Sometime in March 1975, late Tai Solarin, renowned social critic and proprietor of the famous Mayflower School Ikene, wrote and secretly circulated a short article titled “The Beginning of the End.” It was a scathing criticism of Yakubu Gowon’s corrupt administration and the article turned out top be as prophetic as that government was toppled in a palace coup d’etat within a few months of the article. Such is the repression and violation of fundamental human rights and freedom visited upon people of the third world especially the mass media by military dictators. It was in the same regime that a journalist was arrested, detained and had his hair shaved clean for daring to interrupt the River State Governor’s motor convoy. In 1984, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson were convicted and sent to jail for violating the Buhari regime decree No. 4 purporting to protect public officers from false and malicious publications. Dele Giwa of Nigeria was bombed to death by agents of Nigeria’s Babagida’s military dictatorship in Nigeria on account of his professional duties as a journalist. The Concord Newspaper was humiliated by court process on account of its exposure of secret gifts by Babangida’s corrupt military Junta to echelons of the Nigerian judiciary. The notorious Abacha regime closed and torched Rutam house premises of the Guardian Newspapers and also proscribed the Punch.
Elsewhere in Chile, an author wrote a book in 1998 titled “The Black Book of the Chilean Justice System” exposing the corrupt activities of the judiciary in Chile. He was of course pursued by govt. for prosecution at the instance of the aggrived justices. Salman Rushdie wrote a book titled “Satanic Verses” about ten years ago and has had to remain in hiding due to death sentence passed on him by the Ayatolla Khomeini of Iran. All over the developing world intolerance to criticism and sheer repression of self expression appears to be the rule. Even in so-called democratic civilian setting in Nigeria, the court cases typify the characteristic of intolerance to criticism exhibited by the leadership. But why would any public officer reject transparency and insist on secrecy? It is largely because of the massive corruption and abuse of office that are perpetrated on the people by the leadership in third world nations. The result is mass improverishment of their peoples and social degradation compounded by capital flight and scaring of foreign investment.
The methods used by leadership to muzzle speech and cover up crimes against the state and individuals vary from regime to regime but it is in the military setting that the crudest form of repression has taken place. Some have said that Nigeria has been much better of than most African countries on this matter just because journalists and others were not disappearing or being murdered the way Idi Amin effectuated atrocities against the Ugandan people. But does it really matter the methodology? Has the proceedings of Nigeria’s Oputa Human Rights Violations Probe Panel not dispelled such illusion? What difference does it make to go by bomb as Dele Giwa did or by lethal injection as Yar’Adua did? The journalism profession has topped the list of death ridden jobs nay highest-risk jobs due to human hatred of criticism and desire to cover up crime which is as old as the Biblical murder of Abel by Cain hence the hazardous nature of the profession. The only difference between military and civilian repression is methodology. While the military is violent brazen and often with naked impunity, civilians are often covert and sophisticated. Buhari dictatorship in Nigeria used legislation and tribunals to suppress free speech. Babagida preferred to carrot and stick approach bribing its way to suppress negative publicity but secretly eliminating journalists and others who are adamant e.g. by bombing as in Dele Giwa’s case. The regulatory power of the state over newspaper and other media as well as the laws of sedition have been manipulated as a sword of repression rather than a shield to protect the administration from false and malicious criticism. So also the law of contempt as in the victimization of Daily Times’s Olu Onagoruwa and Tunji Oseni over their article titled “Zik and Tax” in 1979.
The reality is that free speech remains the greatest pillar of our fledgelling democracy hence the Nigerian pres must wake up with new vibrancy to its role as a watchdog of our liberties and prosperity. Corruption by public office holders remains the greatest threat to our economic revival and development. It deters foreign investment, retards economic and social development perverts justice morals and ethos and breeds distrusts and political instability. Without adequate and targeted press coverage President Obasanjo’s Campaign of National Re-birth and Anti-Corruption Crusade have failed at the threshold. The greatest challenge before the Nigerian press today is constant examination of public office holders for corruption and abuse of office as well as vigilance to expose assaults upon our fundamental liberties individuals. Social Critics and non-governmental organizations who helped expose the Military’s atrocities are constrained in the matter unless there is adequate Media coverage. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword even in a largely illiterate Society like ours. The media performed well under Gowon regime by exposing the corrupt activities of one of the ministers late Joseph Tarka and this led to his removal from office but we are yet to witness a repeat. While it is true that less success was achieved in subsequent military dictatorships it must now be clearly understood that our society was the worse for it. As Andrew Young, an American friend of Nigeria remarked during a television interview in August 2000 public officers who loot the treasury improverish the entire society and endanger its very survival. Recovery of loot is a difficult exercise and prevention is better than cure. Hence we conclude that the media’s commitment is indispensable to prevention and exposure of waste and corruption in public administration and the nurturing of a culture of a probity integrity and transparency in public office.
The role of the Nigerian Presidency and leadership as creators of public wealth and managers of prosperity must be periscoped by the media. Policy should be debated so that errors and loopholes for waste and embezzlement are exposed and averted rather than trying to recover loot that has left the shores of Nigeria. Chuba Okadigbo, Tafa Balogun, Fabian Osuji, Egbo- Egbo and others will forever feel victimized unless the crusade continues and other culprits brought to book. The massive plundering of our national resources as was practised by the erstwhile dictators is likely to become a tradition even in our democratic order unless massive media intervention takes place. And if Nigerian Media Practitioners do not pitch-in to checkmate the current efforts of some unpatriotic Nigerians to re-brand and foist upon the country corrupt ex-Military dictators, our Society would be gravely endangered. The Tai Solarins, Aper Akus and Godwin Dabohs of our society are ready but they need the support and vibrancy of the Media to succeed. We would remain in economic doldrums and free speech will be meaningless unless the plundering of our resources by Public Officers is checked. The Nigerian press should live up to societal expectation by helping to stem corruption thereby enhancing our national survival. No excuses are acceptable. A person who will not do anything can invent a million excuses but posterity will judge negatively this generation of journalists if they let society down. As a Society, we must be unrelenting in our pursuit of loot with zeal similar to that with which the American Government has fought the WAR ON TERROR so that the message will sink that there will be no place for looters to hid
e or rest.