By Seun Bakare
On 1 August 2019 he arrived home in Kaduna, after a long day. He drove in and was about to lock the entrance gates when, like in a movie, gunmen appeared and in the words of his wife, those men “…accosted him and took him away in his car.” His family waited, hoping he will return the same night. They waited and waited. The waiting dragged on from a day, a month, to months and now, one year.
It is now a year since Abubakar Idris’ abduction. His family, his friends and all Nigerians have been asking; where is Dadiyata? The pain his abduction continues to cause his family and loved ones is better imagined.
Anyone who knew Dadiyata and how he was an open critic of government would agree that we ought to be asking all the hard questions about the circumstances that surrounded his disappearance. The past few years have been very unpalatable for critics of government and dissenting voices in Nigeria. A lot of them have endured illegal detention, harassments and vexatious litigations by state actors amid a wider crack down on freedom of expression. These attempts have and continue to suffocate the shrinking civic space.
We have seen an unhealthy obsession on the part of the government to over-regulate, or in a more direct description, stifle freedom of expression. Examples of recent relics of these attempts are bills popularly known as the Social Media Bill and the Hate Speech Bill which are currently hibernating in the legislature.
These and many more are the attacks launched at dissenting voices with brute aggression. In the middle of this war, a lot of sacrifices have been made, including those of freedom and liberty. The travails of individuals like Abiri Jones, who was forcefully disappeared in July 2016 and held in secret for over 2 years without access to lawyers or family is indicative of the sinister use of fear and intimidation by the state to silence critics. Also, the cases of Samuel Ogundipe, Stephen Kefason and a host of others are as similar, however, to varying degrees of torment and dehumanization.
In Dadiyata’s case, the government has denied having anything to do with his disappearance and it may sound like wise judgement to say fingers should not be pointed at the government for his disappearance since the details around his disappearance are inconclusive. However rational this argument appears, those fingers would still have to remain in the direction of the government, and rightly so.
Even if the government played no active role in his disappearance, the government obviously failed in protecting his human rights. Human rights are state obligations. His right to freedom of movement, liberty and any other rights he may have been denied, are state duties to protect. Apart from the weak assurance of the Police to investigate his disappearance, one year down the line, there has been no progress. Nothing whatsoever!
Anyone who believes in the right to freedom of expression should be asking the question, where is Dadiyata? There has to be an answer. We cannot pretend as though this never happened. The day the disappearance of critics and voices of dissents become normalized is the day we descend into the abyss of lawlessness.
Dadiyatta’s case is beyond the fight to identify the whereabouts and secure the safety of an individual, it is a fight to defend the right to freedom of expression in Nigeria. To keep quiet over the disappearance of Dadiyatta, is to uphold the climate of fear currently pervading the Nigerian civic space.
It is important to be clear that if the roof leaks and the rains come pouring, we all would be within its reach. This rain of unexplained arrests and disappearances of government critics is one we must discourage by asking all the hard questions in demanding accountability, transparency and justice from the government before we all get drenched in it.
Where is Dadiyata? We need to have a search party out looking for him. That search party is the government. His protection, and indeed that of all is the duty of the government.
Seun Bakare is head of programmes at Amnesty International Nigeria.