John Campbell, a former US Ambassador to Nigeria, has criticised the arrest of Sahara Reporters Publisher, Omoyele Sowore.
Sowore and four others were put on remand at the Kuje Correctional Centre by Abuja Magistrates’ Court.
In his reaction, Campbell told the Nigerian authorities that the arrest puts the country in a bad light.
The senior fellow for Africa at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington hinted that the coming government in America was taking notes.
“The arrest of Nigerian journalist and human rights activist Omoyele Sowore is a poor representation of Nigeria to the incoming Biden administration”, Campbell tweeted.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has written to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in protest of the detention.
SERAP urged the UN group to pressure President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to release the detainees.
In late 2019, Campblell likened the Buhari administration to military rule.
This followed Sowore’s re-arrest at the Federal High Court in Abuja on December 6 of the same year, and The Punch newspaper’s declaration that the Nigeria leader was a Major General not a President.
In an article titled: “Buhari’s Dictatorial Past and the Rule of Law Today in Nigeria”, Campbell stated that the Department of State Service’s (DSS) action had damaged the country’s international reputation.
He noted that in the immediate aftermath of the DSS’s “invasion of an Abuja court room and its re-arrest of Sowore, The Punch announced that it will prefix President Muhammadu Buhari’s name with his military rank, Major General, and will refer to his administration as a “regime,” until “they purge themselves of their insufferable contempt for the rule of law.”
According to Campbell, “The Punch draws parallels between Buhari’s government and his “ham-fisted military junta in 1984/85,” when he was military chief of state. For Punch the “regime’s actions and assaults on the courts, disobedience of court orders and arbitrary detention of citizens reflect the true character of the martial culture.”
He added that the newspaper also attacked the military and the police for failing to understand that peaceful agitation and the right to associate are fundamental rights.
Campbell said The Punch referred to the detention of Islamic Movement of Nigeria leader, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, his wife, and former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, all in violation of various court orders, as well as governors’ moves to curtail media freedom and the right to demonstrate.
“Its criticism of Buhari is not surprising, but it is worth noting that Zakzaky and Dasuki are both northern Muslims. What is different this time is the parallelism between military rule and Buhari’s civilian administration. Buhari’s supporters are likely to find the Punch stance infuriating.
“Nigeria’s foreign friends will be hoping that the government takes no move to limit Punch’s freedom of expression. The SSS assault on a court room and the re-arrest of Sowore has already damaged the country’s international reputation”, Cambell stressed.