On Saturday, October 18th, Nigerian political blogger, Jonathan Elendu was arrested upon arrival at a Nigerian airport. He was arrested and detained by the State Security Service (SSS), which according to the US State Department, reports directly to Nigeria's President. Elendu was detained by the SSS, without charge, and reportedly tortured and forced to starve for fear of poisoning. He was eventually handed over to an anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), but still, he was not charged in a court of law. Although Nigerian law requires every detainee to be charged within 48 hours of arrest, Jonathan Elendu was held for a period of 11 days without contact with a lawyer or his family. Until, Wednesday, October 29th, when word was received that Elendu was no longer under arrest and was receiving medical care. As of right now, Jonathan Elendu is no longer under arrest, but as his passport is still in the custody of the Federal Government of Nigeria, he is not free to return to his wife and child who live in the US.
WHY THE CONTINUED ATTENTION?
So, you are probably wondering why an online rally for a guy who is no longer in detention. Well the clues to that question lie above, but I will spotlight them for argument's sake. Consider the following factors,
- arrested upon arrival
- detention for 11 days
- Nigerian law requires charges within 48 hours of arrest
- no legal counsel
- hunger strike (for fear of poisoning)
- released but not given travel documents
I am disappointed in what I see as a dangerous direction for Nigeria and its citizens. The arrest and unlawful detention of Jonathan Elendu is just another piece of a puzzle that spells trouble for Nigeria's path towards entrenched democracy. To simply detain, torture and maltreat another human being is unacceptable, no matter where or why, particularly as that person, in this case, Jonathan Elendu, had not been charged or convicted of any crime. How can we as a people simply turn a blind eye to such action? I understand that we are all busy with the realities of our life, but I hope that Nigerians and people the world over will begin to pay closer attention to the importance of protecting human rights regardless of who, where or why because if not, someday it could be you being persecuted for no concrete reason. For this reason, I, and hopefully the many others that are taking the time to think about Elendu's situation today, encourage the Nigerian government to commit itself to the better treatment of all Nigerians. The government can begin this by returning Elendu's passport to him so he can return to his family. They can always charge him for whatever crimes they believe he has committed and have him returned to face justice, if necessary. To withhold his passport only suggests that the government has nothing to charge him with but instead wishes to use him as another example to discourage opponents and those who might choose to question the actions of the administration and its associates.
The curious thing about this situation is that it suggests that Nigeria is a dictatorship, when in actuality, for the past 9 years, Nigeria has been a democratic nation. Yes, the term democracy clearly has a unique meaning with regard to Nigeria, but that doesn't change the fact that Nigeria claims to be a democracy and i hope, is working towards the entrenchment of democratic principles. President Yar'Adua has always publicly committed himself to a 'Rule of Law' mantra and has publicly claimed to be a "servant leader" that is focused on providing,
"a purposeful and result-oriented administration that will yield tangible and visible benefits for all Nigerians"I find this contradiction - for a "servant leader" to resort to draconian measures as payback - very disturbing. Yes, Elendu blogs about corruption and power in Nigeria and yes, some online websites have shared pictures of Yar'Adua's son and/or shared potentially sensitive information about the President or others in power, but it is the role of Yar'Adua as the President of Nigeria to not infringe upon the rights of the very citizens he is charged with protecting and serving. Elendu should never have been arrested. He should have been visited by security forces while in the country and questioned, if that was necessary. Bustling him to a detention center, holding him for almost 2 weeks, depriving him of legal counsel and failing to charge him in a court of law is clearly unconstitutional and violates basic human rights as determined by the UN Human Rights Treaty which Nigeria ratified in 1967.
DOING THE RIGHT THING
I must stress that this act of encouraging better behavior and choices from the Nigerian government is not to be seen as an attack on the President and those who work with him. Every Nigerian citizen has a duty to do what they can to improve the nation. That duty can be expressed in any number of ways. By expressing my disappointment in the choice of the administration with regard to Elendu and encouraging alternative measures, I simply hope to remind everyone, regardless of their nationality, that we must treat each other well. I believe that I, and many others, have a right to free speech. Ultimately, we cannot ignore the fact that every human being deserves to be treated as such and nothing less.
So, I and many others choose to speak up and encourage the return of Elendu's travel documents and his safe return to his family. Until then, he is not truly free and a citizen's freedom is the most important right that every human being deserves.
I hope you will join us, because we cannot make a difference without you.
UPDATE: Elendu has confirmed that his property is still in the custody of the SSS. "[M]y laptop, flash drives, cell phones, clothes, wallet, green card, credit and bank cards are still in the custody of the SSS. In fact, everything I came with from the States, apart from the clothes on my back are in the custody of the SSS."
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