A Statement On The Arrest And Proposed Interrogation Of Prof Okey Ndibe By SSS
The philistines are at it again! The season of arrest and intimidation of progressive voices in Nigeria has started! On Saturday, 8th of January, 2011, shortly before 10:00 P.M. Nigerian time, men of the State Security Service arrested Prof Okey Ndibe, a United States based Nigeria intellectual, teacher, writer, activist and political commentator who at the time was arriving the country on a Turkish airline along with his brother-in-law and the latter's three little kids. According to Prof Ndibe, he had originally planned to be in Nigeria for Christmas and was to come in via Ghana, but he had to delay his travel in order to come in with the brother in-law and help out because he was travelling with his kids. They arrived in Nigeria on a Turkish airline. He had the kids' passports which he handed over, along with his, when asked at the immigration desk. The officer that attended to him looked at the passports, passed the brother-in-law and asked if he was Okey Ndibe. He answered in the affirmative and the officer stood up and went to whisper something to another officer. He came back, handed the kids' passport to his brother-in-law, but held on to Prof Ndibe's Nigerian passport and then told him to go get his luggage and return to take his passport. Prof Ndibe spent quite sometime waiting for the luggage and while still waiting he tried to approach the officer that took his passport to inform him he was still waiting at which time he was approached by a fellow who introduced himself as a State Security agent waiting for him to pick up his luggage, so they can proceed to see his supervisor upstairs. He gave a name, which was different from the name he wore on his badge. When Prof Ndibe questioned this, the officer said it was their practice, because of the nature of their job, not to wear their real names. Prof Ndibe got his luggage and the man took his passport and they proceeded to the office of the supervisor. The lift was not working, so he had to haul his luggage via the steps to an office upstairs, Room 1062, where he met the supervisor. The officer that brought him in then handed over his passport to the supervisor and left. The supervisor began to check and enter something on the computer. After a while, he turned to Prof Ndibe and said partly as a statement and partly as a question that Prof Ndibe has another passport with him. Prof Ndibe said he has a United States of America passport with him. The officer demanded he hands this over to him and Prof Ndibe complied. The officer looked at this and went on to enter more things on the computer and wrote some things down on paper as well. At that point another young SSS officer came in with a Nigerian who seemed to have issues with a passport issued in 2004 which he said he never used. Prof Ndibe said he wasn't very clear what the whole issue was about, except that the chap was supposed to be flying to Belgrade at about that time, but the supervisor instructed the young SSS officer to tell the airline he was scheduled to fly with that the man was not travelling. The fellow was quite distraught and Prof Ndibe heard him trying to call a few people, including his dad.
Shortly after, Prof Ndibe's brother and brother-in-law were allowed in at which point also the supervisor asked Prof Ndibe to sit directly in front of him and began questioning him if he was a journalist. Professor Ndibe responded that yes he works in journalism, but he is also a professor of English Literature amongst other things. The supervisor then began making calls. He'd go outside, come in, still on these calls and Prof Ndibe could hear him saying 'Sir!' and reporting to whoever he was speaking with that he had also called 'Madam'. Prof Ndibe said he also heard them talking about 'Abuja office' and something about Monday. At one point, during the long wait, Prof Ndibe became very thirsty and asked for water. The officer got some for him. Prof Ndibe then observed that the officer hadn't introduced himself all this while. The officer introduced himself and brought out a sheet of paper he tore into two halves. In one, he wrote something to the effect that he'd taken Prof Ndibe's Nigerian passport and on the other, that he had taken his American passport. He then took Prof Ndibe's Nigerian telephone number and the address he would be staying in Lagos and told him to report at the Kingsway Road SSS office in Lagos on Monday morning to be 'interviewed' by 'the director' who he said would give him his passports. He gave Prof Ndibe a number to call him in case of anything. In all, Prof Ndibe spent over three hours at the place. Prof Ndibe confirms he would be going to the SSS office as directed with a lawyer on Monday morning.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have taken the pains to detail the conversation we had with Professor Ndibe about this affair so far in order that Nigerians know what has taken place so far in as much detail as possible. The man has originally intended to be in Nigeria till the 21st of January when he is due back to his family in the United States. We have no problems with state security agents or the government talking with persons of interest over any issue. But we know that ever since Prof Ndibe began to express his principled opposition to corruption, profligacy and unaccountable government right from the Obasanjo era, he has been a person of interest to the powers that be. It is to be noted that Prof Ndibe was one of the keynote speakers, along with Prof Wole Soyinka, Nuhu Ribadu and Femi Falana at the May 29, 2009 London 'State of the Nation' Conference organised by the Nigerian Liberty Forum (NLF), Respect Nigerians Coalition (RNC) and several other international civil society groups in diaspora.
Prof Ndibe is presently the Speaker of the Nigerian Peoples Parliament in Diaspora (NPPiD), which is a gathering of Nigerians invested in the attainment of the nation of our dream through dialogue, debate, activism and the provision of ideas for the enthronement of good governance in our country. The Parliament has now had three sessions and the last, which was well attended by Nigerians who all had the opportunity to have their say, was held in New York in September and, as usual, was presided over by Professor Ndibe. Some of the motions passed at that session include one that calls on the candidates for the forthcoming Presidential and Governorship elections to have a proper, informative debate about policies, a motion for the NPPiD to have monitors on the ground during the 2011 elections and another motion for stronger prosecution and more vigilant monitoring and punishment of corruption at national and international levels. It's obvious that what the Prof Okey Ndibe-led Parliament has done is to begin to organise Nigerians in diaspora to make contributions in a formal and organised way to the way things are being run in Nigeria politically and economically by supporting government efforts where necessary, proffering alternative views and solutions where necessary and actually mobilizing Nigerians around the idea that we as free citizens are also part of the government and that if we raise our voice in unison and in knowledge, over time, the ideas we put forward shall be taken and acted on by conscientious policy makers at home. In all his activist life as a newspaperman, columnist, writer, teacher and public intellectual, Prof Ndibe has never advocated nor supported violent causes of any sort. The only thing anyone can accuse him of is that he has showed himself as an implacable enemy of bad governance and he has always done so in firm and forthright voice.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, Prof Ndibe is one of your own. His arrest and proposed interrogation portends nothing good for the free Nigerian press or the public space that we all engage in. While we shall patiently wait to hear the outcome of the interview or interrogation proposed for Monday, we make bold to say that our reading of the situation is that the government of President Goodluck Jonathan is on a mission to intimidate and stifle all voices of opposition to the way the current system under his watch operates. When SSS men start picking up men like Prof Okey Ndibe at airports and seizing their passports, they are sending a message to all of us that we stand to lose our freedom for asking for it in a democracy, even if we do so through respectable mediums like the newspapers, the internet, the broadcast media or any other means that puts out our message of opposition to bad governance.
We decry this new posture of the Jonathan government. We are watching closely and the world is watching closely what happens to Prof Ndibe from now on while he is in Nigeria. If after Monday, the authorities find nothing to hold Prof Ndibe for, we will ask them to hand him back his passports and issue him a public apology for this disgraceful conduct of disrupting his holiday and causing him distress just because he stepped foot on his fatherland. If on the other hand, they think it is important to hold him based on any charge, we will demand that such a charge be immediately made public and that Prof Ndibe be charged before a competent court with opportunity for bail immediately.
President Jonathan must be told clearly that Nigerians are willing, able and ready to fight to protect the hard-earned freedom they have gained over the years of fighting authoritarian regimes of all guises, be they in khaki, babanriga, agbada or dashiki. We are shocked that our country has in the last few months been under siege from bombers and rather than the government to give a clear signal through pronouncements backed up with actions to indicate that they value the life and security of the citizenry, we have had our Neros fiddle as our Rome burns! The Nigerian government must be aware that this does not make them look good at home and abroad. We call on President Jonathan to retrace his steps from this road he is taking. We call on him to call off his hounds on progressive Nigerians and give everyone the opportunity to duke it out peacefully and ideologically in the public pace.
Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
God bless the Nigerian people! Signed: Kennedy Emetulu Tosin Awotesu Emeka Enechi (For and on behalf of Respect Nigerians Coalition)