Following the recent arrest of Chief Timipre Sylva’s ardent loyalist, Barrister Jonah Okah allegedly on the orders of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, frontline social and political activist, Mr. Doifie Buokoribo, has accused the governor of disdain for free speech in the state.
Buokoribo also demanded the immediate release of Okah who has been in police custody since Wednesday.
The activist insisted that Chief Sylva’s loyalist was arrested in the state on the orders of Governor Dickson for his alleged comments on the Facebook platform.
In a statement by Buokoribo and posted to our Correspondent in Yenagoa, Doifie said he was expressing his personal views and not those of any social or political affiliates, including the All Progressives Party, APC, candidate in the last Bayelsa State governorship election, Chief Sylva, whom he serves as Media Adviser.
The activist appealed to the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, in the state and all lovers of freedom to speak out against Dickson’s attack on free speech.
In the statement in Yenagoa on Thursday, Buokoribo condemned the arrest of Okah, painting it as reckless, lawless and unacceptable.
“On Wednesday, 31 August, Jonah Okah was arrested by the police in Bayelsa State on the orders of Governor Dickson and detained at the State Criminal Investigation Department,” he said, pointing out that “Okah has yet to be charged and remains in police custody.”
However, if statements from Dickson’s media aides are anything to go by, Okah is being held on the basis of comments he made on FaceBook considered distasteful to the Dickson’s camp. .
Reacting to news of Okah’s arrest, for instance, Special Adviser on Media to Dickson, Mr. Francis Agbo, wrote on Facebook: ‘Good riddance to bad rubbish. Jonah Okah, a civil servant with Bayelsa State was picked for defamation and assassination of character of the person of Mr. Ritchie Etonye, a Chartered Accountant and aide to the Governor.
Agbo said, that Okah claimed in his Facebook page that he had a conversation with the Accountant in which the Accountant claimed to have confided in him that he actually stole the Governor’s $4.6 million and absconded. Meanwhile no such conversation took place in the first place and no money was missing and Etonye has been with the Governor for official assignment throughout last week when Okah cooked up the tenuous telephone conversation. It was against this background that Etonye petitioned the police and the force swiftly arrested Okah.’
“A day earlier, on Tuesday, 30 August, at the Monthly Transparency Briefing in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Jonathan Obuebite, said the Bayelsa State Government was ready to prosecute those involved in the alleged claims that the disputed $4.6 million was missing.
According to him, “Government will assist the Government House accountant, Mr. Richtie Etonye to seek legal redress. The Governor is ready to serve as a witness in this matter so that for once the truth will come out for the good of Bayelsa.
“The governor has said he never lost any money and that he did not report any case of missing money. So, it is politically motivated. It was done by our detractors. I am aware that one Jonah Okah claimed that he communicated with the Government House Accountant. And I assure you that we will get to Court and he will explain how the communication was made.”
Arguing further, Buokoribo said: “Now, I have read the said post made by Jonah Okah who has degrees in Philosophy and Law, and is a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. It is common knowledge in communication that what Okah wrote is a SATIRE. If the Dickson syndicate does not understand the meaning of satire, that is their headache.
“Besides, the story about the alleged missing $4.6 million was first reported by LEADERSHIP newspaper and an online media organ, SAHARA REPORTERS. That story was not broken by Jonah Okah.
“In any case, if Dickson or his aides think they have been defamed, the proper thing under the law is to sue for libel. The police have no business in this matter, except they have any other reason for this arrest.
“What did Okah write compared to Dickson’s media aides that have made the slandering of Sylva their professional calling?
“Clearly, the Dickson syndicate wants to give Jonah Okah the ‘Tonye Okio Therapy’. On 26 October 2013, Tonye Okio, a Sylva loyalist, was whisked away by the police in a Gestapo style from his Abuja home on the orders of Dickson, and made to spend 86 days at Okaka Prison. His crime: Comments made on FaceBook. It took a global uproar from human rights activists for Okio to regain his freedom.
“After Okio, another social media critic, Melford Esinte, was arrested. When he managed to secure bail from a Magistrate court, Dickson ordered his re-arrest. Esinte was subsequently whisked to Sagbama, Dickson’s home town, where he was asked to produce a level 16 civil servant from the town or a gazzetted traditional ruler from the same community to sign his bail bond, draconian conditions that were deliberately set to maximise the persecution of Dickson’s perceived enemy. So many citizens have suffered untold hardships from Dickson for merely expressing their views about how the state is being (mis)governed.
“Not satisfied that citizens remained unbent, Dickson introduced the ludicrous ‘Malicious Misinformation and Rumour Mongering Bill’. With that bill, Dickson wanted powers to jail people for couples’ bedtime tales or beer parlour jokes.
“But then, there is a limit to even lawlessness. In this age of freedom, no government can successfully gag the citizenry. That is why even the Nigerian National Assembly, which had contemplated enacting an anti-social media bill, backed off following a national outrage. It is impossible for Dickson to defeat the resolve of the people of Bayelsa State to participate in the governance of their state. Bayelsa belongs to us all!
“I call for the immediate release of Jonah Okah from police custody. I call upon the state branch of the Nigerian Bar Association to intervene in this matter; I call upon the Nigerian and international human rights community to speak out against what is clearly an assault on free speech. I call upon all lovers of freedom to call Dickson to order,” he stressed.