Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Trouble With Fake NGOs

Lewis Obi
The oddities, even barbarities, of Nigeria’s daily life can sometimes be truly overwhelming.  Some of them occur so frequently that they compel Nigerians to think they are normal.  An example is the “big” protest in Abuja last week over the Shi’ite cleric Ibraheem El-Zakzaky.  He has been detained without charge for one year.  So you sigh in relief, and say, oh, some freedom-loving patriots want the old man tried or freed.  He has suffered like the Biblical Job.
On the contrary, the protest was for the exact opposite.  In the new era of ‘fake news’ I try to be choosy but I just could not resist trying to know why “thousands of Nigerians are currently protesting against the ruling of a court that incarcerated leader of the Shi’ite Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, be released unconditionally.”
The protesters were said to have taken over the Federal High Court Abuja and had arrived under the high-sounding banner “Coalition on Good Governance and Change Initiative (CGGCI).”  That automatically suggests a charitable non-governmental organization (NGO) devoted to issues of good government and positive change in society.  You would also imagine that a ‘coalition on good governance’ would be dead set against the detention of a Nigerian citizen for more than 48 hours without charge.  That’s what the Constitution demands.  A constitutional democracy ought to faithfully follow the rule of law and due process to realize good governance.  But the CGGCI was clearly against the rule of law and due process and was, indeed, advocating what amounted to tyranny.
The CGGCI protesters attacked Justice Gabriel Kolawole saying the judge seems oblivious of the “dangerous precedence (sic)” his ruling will have on “law enforcement, security, anti-terror fight, terrorism, and extremism and secessionist movements in Nigeria.”  Remember that the Department of State Security (DSS), which seems to be the grandfather of this coalition, (Esau’s hand and Jacob’s voice) once told the public that the Sheikh was being imprisoned for his own safety.  At trial the judge apparently asked for proof and got none.  This was why the judge made references to crimes “not known to law” of which the government was accusing the Sheikh by innuendo.
The chairman of the CGGCI is a man named Comrade Okpokwu Ogenyi.  When Nigeria was a country, a comrade was considered a people person, a friend of the masses, a man who would understand basic things about the oppressed, and an NGO like CGGCI was expected to stand with you to fight for fundamental human rights.  Now we are in the Orwellian 1984.  So, it was Comrade Ogenyi’s view that by ordering the release of a man who has been incarcerated for 12 months without charge, “the judiciary has dealt a fresh blow to the future of Nigeria by legalizing terrorism while leaving the rest of the people at risk of losing our lives (sic).”
Justice Kolawole’s judgment, he said, was ridiculous.  How could the “judge order the release of a person believed to be a security risk to the society through his (Zakzaky’s) extreme brand of foreign-backed Islamic radicalization programme (sic)?”
The accusations against the Sheikh have never been proved in court or elsewhere.  It always seemed dubious to arrest a man or detain him in the contemplation that he might at some future time commit some offences.  And that seems to be the origin of his so-called “preventive detention” which the judge ridiculed in his judgment.  So was the charge that the Sheikh was stockpiling arms which the Army tried to sell to the judicial panel of inquiry to justify a terrorism charge.  It fell apart when even the panel, as biased as it was against the Shi’ites, found nothing but sticks, catapults and machetes.  The Iranian enquiry on the welfare of the Shi’ites a year ago, a few days  after they were massacred in hundreds by the Army, seems to have brought them more suspicion if not opprobrium that anything else.  Yet the Iranian response was measured, even polite.  They said no more than that the massacre be investigated by the Nigerian government.
But again Nigeria is a secular state and the Nigerian Constitution does not and must not be manipulated to differentiate between Sunnis and Shi’ites.  The rivalry between these two groups in the Middle East must not be imported into Nigeria.  Treating Sheikh Zakzaky like an outcast, denying him his rights, persecuting his members, are not only against the law, they are signs of misgovernment.  Yet an NGO on good governance found fit to justify government oppression.
The diatribe against Justice Kolawole by the so-called Coalition on Good Governance would have been funny if it did not come in familiar fraudulent pretensions to patriotism:  “Nigerians are ever ready to do the needful in safeguarding the future of our dear nation and hence would demand that Justice Kolawole be investigated by the National Judicial Council (NJC).”
“In the space of one week, the judiciary has ordered dangerous fanatics and demagogues to be returned to the streets to resume brainwashing, radicalizing and militarizing vulnerable youths in the population.  This could have only been in keeping with fulfilling obligations entered into for less than honourable considerations even as we cannot rule out a judiciary that is taking its pound of flesh from an executive arm that has exposed the sleaze on its soiled bench.”
“If the entire judiciary has activated its vendetta against the security agencies that they see as the executive arm, the precedence set by Justice Gabriel Kolawole took things to the ridiculous by awarding N50 million of tax payers’money to finance IMN’s radicalization programme while also asking that the police further deploy its personnel to protect a man whose sect members would invariably kill like they killed soldiers and policemen in recent past.  This judge also failed to realize the weight of his utterance that has basically ordered the government to build a new headquarters for a proscribed group – we do hope he will keep himself on the bench for when other terror groups approach to demand for the government to build them headquarters.”
“The house demolished in Gyellesu, on which the directive to build a new one for this demagogue, originally belonged to Alhaji Ismail Gwarzo the DG NSO under late General SaniAbacha.  El-Zakzaky was given the seized house by Gen Abdulsalam (Abubakar) because people of Babban Dodo had at the time also rebelled against the IMN occupation which made them to burn his initial hub after he was released from another arrest for insurrection.”  Ogenyi further said Justice Kolawole had murdered sleep with his ruling, that he did this confidently because security agencies under obligation use taxpayers’ money to protect him and other judges who do not know the magnitude of the threat that terrorism poses to citizens.
Nigerians have seen the likes of the coalition before.   One of such was Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA). They are just agents of fascism.  They are like whores.  The NJC rather than investigate Justice Kolawole must be very proud of him.  For those who know true patriots, they don’t come stronger than Justice Kolawole.  For what it is worth, demagoguery, fanaticism, brainwashing,  militarization and radicalization, are just sound bites.  They may be used to frighten the population and violate the fundamental rights of innocent citizens.  To turn them into criminal offences you need an extra something they call evidence.  Justice Kolawole exhibited the best of what is expected of a wise, considerate judge.  Indeed  the monetary award he made was extraordinarily lenient.
Indeed, a billion Naira would have been considered not too much, given the extent of the impunity exhibited by the government, and such money should be specifically taken from the budget of the Army and the officers who perpetrated the atrocities.
Now the trouble with NGOs like the CGGCI is that they tend give a bad name to all NGOs, some of which render wonderful service to Nigerian communities.  Yet fake NGOs like CGGCI do more harm than good and ought to be discouraged.
*Lewis Obi, former editor of the rested African Concord magazine, is a commentator on public issues 

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