Student freed after allegedly trolling the first lady

Aminu Adamu Muhammed, a 23-year-old final-year student of the Federal University Dutse, Jigawa State, who was arrested and detained by federal security agents for allegedly trolling Nigeria’s first lady, Aisha Buhari, has been released.

Muhammed was freed late on 2 December after Buhari faced a fierce backlash from human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, activists and student unions to the actions taken against the student.

The prosecuting counsel, Fidelis Ogbobe, acting on the first lady’s instructions, withdrew the case at a federal high court on 2 December.

Ogbobe indicated that Buhari had forgiven the student and instructed that he be released from prison, where he had been detained for weeks.

The prosecutor, while moving a motion for the withdrawal of the case, said Buhari discontinued the trial “following the intervention of well-meaning Nigerians”.

Local news outlets reported that Justice Yusuf Halilu of the Federal High Court commended Mrs Buhari for withdrawing the case.

As he issued the order for Muhammed’s release, he called on parents to always caution their children against posting defamatory content on social media.

Muhammed’s lawyer, CK Agu, confirmed in a BBC Pidgin report that Mrs Buhari has withdrawn the case against the student.

The student’s guardian, Kabiru Shehu, later confirmed his release. “Aminu has been released. He is currently in Aso Villa and waiting to see President Muhammadu Buhari,” Shehu told the publication Leadership.

“We are happy about this development. We can’t wait to reunite with him,” he said.

A case of cyberstalking and defamation?

University World News, reported that Muhammed had, on 8 June, allegedly trolled the first lady, posting a tweet in Hausa: “Su mama anchi kudin talakawa ankoshi”, literally translated into: “The mother has gotten fat by eating [the] masses’ money”. The tweet has been deleted.

Muhammed is studying environmental management and toxicology and, at the time the tweet was posted, his friends said he was frustrated because a university lecturers’ strike had entered its fourth month and he deemed that Mrs Buhari, known for her frequent trips to Dubai, failed to use her influence to appeal to the lecturers to end the strike as had been observed with past first ladies.

The strike was extended for four more months, ending in October.

Barely three weeks after school resumption, Muhammed was tracked down by police detectives allegedly on Mrs Buhari’s orders. The student was reportedly severely beaten before being transported from Dutse and detained at a correctional facility near Abuja.

It was not until 25 November that Muhammed’s secret detention was brought to the public’s knowledge by his uncle, Baba Azare, in a series of Facebook posts. Four days later, the student was secretly arraigned before the Federal High Court in Abuja.

Ogbobe, the prosecutor, said the student’s alleged offence borders on defamation and cyberstalking and contravenes Section 391 of the Penal Code. He further said the tweet was “false” and capable of affecting Mrs Buhari’s reputation.

Muhammed’s arrest and detention attracted public outrage. The hashtags #FreeAminu and #FreeAminuMuhammed were, thereafter, created to demand the student’s release.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International Nigeria, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, and the National Association of Nigerian Students, led the calls that might have contributed to Muhammed’s release on 2 December.

“The discontinuation of the case against Aminu Muhammed is commendable. [I’m] commending those who stood up against the abuse of power,” Shehu Sani, a former federal lawmaker and human rights activist, said.