Our memory has not failed us. There was a time in our country’s history when those who expressed opinions about the style of governance or about the policies of the government of the day were hounded into detention by security operatives, purportedly acting on orders from above. That was the era of Military dictatorship.
With the return of democracy in 1999, that painful chapter of our history was deemed to have been closed. Sadly, we seem to be returning to those dark days of our recent past going by what happened in Jos, the Plateau State capital, penultimate week.
The attempted arrest of an influential Pastor and the General Overseer of the Evangelical Outreach Ministries International, Prophet Isa El-Buba by operatives of the Department of State Service(DSS) did not only raise tension in Jos but reminded of the era of impunity when contrary opinion was met with full force by the successive military regimes.
What was Rev. El-Buba’s offence?
The fiery Cleric was said to have made statements calling on eligible citizens to get their permanent voters cards and be ready to “vote out wickedness”.
But for the youths numbering over 100 who thronged the scene of his attempted arrest at Kassim Ibrahim Street, Jos in solidarity, he would have been whisked away. And Jos would have perhaps erupted in another orgy of region-induced violence. Thank God, the arrest was foiled.
We condemn the over-zealousness of the DSS in this matter as the attempted arrest was ill-timed and capable of sending wrong signals to the people.
The DSS operatives ought to have been more circumspect taking into cognizance the recent history of Plateau which is replete with ethno-religious tensions and violence. The arrest of Pastor El-Buba would have most likely set the stage for an avoidable crisis.
The DSS and other security agencies must understand that democracy can only thrive when there is accommodation for differing opinion.
The Clergy, Media, human rights activists, students, the academia, labour leaders and all such interest groups must be allowed to enjoy their constitutional rights of the freedom to hold and express opinion.
We must add that it amounts to double standards when top government officials who make inflammatory comments capable of undermining the peace and security of the nation are never sanctioned while critics are threatened with arrests as the case with Rev. El-Buba
One of such officials is the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, who last weekend in a Television progarmme made highly inflammatory comments about the recent killings in Benue, Taraba, and other parts of the country blaming the barbaric actions on the enactment of the Anti-open Grazing Laws in operation in those states.
The Minister’s comments which tended to justify the killings no doubt touched on the sensibilities of the communities which have suffered this senseless blood-letting.
Unfortunately, the Minister has not been sanctioned and there is no likelihood he will ever be reprimanded!
In conclusion, we urge security agencies to restrain from targeting critics for arrest. Nothing should be done to stifle the constitutional rights of citizens to comment about the state of affairs in the nation, including how they are governed.
The Buhari administration must accept the fact that as a product of democracy, it cannot be above criticism which is an essential element of democracy.