Eniola Akinkuotu, a journalist and former anchor of the rested Kakaaki Social programme which aired on AIT, has said that the United State Government granted him asylum in the United States due to President Buhari’s lack of respect and disdain for human rights, particularly when it came to journalists in Nigeria.
He disclosed this in an interview published The PUNCH on Wednesday, February 5, 2020 in which he stated that he fled the country for asylum in the US over threats of treason and incitement by the Nigerian government.
Read Full Interview Below;
You recently announced that you were granted asylum by the United States over fear of prosecution from the Muhammadu Buhari regime. Can you tell The PUNCH how this all happened?
I fled Nigeria in June 2019 over threats of arrest for treason and incitement. My real offence was presenting Kakaaki Social on AIT, a programme that amplified the voices of Nigerians on social media.
The Nigerian Government, its officials, members of the ruling All Progressives Congress and supporters of the President had a problem with me the presenter and the programme itself. They said I was using the platform to slander President Buhari and attack his government.
I became the subject of attacks by Buhari’s supporters and in some cases, some of his aides, on social media. If it was only the social media attacks, which were designed to discredit me, one would understand that they came with the territory. But the attacks progressed to verbal threats from senior members of the Buhari regime and the ruling APC. Then it got worse.
On a number of occasions, I was trailed on the streets of Abuja by unidentified men. At such times, my wife and I did not sleep at home. Several incidents occurred, some of which I reported to the management of AIT. This got to a point where the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission wrote a letter accusing the programme of treason and incitement.
Before then, I had received a letter warning letter me for laughing over a funny tweet about President Buhari. Within 48 hours after AIT was shut down, I received intel that I would be arrested by the DSS and framed up for treason and incitement. On June 11, 2019, I fled the country. But things only got worse in Nigeria with the disappearance of Dadiyata, the arrest of Omoyele Sowore and Agba Jalingo.
The news that I fled Nigeria after receiving intel had also become public. Fearing the worst, if I dared to return to Nigeria under the circumstances, I had to file for asylum. I thank God and I am grateful to the United States Government that my application for asylum was not just approved, but also in record time.
Are there rules that you must abide by in order to maintain this visa status?
Of course. But more significantly, I would not be able to travel to Nigeria for a long time.
How come you felt a need to flee the country when you had never been arrested before?
I saw what happened to Jones Abiri and more recently, Samuel Ogundipe of Premium Times, who was arrested and detained for refusing to reveal his source of information for a report. I saw how Deji Adeyanju was arrested before the 2019 Presidential election and detained for over 70 days. I saw how Austin Okai was arrested by the DSS and kept in their custody for 21 days. These are people I know personally. They were lucky to get out as early as they did.
I saw clearly that Nigeria had become a country where anyone could get arrested or disappear for as long as the government wanted. I was a moving target and anything could have happened to me if I had taken the risk to sit back, despite the threats, warnings and intel that I received.
There is a lot I that cannot talk about because of the sensitive nature of the information I have at my disposal. I wouldn’t want to put the lives of innocent people at risk. It is not in my character to be reckless. Perhaps it is also one of the reasons many Nigerians didn’t even know what I was going through until the news broke that I fled the country. But it is instructive that what is happening to Omoyele Sowore, Agba Jalingo and Dadiyata happened just a few weeks after I fled Nigeria. Those who thought it was bizarre that Ohimai alleged he was going to be framed for treason and incitement as far back as June 2019, must have now realised that I wasn’t over-reacting when I ran for dear life.
Treason is not a joke. It is an offence that carries the death sentence or capital punishment. A government that is persecuting you for the work you are doing as a journalist or activist can use this bogus charge of treason to mess you up for the rest of your life, even when they know they have no evidence to substantiate their claims in a court of law.
Do you admit that your programme, Kakaaki Social, was biased and overly critical of the Buhari administration?
Kakaaki Social was not biased or overly critical of Buhari and his administration. People need to understand that the media is like a mirror to the society. It reflects what it sees or what is put before it. My job was to curate the comments of Nigerians on trending social media conversations. Ohimai Amaize does not create those conversations. He simply reads them after the people have spoken.
I was a messenger sent by Nigerians to deliver their message to the government.
The social media is an open field. What you put there is what remains there. Buhari’s supporters and his media handlers failed him woefully. When they made controversial and ridiculous comments on topical national issues, Nigerians reacted and Ohimai Amaize presented those reactions.
When the President made a gaffe or said something that attracted viral commentary from Nigerians, it was my duty to present it as it is. Why blame me when you are the one whose actions and inactions created all the beautiful content that I aired on Kakaaki Social?
There were times I tweeted, appealing to the supporters of the President and the APC to say positive things about the President or the APC whenever there was something negative that was trending about the President, his government or his party, the APC. The tweets are there. The Internet does not forget. They would keep quiet and then expect me to manufacture tweets for them. It doesn’t work that way. They got it all wrong. And that is what happens when people make up their mind that nothing good can come out of Nazareth. The Buhari people had concluded that AIT was out to oppose the Buhari government so their bias coloured their perception of Kakaaki Social from day one.
Buhari’s supporters are saying that no one was after you, but you were just desperate to travel to the US. Is it true?
Even you know that this is ridiculous. Why won’t Buhari’s supporters make such laughable accusations? Do they read? Do they have the capacity to research and intelligently process information? If they did, they would have known that I have been travelling to the United States and other countries of the world for some years. Buhari’s supporters would chorus ‘No one is after you’ on social media until you disappear like Jones Abiri who was abducted by DSS in 2016 and was detained in their custody for two years without charge and without access to his family or lawyer.
No one was after me, yet the Nigerian Government sent a letter to AIT accusing my programme of treason and incitement, then followed it up by shutting down AIT on June 6, 2019. You see, Buhari’s supporters have registered themselves in our nation’s history as enablers of tyranny.
What do you say to those who argue that your application for asylum painted the Nigerian Government in a bad light and also showed you’re unpatriotic?
I am an incurable optimist on the promise of a new Nigeria. I love Nigeria so much I am alternatively known as Mr Fix Nigeria. I earned that sobriquet from colleagues at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission where I did my national youth service assignment. They started calling me Mr. Fix Nigeria when they saw my passion for the work I did under the defunct Fix Nigeria Initiative department of the EFCC.
Everything I have done in my life has revolved around adding value to whatever makes Nigeria a great country. My story is well documented on the Internet and beyond. I am a known Nigerian patriot. But permit me to quote Theodore Roosevelt who said; “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.” That is my approach to criticism of the government.
If I am criticising Buhari, see it as evidence of my love and concern for the country he has misgoverned so much that Nigeria is now sharply divided along religious lines.
How would you rate the human rights record of the Buhari regime?
The human rights records of the Buhari government are abysmal. One finds it difficult to differentiate between this government and a military dictatorship. As Dr Kolawole Olaniyan, legal adviser to Amnesty International, recently put it, Buhari has violated 40 court rulings since he came into office in 2015, not to mention the escalating clampdown on freedom of expression, the persecution of Christian and Muslim minorities, among others.
Do you feel the NBC censorship of broadcasting in Nigeria is dictatorial?
Of course, it is dictatorial. The day I received a warning letter from them for laughing over a funny tweet about the President, I knew there was trouble. Their current disposition to broadcasting in Nigeria is in line with the body language of the Buhari regime. And they are headed by a DG who is a card-carrying member of the ruling APC with an ongoing corruption case with the Federal Government. So, you can imagine what is going on. I sincerely believe that there are good people at the NBC who really want to allow new ideas to thrive and modernise broadcasting in Nigeria, but the current administration won’t let that happen.