Cutting Corners on Civil Liberties

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” Patrick Henry’s Speech

When the third term Agenda went down the drain, the president and his men left no one in doubt the entity they considered enemy. Even though he (the President) made conciliatory statements that was meant to distract us, his antecedents and actions since have proven that this was a man going for the jugulars given the opportunity. Behaving true to his military credentials, dictatorial tendencies and inability to accept defeat as a gentleman and statesman and just move on, the President have orchestrated the greatest assault on freedom and democracy in the past one week. More saddening however, is that Nigerians are going around as if it does not matter. After suffering years of brute dictatorship, part of which was the current’s president military regime (ask Fela and university students), Nigerians could still not muster enough will to resist OBJoke’s frontal assault on freedoms that we fought for with our sweat and blood. It is a shame.

More shameful was the attempt of certain individuals to justify the assault of Press Freedom and independence of certain watch bodies charged with protecting our rights. Indeed I speak of the arrest of the AIT presenter and Daily Independent writer who wrote and spoke about the purchase of a gbagbati jet for the Presidential fleet. The said story, having since been proven inaccurate could at best have caused the President to seek civil damages under libel and defamation laws to his person; instead he decided to go the intimidation route. AIT and the President do have history between them. If any press house has had a brush with the President during his term it would be AIT. They were shut down after the plane crashes for doing their job better than their government counterparts or emergency response teams; and were also threatened with shut down, haunted and arrested during the third term debacle for standing with the people. Their offence of course was transmitting the proceedings of the National Assembly live thus denying OBJ and his cronies the comfort of hideous corruption and airing a documentary putting OBJ words against him. Who is afraid of whom?

Not a man liked to be caught by surprise; there was no doubt that the failure to secure a mandate to continue as the Lord Emperor of the Nigerian nation was just one front in a war lost to him. He is back with revenge and fury to destroy the enemy and he has been clinically delivering for the past one week. First, he dug up a dead law called sedition to try journalists; under a law that was rendered obsolete by an Enugu appeal court ruling in 1983 and even further by the constitution.  This is a law used in the European Middle Ages and in slavery America to try poor blacks or “negroes” as they were called. It was also a law the colonial powers used to try independence fighters and nationalists; definitely a crude law, for crude dictators. Trust OBJ- his crooked ends is not even smoothened after seven years. Abacha did not use Sedition laws or Act as it is now being called. He, Abacha at least made it plain he was a military dictator and used various decrees to clamp everyone in sight to jail including Mr. President. But my dear Military President Olusegun Obasanjo has no use for such shenanigans: It his way or the highway.

It is not as if I am excusing the press from its responsibility to report news responsibly and truthfully, it is simply that the muffling of the press using any law for that matter is not acceptable under democracy. Press freedom, like right to live and free speech is a guaranteed right under the constitution. It should never be abridged. While I hear people talk of that responsibility and the desire of the government to regulate dangerous speech, I submit that we will be going down a slippery slope doing so. Who is the custodian of truth? If the government is interested in getting out the truth why did it not put the information about the said jet out in the public? Why conduct public business in smoke filled rooms and under the cloak of secrecy? Rumor thrives in the absence of information. And if the government is bothered about its reputation may be it should concentrate more on the business of securing lives and social welfare it is charged with; because as far as I am concerned the inefficiency of this government in doings its job have done more damage to its reputation than the report by Messrs. Aruleba and Durojaiye. If the president felt he was wrongly accused the place to pursue his claim was the civil court not the criminal process. Obasanjo should contact his personal lawyer, Mr. Afe Babalola to pursue his case. Even if it were defamation, the President will still need to prove that he has any reputation to protect.

Certainly, it is very ominous that the current Attorney General despite his status as a top lawyer and former President of the NBA will in one stroke commit two heinous acts in one week against the Nigeria people. This was the same Ojo that was screaming blue murder when the Obasanjo administration refused to obey court orders; now he is gallivanting with dictators. Talk about Nigerian mentality. For one, he must have known that sedition is a dead law and that at best it was an attempt at intimidation aimed at muzzling the media. Certainly Section 52.2 of the criminal code in Part 2 Chapter 6, being used, requires that the AG give a written consent before a case of sedition can be brought before the court. I wonder how Mr. Ojo’s conscience could handle writing such permission.  Instead of standing up for his conscience what did Baba Ojo do? He fired the head of the Human Rights Commission who roundly condemned the actions of charging these journalists by saying it was “an infringement on the freedom of expression and the rule of law,” and made reference to “a consistent pattern by security agencies to muzzle the media.” Three days later, Bello received a letter from the Ministry of Justice stating that he was to be reassigned from his position as executive secretary of the NHRC. Indeed, the indefatigable Mr. Bello so far has refused to move a bit. He has since said his deployment was ineffective until he gets a notice to the effect from the Presidency. I wish we have more Mr. Bellos in Nigeria; ours will be a paradise of freedom and democracy.

But not my people: Nigerians are used to being bastardized, abused and maltreated by her government. We buy guns for police officers and they use it to rob us at checkpoints and we keep silent like mugus. We regard people like Fela, Gani, Falana, and Soyinka as mad men. Who is really mad? The person that know his rights and stands for it, or you that just keep quiet like demented sheep?  How many protests have gone in that country against bribery and corruption by police officers? How long can we endure bad government? But not to worry, I personally will overlook and tolerate the inefficiency and even the corruption of any government. But I will never give up my freedom to live and express myself freely in exchange for short term prosperity! Freedom hard fought for, must and should be fiercely protected. Nigeria suffered too long to endure another dictatorship under a democratic setting. Even though he (Obasanjo) has one more year, it must be made very clear to him that it must be a dictatorship free one year. We are not his children and he is no headmaster; if he wants to be a ruler he should head right back to Otta where h

e can bully his kids and family members. He lives in Aso Rock and rides that Presidential Jet at our pleasure; and he must be reminded so. We must make our voice loud and clear that the journalists must be released and Mr. Bello must be reinstated to his former position. To do otherwise will amount to playing kalo-kalo with our family heirloom.

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