Student allegedly arrested for trolling of first lady

Human rights organisations and activists have called on the government of Nigeria to release or charge Aminu Adamu Muhammed, a 23-year-old final-year student of the Federal University Dutse, Jigawa State, who has allegedly been arrested by federal security agents on the orders of Nigeria’s first lady, Aisha Buhari.

Muhammed, who is studying environmental management and toxicology, was reportedly arrested on 8 November for the tweet he posted sometime on 8 June.

The student, in his Twitter post, trolled the first lady in Hausa: “Su mama anchi kudin talkawa ankoshi,” whose literal translation means: “The mother has gotten fat by eating [the] masses’ money.”

As Muhammed’s detention continues, his uncle Baba Azare brought the events to the public’s knowledge on 25 November in a series of Facebook posts.

Muhammed’s tweet was accompanied by a recent picture of Mrs Buhari, who appeared to have gained weight compared to her sporty looks in 2015 when her husband, President Muhammadu Buhari, was newly sworn into office.

At the time Muhammed tweeted, university lecturers across the country had spent four months on a strike that would be called off later, in October.

His friends, who spoke on condition of anonymity to University World News, said he wrote the tweet out of frustration at sitting at home and he thought that, perhaps, being a mother, the first lady could have shown empathy and used her influence to appeal to the lecturers to end the strike as had been observed with past first ladies.

Local online newspaper Peoples Gazette reported in an article that Mrs Buhari found the social media post defamatory and allegedly sent officers of the Department of State Services (DSS) to arrest the student.

Eyewitnesses said Muhammed was first severely beaten by the security agents before being taken away from the university campus.

He was then reportedly transferred from Dutse to the capital, Abuja, where he was said to have been briefly allowed to contact his father, Adamu Shalele Azare, to inform him of the situation.

His uncle, in his Facebook posts, wrote: “We call for justice to the young environmentalist who will sit his final examination on 5 December.”

“The first lady should have responded as a mother and treated Aminu like her own child. We call for the immediate release of Aminu Adamu from unconstitutional arrest and detention,” Azare wrote.

Neither Mrs Buhari’s spokesperson, Aliyu Abdullahi, nor the DSS spokesperson, Peter Afunanya, responded to enquiries by University World News.

Knocks for the first lady

After Muhammed’s arrest and detention became public knowledge, Nigerians from all walks of life have expressed outrage at the action, citing the arrest as “tyrannous and not in conformity with democratic principles”. The hashtags #FreeAminu and #FreeAminuMuhammed have since been trending on Twitter.

Amnesty International Nigeria, in a statement, chastised the security forces for holding Muhammed indefinitely and allegedly subjecting him to severe beating, torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

“Since his arrest, neither his family nor his lawyers have had access to him. Amnesty International calls on the authorities to release him from unlawful detention and ensure that all those suspected of torture and other violations against him are brought to justice,” the organisation said.

The civil rights group Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, or SERAP, threatened legal action if Muhammed was not “immediately” released.

“The Buhari administration must immediately and unconditionally release Aminu Muhammed, a student of the Federal University, Dutse, who has reportedly been arrested over a post on Twitter allegedly criticising the first lady. We’ll [go to] court if he’s not immediately released,” SERAP said in a statement.

Activist and lawyer Inibehe Effiong said that, if Mrs Aisha Buhari felt defamed, she should have sued Muhammed for libel and that deploying security forces to arrest and detain the student is evidence of the culture of crass impunity.

“Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. It is not acceptable to deploy state apparatus in such a draconian, vindictive and oppressive manner the way Mrs Aisha Buhari has done to settle personal scores. The DSS has no jurisdiction in this case,” he said.

The Northern Nigeria Human Rights Advocates, in a statement dated 28 November, said the offence for which Muhammed is held is “frivolous” and called for his immediate release.

“The offence of defamation, even where proved, is no more than a simple offence for which a punitive fine is awarded. It is our firm belief, therefore, that the victim in this case is inequitably treated because the allegation against him involves Nigeria’s first lady,” said NNHRA.

The Federal University Dutse said via Twitter on 27 November it has been confirmed that its student will be arraigned in court. A day later, the school posted a cartoon in which the characters were tacitly pleading with Mrs Buhari to release Muhammed.