Nigerian activist and former presidential candidate Omoyele Sowore sits with activists during a protest over fuel and power price rises, near the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, Oct. 1, 2020.
Nigerian activist and former presidential candidate Omoyele Sowore sits with activists during a protest over fuel and power price rises, near the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, Oct. 1, 2020.

ABUJA, NIGERIA - Human rights groups in Nigeria are threatening legal action after the arrest and detention of Sahara Reporters website founder and former presidential candidate Omoyele Sowore, who was picked up by police during a candlelight procession he organized against bad governance on New Year's Eve.

Activists at the procession who managed to avoid arrest say police arrived at the Abuja protest venue in seven vehicles and got rough as they rounded up Omoyele Sowore and several others.

Police have not commented on the arrest that has drawn criticism from human rights groups.

Ariyo Dare, who works for the Center for Liberty Nigeria, says cracking down on critics is not a good way to start a new year.

"The arrest portends a very bad and troubling signal for human rights in 2021. It is unfortunate that the (President Muhammadu) Buhari administration, with [an] appalling human rights record, has decided to start this year and this inglorious manner," said Dare.

Another human rights group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, issued a 48-hour ultimatum Friday for Sowore’s release and is threatening to sue the government.

Sowore is a former presidential aspirant and the leader of the Revolution Now movement - a growing political group often criticizing bad governance.

In August, 2019, he was arrested and detained for calling for a revolution in Nigeria. Authorities accused him of a treasonable affront on government and have been monitoring him closely since his release in December, 2019.

But activists like Dare reject the labeling, saying it is inconsistent with Sowore's demands for better governance and that government is only being intolerant to criticism.

"The interpretation being given to Revolution Now, it's totally unbecoming. There's nothing treasonable about the word 'revolution' — we've had agriculture revolution, economic revolution ...," said Dare. 

Nigeria has grown worse in its ranking on human rights violations since the Buhari administration came to power in 2015, according to CIVICUS, a human rights activist group.

Buhari promised Friday to listen more to critics this year during his New Year address to citizens.

"Your voices have been heard and will continue to listen to you," said Buhari. "These ongoing challenges will be faced head on with renewed determination and with all the appropriateness and urgency required".
Activists say Sowore's arrest is a contradiction to the president's New Year pledge.