 1983 under President Buhari

According to Nigerian local newspaper Premium Times, “The two accused persons are facing a seven-count charge of treasonable felony, fraud, cyber-stalking and “insulting President Muhammadu Buhari.”

Since President Buhari’s re-election, his tenure in office has been associated with acts of brigandage by government security forces, the the gradual collapse of respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law, flouting of court orders, arbitrary arrest of journalists and activists, worrying economic meltdown, and a concerning border closure.3

While the courts are the last stop for justice in an unruly country such as Nigeria, the courts unfortunately don’t guarantee justice. There are concerns that Nigeria at this point is no longer in a democratic dispensation. While the question of democracy not being a form of dictatorship still lingers in some quarters, what really is democracy in Africa when a president has so much power to flout court rules?

Of major concern  are visible signs that the country is slowly becoming polarised and intolerant of political dissent. As the economic pressure continues, press freedom has continued to be muzzled.

For many young Nigerians, many of whom welcomed President Buhari in 2015, they’d not experienced the dictatorship of President Buhari as a head of state in 1984. President Buhari who was packaged as a reformed democrat has so far been far from being the change many Nigerians anticipated.

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