The Nigerian government was made to eat the humble pie, and release Isiaka Onimisi Yussuf, popularly referred to by his twitter handle, @ciaxon, after detaining him illegally for more than 12 days.
Ciaxon found himself at the scene of a dramatic fight between Nigerian security forces and Boko Haram detainees trying to escape from the State Security Service (SSS) headquarters on March 30, 2014.
The Electrical and Electronics Engineering graduate of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, posted six live pictures on his Twitter page, showing how SSS officials and soldiers battled to regain control of the secret service’s headquarters, behind the Presidential Villa, from the detainees as official sources said more than 20 people were killed in the operation.
This led to many people getting to know about the breach of peace from social
media, as Ciaxon tweeted developments, and the pictures got picked up by news outlets in the country.
The thirty-two-year-old engineer, an employee of the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company attached to the Aso Villa substation was however picked up from his office by SSS operatives few hours after the incident.
His friends started getting worried when they did not hear from him after the incident; hence they started making their fears known on the same social media platform, Twitter.
By the time Isiaka’s brother, Sanusi confirmed to some news outlets that he had not been able to reach him since March 30, more people started to show concern and by late Wednesday, the hashtag #FreeCiaxon and the Twitter handle @ciaxon had been trending in Nigeria.
The international media also took notice with British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Trending running a story with the headline, The man who disappeared in Nigeria. Amnesty International also started an action calling for his release.
Despite the SSS’s refusal to confirm or deny Yusuf Isiaka Onimisi’s detention after several requests had been made, Nigerians took to social media to demand answers. “How can you arrest people for taking pictures – this is the 21st Century,” said Fola Lawal, a Nigerian based in Qatar, who started the Twitter hashtag #FreeCiaxon. “I would have done the same in his shoes. It’s called citizen reporting,” she added.
High-profile figures, including the World Bank’s former Africa Vice-President, Obiageli Ezekwesili, also tweeted calling for his release.
“It’s very, very important this gets attention,” said lawyer and writer, Ayo Sogunro, who took it upon himself to research and tweet actively about the case.
By Friday evening when there was no fresh development, Nigerians said enough was enough, right there on Twitter, they organized and announced that there would be protests across the country, calling for Ciaxon’s release.
The protests were to be led in Lagos, by Ayo Sogunro, a renowned lawyer and activist, with thousands of Nigerians tweeting their support for the action, while notable Nigerians like Kemi Olunloyo led the Ibadan protests. Protests were to also hold in Abuja.
In a strange twist however, possibly to avoid further negative publicity, Isiaka Yussuf, was released on the eve of the planned protests, by Friday midnight.
This would not deter the determined protesters who demanded answers and justice for Isiaka.
The protests went ahead as planned across the country and ENCOMIUM Weekly witnessed the Lagos version.
The protesters converged at the Alausa secretariat with placards conveying messages like, How many more innocent Nigerians are in detention? #Ciaxon, Who ordered illegal arrest of a Nigerian citizen? #ciaxon, and proceeded to march to the DSS office in Magodo area of Lagos to register their grievances.
They were not to get to the DSS office however, as men of the DSS were already waiting for them as they barricaded the road that led to Magodo and halted the protesters.’
After much pleading by a senior official of the DSS, the protesters agreed to stop at that juncture, however, it was not until they had their letter of grievance submitted and acknowledged that they left the scene.
ENCOMIUM Weekly spoke with Ayo Sogunro, the Lagos based lawyer who started the online campaign for @ciaxon’s release as well as led the Lagos protests on how the struggle began and what next.
How did this struggle begin for you?
On the day Aso Rock was under attack, I was having at an event in the UK, so I didn’t know what was going on in the country. It was this @ciaxon guy’s tweet that I was following and it was quite dramatic. Days later, I was told that the man that tweeted the pictures had gone missing and I became really interested, that is this guy really missing or has somebody started the usual Twitter sensation. I checked his timeline and saw that the tweets from him really stopped that day.
From then on, I called Fola Lawal, a friend who actually started the #freeciaxon hash tag and we checked his Facebook contact and here we are today. It is significant to point out that this is one example of where a social media Twitter hash tag #freeciaxon actually resulted in a tangible result even if not officially acknowledged by the government. On Wednesday night, Ciaxon was just another person on Twitter. On Thursday morning, there was a #freeciaxon hash tag and on Friday midnight, he was freed.
Why do you think he was suddenly freed when Nigerians were about to go on the streets to protest?
Fine, the government did it deliberately to prevent further publicity on the issue and we all understand that, but the good news is Ciaxon was freed and to that extent, the Free Ciaxon campaign was highly successful and we thank everybody for that.
What’s the next step now that he is free?
Apparently, Ciaxon is probably under a gag order, which is understandable because that was what put him into trouble in the first place. He was probably not even a revolutionary person by nature. It was circumstance that threw him into the spotlight.
He is keeping quiet now and you can’t blame him for that.
The underlying bigger issues are why we still came out today. Ciaxon is free but this is bigger now than Ciaxon, it’s all of Nigeria. We have submitted the circumstances that led to our coming here now, to the DSS official, they collected it, they acknowledged it.
We thank everyone again for their support here. Now, we wait and see whether the government would officially make a statement on this issue. Between now and next Friday, we would keep pressing for information on what exactly happened. This will not be swept under the carpet.
We may not come out again anytime soon, and then we may, but the point is we must never allow this to be swept under the carpet. We said we would free Ciaxon and we freed him. Beyond that, we want to know what happened to him.
– DANIEL FAYEMI