Nigeria Decides 2023: Fireworks over arrest of APC members in Bayelsa


From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa

The All Progressive Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are back in the trenches ahead of the 2023 election. At the centre stage is the arrest of Mr Ebikopoemi Bobby Ugo, APC publicity secretary in Governor Douye Diri’s home local government, Kolokuma/ Opokuma and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu( ABAT) media centre coordinator, Bayelsa State  over allegations of defamation.

At the peak of the flood disaster in Bayelsa State, Ugo was said to have made some FaceBook posts which criticised Diri over his handling of the flooding in the state and suggested that he had received funds from the Federal Government.

Following a complaint to the Bayelsa State Police Command, the Anti- Kidnapping unit invited Ugo and three others namely, Mark- Charles Gborieneni, Funkebi Atabala and Preye Bagou to appear before it on October 21 over allegations of defamation of character and conduct likely to cause breach of peace.

However, before October 21st when the quartet was billed to appear before Police, they were arrested. While three of them were later released, Ugo was detained, arraigned and the Police got a Court order to further remand him for additional 18 days at the Okaka Medium Prisons.

The APC in a press statement by its publicity secretary, Doifie Buokoribo entitled ‘Lift The Siege on Our Members, APC Bayelsa Tells Gov Diri’ the opposition party in the state  alleged that Governor Douye Diri was “using the Bayelsa State Police Command” and the “Judiciary to abuse the fundamental human rights of its members.”

Buokoribo said, “We consider this development completely preposterous, outlandish and anarchic, particularly at a time when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has just formally declared open electioneering activities towards a crucial general election, a period when the state government should indeed be leading the charge towards peace.

“The right of our members to freely and openly criticise the administration of Governor Diri is guaranteed under our democratic laws. No authority, however highly placed, has the lawful mandate to tamper with the right. If the governor feels offended, he is free to approach the Courts for redress and not seek self-help.”

He continued, “We know it is a matter of fact that defamation is a civil, not criminal matter. It is worrying that the Police in Bayelsa State have become Douye Diri’s poodle. More worryingly, we fail to understand the role of the Police Anti- Kidnapping Unit in this issue.

“Having assumed the governorship of the state through the instrumentality of the Supreme Court, instead of the votes of our people, we would have thought Douye Diri would be humble. This persecution on our members clearly shows pettiness.”

Member, representing Nembe/ Brass Federal Constituency, Israel Sunny- Goli who added his voice against the PDP-led government and the Police in a statement accused the Police of turning itself into a tool of intimidation and harassment of opposition members in the state.

“Should anyone feel defamed, the courts should be approached, rather than weaponising the institution of the Nigeria Police against hapless citizens. Should the Commissioner of Police, Bayelsa State Command continue to avail himself as a tool of oppression and intimidation in the state; I shall not hesitate to institute legal proceedings against him, seek justice for oppressed.”

However, in a swift reaction, the PDP which rose in stout defence of Diri dismissed the allegations of the APC, describing it as “ridiculous, unfounded and frivolous.”

The PDP Publicity Secretary, Ebiye Ogoli maintained that the PDP-led government had no hand in the arrest of Ugo whom he referred to as the social media henchman of the APC.

“Our investigations revealed that the Police arrested Ebikpoemi Bobby Ugo, who is notorious for fabrication and social media bullying, over alleged defamatory and inciting false claim that the Federal Government released a sum of N150 million to the state government to tackle the ravaging flood in the state when nothing of such happened”, he said.

Ogoli said instead of APC to assist its members to substantiate the “bogus claims with evidence”, it has resorted to its pastime, mudslinging.

“For the avoidance of doubt, under the watch of Senator Diri, our party has continued and will continue to respect the right of the citizenry to freedom of speech and expression in line with democratic dictates.”

The defence of the PDP notwithstanding, the spokesman of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo also weighed in on the issue and called out Diri accusing him of misusing power.

Hear him, “To say we are shocked by the conduct and complaint of Governor Diri is an understatement. Here is an opposition governor who is at the forefront of the call for State Police already misusing the Police to oppress a hapless and harmless citizen just asking valid questions (even without mentioning the governor’s name). These are the same leaders of the opposition that are quick to cry blue murder at the slightest provocation if the act had been that of an APC governor or the Federal Government. These are the same opposition governors that are begging Nigerians to re-elect them because they have allegedly turned a new leaf. Alas! The leopard cannot change its spot.”

Keyamo added: “It is on record that despite the deluge of misinformation and abuses against President Muhammadu Buhari on a daily basis on social media, he has NEVER FOR ONCE used the Police to clamp down on anyone as a result of a mere defamatory post on social media. Instead, he even conferred some of them with National Honours recently. If the APC governors retaliate in their various states by clamping down on officials of opposition parties, it will be an invitation to total chaos across the country.”

Keyamo therefore made specific demands, “That Gov. Douye Diri of Bayelsa State immediately withdraws his complaint to the Police, which in turn should immediately withdraw the charges and discontinue the trial of Mr. Ugo and set him free; or Gov. Douye Diri should immediately instruct the Attorney-General of Bayelsa State to take over the matter from the Police and enter a nolle prosequi (discontinue the trial).”

Alternatively, he said the “Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, should immediately instruct the Bayelsa State Police Command to withdraw the charges against Mr. Ugo forthwith and set him free.”

According to him, “anything short of any of these options above will be oppressive, barbaric and undemocratic and would be consequently unacceptable to us and we shall respond fully in a lawful and legitimate manner.”

Few days after the Keyamo statement, Ugo was granted bail and allowed to go home while the case continues. And for political observers, this is just the beginning of the acrimony between the two major parties as the state moves gradually towards the 2023 elections.

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