A lawyer and a mother of two, Sai’da Saad Bugaje, has reportedly gone into hiding after a row with the Governor of Kano State Abdullahi Umar Ganduje.
Bugaje, a legal adviser to the Kaduna Geographic Information Service (KADGIS) was said to have faced harassment and intimidation at her home in Kaduna back in September 2020.
The harassment followed her criticism of Ganduje’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was alleged.
The trouble started for her after a private conversation leaked, in which she and a few others were discussing how Nigerian leaders were managing the COVID-19 outbreak back in March 2020.
The high death rate in Kano and the response by the Kano state governor was raised by Sai’da, which she claimed was later rearranged in the leaked copy which made its way to social media.
“I want it to be clear that when the audio came out, it was changed around but the message is still there. I don’t deny the message I was trying to send out which was that Kano state was not managing the COVID-19 crisis very well and the governor at the time requested for some funding from the federal government which they refused to give,” she said.
“I also said that Kano is being run by the family and they are involved in everything. So it went viral and I honestly didn’t think there was any issue. As a leader, people are bound to criticise your policies and even get personal, I have always been critical on issues all my life,” Bugaje added.
She also disclosed it was the main reason she decided to participate in politics, then becoming a civil society activist and now a lawyer.
Bugaje stated that it would be impossible for her to keep silent when things are going wrong around her.
She narrated to HumAngle how events unravelled in September 2020 at her house in Kaduna, when an armed group of people in mufti showed up at her gate, demanding to see her.
After her security guard notified her of the guests, she asked to speak to them to confirm their identities and the purpose of their unannounced visit.
“When I spoke to them, it was a lady who asked me to come down. I had to ask who she was and where she was from and said she was from the zonal office in Kano and was here to have a word with me. I was baffled why they had come all the way to Kaduna. All of a sudden, she became rude saying that an authority sent her and if I didn’t come down, whatever happened to me, I would have myself to blame,” she said.
In light of the threat, she swiftly made a call to her office requesting security, sent her kids upstairs and locked up her house, suspicious that the unidentified persons could be kidnappers or some other criminal elements.
“For a group of police to come all the way from another division, from another state was very fishy. And she couldn’t produce a warrant when I asked her for it,” Bugaje explained.
“I had to ask ‘on what grounds?’ What have I done?’ It was then that I was told that the video circulating regarding the governor was defaming his character.
“That was when I raised that it wasn’t how to go about it. If he felt like I had defamed him, then he should go to court and the judge will summon me after you have filed a petition against me. This is a civil matter, not a criminal one,” she said.
Bugaje said she first thought of travelling to Kano as demanded but later got scared when she recalled how many people had gone missing, ended up locked up or intimidated in similar circumstances. She couldn’t take that risk.
Instead of going to Kano, she went to a high court in Zaria where she got a ruling from the judge preventing Ganduje and other officers from the Inspector General of Police from arresting her. This was essential in ensuring her safety and that of her family.
Although they did back down a bit, Bugaje still lived a life of fear and caution, with people still randomly coming to her house to ask about her whereabouts and forcing her to change her son’s school.
This was followed by a request for an arrest warrant in Kaduna state in December 2020, Bugaje learnt from a reliable source. This was when she decided to move to a major city within Nigeria and enrolled her children in new schools to get some sense of security.
But as a mother, her main concern is for her two young children – a nine-year-old and a four-year-old fighting sickle cell, with whom she currently shares a one-room apartment with. Both at primary school age, their education had been abruptly intermittent after the school closure in response to the pandemic last March and now, due to the security threats posed by those in power intimidating their mother.
“I ended up having to withdraw my four-year-old from school completely while I’ve had to change schools for my nine-year-old three times within the span of three months,” she said.
“Ganduje has stooped so low for what he’s doing to you,” her four-year-old son tells her.
“Someone said I shouldn’t allow my children to be exposed to what’s happening, but I’d rather they hear it from me than to pick up from conversations here and there.”
“I can’t be waking them up in the middle of the night running around with them without an explanation. Plus, they are going around saying I’m a dangerous suspect and a criminal. The perception they have of me is very important,” she explains.
Bugaje told HumAngle how heartbreaking she finds it that her children have to go through this, but still finds it very important to update them every step of the way in the language they can understand.
“If it was my husband who was being hunted, the house would still be in order, the kids can still go to school, it would just seem like he has travelled. But my entire house is locked up now. Everyone around me is suffering. Men have gone to jail and have been hounded before, but the lives of their families at home goes on,” she lamented.
Meanwhile, a human rights lawyer, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu has called the attention of the Nigerian Bar Association’s president, Olumide Akpata to the Bugaje’s plight.
Odinkalu solicited help for Bugaje on his Twitter page while condemning the excesses of people in governance who perpetually hound those telling the truth against their government.
“This is for the attention of @NigBarAssoc & our president, @OlumideAkpata. Saida Sa’ad Bugaje, the subject of this story, is a senior lawyer. She has been hounded into hiding for her life by @GovUmarGanduje, despite subsisting court orders. @JusticeDefend.
“Saida Sa’ad Bugaje is my sister of long standing. She’s a formidable lawyer too. Some say she’s lucky that she’s alive to go into hiding for criticising Kano’s @GovUmarGanduje! This is the price you pay when you speak truth to power in today’s #Nigeria,” Odinkalu tweeted.