Okey Ndibe, the Nigerian author and critic who was taken in for questioning upon arrival at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos on Saturday by officers of the State Security Service (SSS), has been released.
Ndibe, who is also a novelist and teacher, said the officials made him the ridiculous offer to go to Abuja to apply to be removed from the secret police’s watchlist by which he was detained.
He said he declined the suggestion. “I told the SSS that it is a shame a country that rolls out the red carpet for criminals would harass a writer who wages war on corruption and the corrupt,” said, Ndibe, who has lived in the United States since 1998 and taught in a number of universities.
In January 2011, Ndibe was similarly arrested and questioned for several hours at the same airport by the SSS, and his American and Nigerian passports confiscated for two days.
On that occasion, several outraged international bodies, including Reporters Without Borders, challenged the SSS to explain the arrest, but the agency never did.
Ndibe, who was a widely-known journalist before leaving Nigeria and has continued to write a column, is the author of ‘Foreign Gods, Inc.’ and ‘Never Look An American In The Eye’.
The watchlist by which the SSS has been arresting Ndibe is thought to have been first developed by the government of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua which was angry about criticism of the flawed election that brought it to power and several leaks regarding his state of health.
Ndibe is known for his incisive commentaries on Nigerian public affairs, most of them addressing government ineptitude, corruption and human rights abuses.
In a statement after release, Ndibe stated: “I had another irritating encounter with the SSS at Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos. I told the officers who took me to their office for questioning that it’s shameful they salute and escort corrupt officials but harass a citizen who insists we can, and should, have a sane system based on true democratic values, the equality of all citizens before the law, and political accountability.
“For the record, the SSS officials were courteous throughout. Once again, they advised me to go to Abuja and apply to have my name expunged from their watchlist. No, I said. I did not go to Abuja in 2010 to ask the Umaru Yar’Adua administration to put me on a list of enemies of the state. I will not go to Abuja to plead that my name be removed from the list.
“I thank all of you who’ve written or called to inquire my wellbeing. I’m in wonderful spirits, far from cowed. Fear is a choice, I’ve chosen not to fear.”