For democracy to thrive, freedom of speech is sacrosanct. We have observed that the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is averse to criticism; this is toxic to the development of democracy in Nigeria. Since inception in 2015, the government has employed the instrument of state to suppress dissenting voices. As at today, various persons in opposition to some actions and policies of the government are either silenced or incarcerated. Human rights activist and a presidential candidate in the last presidential election, Omoyele Sowore was incarcerated by the Department of State Services (DSS) for calling for a nationwide protest, #RevolutionNow, to protest against Buhari’s bad governance and accountability to the people. Although he had been released, yet he is bared from leaving the Federal Capital Territory as part of his condition for bail.
The likes of Jones Abiri, Steven Kefason and Agba Jalingo have at various times been victimized. Up till today, Abubakar Idris, popularly known as Dadiyata, have not been seen for close to two years, as his whereabouts remain unknown. This time, it is the case of fiery Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Ejike Mbaka.
That Catholic Priest of the Enugu Archdiocese had been an ardent supporter of Buhari during the 2015 general election, turned a critic and he was, according to his congregation missing for hours on Tuesday, 4th May, 2021 comes as no surprise. He was said to have been invited by the Bishop of the Enugu Catholic Diocese, Most Rev. Callistus Onaga, to discourage him from making further remarks on against the federal government at his Adoration ground special prayers service the following day. His unknown whereabouts let to protest by faithful of the Adoration Ground.
His recent face off with the government started when he criticized President Buhari over his administration’s inaction on the widespread killings across the country. The cleric spoke in strong terms against the President’s silence in the face of incessant killings in the country. Mbaka accused the government of being behind the bloodshed across the country and quick to label secession agitators as terrorist instead of focusing on making the economy buoyant enough to ensure employment opportunities.
He called for Buhari’s resignation for his failure to take drastic steps to caution cattle herders destroying farmland without any repercussion. He in fact urged the National Assembly to impeach the President.
His vituperations would not go unchallenged by the government that claimed that the priest’s outburst was as a result of the refusal of the Federal Government to award contracts to him. The Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said in a statement that “Father Mbaka asked for a meeting and to the shock of Presidential Aides, he came accompanied by three contractors. The President graciously allowed them in, and to everyone’s surprise, Father Mbaka asked for contracts as compensation for his support.”
It is rather unfortunate that the handlers of the president would leave the crux of the matter and attack the messenger. Garba Shehu did not counter the allegation raised by the priest as false and untrue but went all out to condemn. The action of the presidency only implicates the Buhari administration of complicity in the current quagmire the country is enmeshed in. The habit of silencing critics of the government must therefore be discouraged and the government must embrace constructive and sincere criticism of its action and activities.