Emeka Ugwuonye, a US-based lawyer (he also has a law practice in Nigeria) flew into Nigeria yesterday and was taken into custody by the Department of State Services (DSS).
In this age of social media, Ugwuonye announced his arrest on Facebook: “now you can see what the president they helped come to power is doing….we warned them. JUST landed at the Muritala Mohammed Airport and the DSS stopped me, and taking me to their office now. So get ready to hear . You think you live in a democracy. But this government is as bad as it gets. Mad people are in power. They think I should keep quiet
– Emeka Ugwuonye
How On Earth Did We End Up With This unintelligent President?”
He provided a further update: “I was told it was a clerical/bureaucratic reason that I was intercepted at the airport tonight. I don’t believe so. There is a plan to detain me. If that is the case, I will tell my friends and members of our group not to panic. Stay strong. Whatever it has to do with my consistent criticism of government. There really could not be any other reason for it. Assuming they start telling you some stories to you henceforth, when I may not be able to respond to any lies, don’t believe it. Use your critical mind to question what you hear. Demand to hear from the other side before you can make up your mind. Yes, it will be a setback if I were detained. But as you know, I will deal with it. There may be no further update unless I’m completely free.”
While it is not quite clear why Ugwuonye has been arrested, his history shows why he may be of interest to Nigerian spooks.
As an attorney, he was involved in the sale of properties that belonged to the Nigerian High Commission when the Goodluck Jonathan administration was in power. In 2013 he was found guilty of misappropriating a $1.55m tax refund to the High Commission due from the sale.
Ugwuonye would later actively advocate against the re-election of Jonathan, most likely due to this case, and was a strident supporter of Muhammadu Buhari on social media and Nigerian TV. So it is a bit disingenuous of Ugwuonye to now deny Buhari with these comments: “now you can see what the president they helped come to power is doing….we warned them” and “How On Earth Did We End Up With This unintelligent President?”
He helped Buhari come to power and contributed to Nigeria ending up with “this unintelligent president” by arguing that Buhari was the solution.
Ugwuonye’s pro-Buhari activism seems to have ended a few months after Buhari came into power. He started being critical about the time it took to appoint ministers. When those appointments were made, he railed against the people appointed, saying Buhari claimed that he needed time to pick people of integrity and ended up with the same old crooked politicians that lacked credibility.
While not being pro-Biafra, Ugwuonye argued that the separatists had the right to peaceful protest. He suggested that shooting peaceful protesters, as Nigerian police did, risked escalating the problem.
He also spoke out against the continued detention of Sambo Dasuki, the former National Security Adviser, accused of diverting $2bn defence procurement funds for other activities. Incidentally, a former partner in Ugwuonye’s law firm, an American, Bruce Fein, penned two pieces in the Washington Times on 18 November and 1 December last year about the “persecution” of Dasuki. Fein was alleged to have taken part in the diversion of the tax refund from the sale of High Commission property in the US.
Naijiant.com suggested here that Fein, as a PR man for many unsavoury characters and organisations, was likely on the Dasuki payroll.
Ugwuonye has suggested his arrest is about his “consistent criticism of government”. While he has not always been consistent in criticising the Buhari regime, it appears his arrest is linked to the Dasuki case.
His U-turn (perhaps, Ugwuonye-turn) against Buhari seems to coincide with Dasuki’s troubles. While he may have been a genuine Buhari supporter that woke up and smelled the coffee, his history, his connections with Fein and the fact that he is nobody’s mug, suggest that he was always acting in selfish interest.
He was freed later this evening and wrote: “I’m okay, guys. The fact that I’m writing to you from my system should convince you. But i have gist for you. This is a fucked-up government and system. Tomorrow, I will file a fresh case against them. I will remain a thorn in the flesh of any dictatorship in this country. They ain’t seen nothing yet. I only just started. Buhari is another presidency by proxy.
“Yes, they apologised and blamed the incident of last night on clerical errors between two agencies. But, who cares? There cannot be a harassment or intimidation by mistake. The fact is that this President did send a signal to all agencies of government that it is okay to pick and choose when to obey the constitution and when not to, when to trample upon rights and when to respect rights.
In doing that, the government is assured of abundant number of citizens who are so ignorant of the meaning of liberty and human dignity such that they could be cheering any dictatorship in sight”.