By Austin Emaduku
The news of the arrest of Comrade Chido Onumah, journalist, author and rights activist by men of the Department of State Security at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja in the evening of Sunday 29 September, 2019 was shocking to say the least. Even more shocking were the “reasons” given for his arrest and brief detention. They went a long way to show an embarrassing lack of knowledge, capacity and professionalism on the part of the security agency.
According to the reports that broke that evening, Chido Onumah had arrived the airport and while waiting to clear his luggage was accosted by an official of the DSS who after flashing him his card whisked him away to their headquarters for questioning. The gentleman had just returned from a trip to Barcelona, Spain where he recently successfully bagged a PhD Degree in journalism, an attainment that was loudly celebrated on social media and most online rights groups.
If the DSS and other avowed protectors of the state knew their onions and do their their jobs well, they would not have embarrassed themselves by arresting Mr Onumah let alone ask him the deeply embarrassing questions they reportedly asked him. Chido Onumah is by no means an obscure fellow. He has been a very visible human and social rights activist almost all his life. Besides he is a journalist with regular pungent views in the online press and the author of at least three thought provoking books on the Nigerian question, amongst which is his most recent widely acclaimed book with the sensational but metaphoric title “We are all Biafrans” Mr Chido is also the convener of Corruption Anonymous and Whistle Blower a very visible anti corruption group set up to fight and expose corruption in governance. Such an individual ought to be known to the intelligence community.
As it turned out, they didn’t even know him or have an inkling of who he was and this tells a lot about the quality of our intelligence directorates and the quality of Intel they supply to government. They had to pick up Chido for questioning for putting on a T-Shirt promoting his latest book with the inscription “We are all Biafrans”
Obviously, it was the inscription “WE ARE ALL BIAFRANS” on the T-shirt that attracted them to him. They must have thought that Nnamdi Kanu’s Deputy has come to town. So they took him away for questioning.
In the words of Mr. Onumah after his release, the questioning went somewhat thus: first they accused him of coming into the country to join some people planning to cause disaffection, then they said, since he is a Biafran, why should he carry a Nigerian passport.
What a pity! These people don’t know jack. No wonder they have been botching one operation after another, embarrassing themselves and government. An unintelligent and jitery intelligence agency is a threat to democracy. If these are the kind of people that the government should rely on for security reports, then we are all in trouble. Little wonder that we are gradually slipping into a fascist state with high level of intolerance for opposing views.
The DSS have issued a statement denying that they arrested the journalist but it is a laughable one. It further confirms their lack of tact. If it is true, as they claim in that statement, that they had credible intelligence that Chido might be a subject of mob attack on account of putting on the T-Shirt – which, by the way, he has been wearing around Abuja before he left the shores of Nigeria for Barcelona – then they could have simply taken him to a corner within the airport and quietly advised him to remove the T-Shirt. This would have saved the polity the uneccessary tension, uproar and huge embarrassment they caused themselves and government by their action. Unless of course their type of intelligence peace building is to set up one fire to quench another one.
The faux pax are becoming to many. Government and its agencies must realise that democracy is a market place of differing views. Democracy can only thrive in an atmosphere of contending opinions. Government must realise that the democracy we have today is a result of vigorous opposition and that those it is hounding today fought for it. The government must learn a lesson from this very unfortunate and embarrassing incident. It cannot continue to heat up the system in this manner and expect all to be quiet.
Rather than constantly look over it’s shoulders for perceived enemies, the government should consign itself more with the actual task of governace and its public perception which is less than salutary. We know it is coming from a hard place and tackling problems caused by long years of misgovernance, but to say the truth, the government has not helped itself in many respects. It has been very dour and uninspiring even in explaining its own strengths.
Enough of all illegal arrests and detentions! Release Sowore and all those still being held against court orders now! Let the rule of law prevail.