Story by Jason Burke Africa correspondent
Nigeria has freed a student charged with “criminal defamation” over a tweet he posted about the physical appearance of the country’s first lady.
Aminu Adamu was arrested at his university in northern Jigawa state on 18 November after Aisha Buhari filed a complaint and then remanded into custody until January.
He walked free after she dropped the complaint against him on Saturday. Adamu then met Buhari and apologised for his comments in a series of tweets. Student groups had called for demonstrations this week to protest against Adamu’s detention.
According to the court documents, Adamu commented on a photo of Buhari on Twitter, suggesting she had “embezzled money meant for the poor to [her own] satisfaction”. It was not clear whether he had intended to make a joke or to accuse her of corruption.
The 23-year-old student’s detention sparked widespread outrage in Nigeria, which suffers a multitude of intractable economic and social problems that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has been unable to resolve.
If convicted, Aminu could have faced up to two years in prison, according to Nigeria’s penal code.
Amnesty International had urged the authorities to release him, reporting that his family and friends alleged he being was held incommunicado and subjected to severe beating, torture and other forms of ill-treatment.
“The heavy-handed mistreatment of Aminu Adamu Muhammed is a clear attempt to strike fear into the hearts of young Nigerians who use social media to hold the powerful to account,” Amnesty said.
Allegations of mistreatment against detainees are not uncommon in Africa’s most populous country, despite it having had a stable democracy since 1999 after decades of military dictatorships.
President Buhari, a former army general who was elected as a civilian leader in 2015 and 2019, is stepping down next year after two terms allowed by the constitution.
Voted into office on a promise to crack down on corruption, Buhari leaves mounting problems to his successor, from rampant insecurity to an economy in shambles. Mass youth-led protests over police brutality and bad governance have been violently suppressed under his watch.
The Guardian News Media Ltd