The polity is covered in graffiti concerning the demise of one of the most ambitious political projects in Africa in recent times. In the main, many people including history’s most odious characters are claiming glory for the death of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term project. Of course historians would have to tell the story of the failure of the infamous project to tomorrow’s listeners. The fact that no political account is ever value and controversy free makes their work easier or harder depending on the way one looks at it. They would be right to say that in 2006 President Olusegun Obasanjo was tempted to elongate (whatever the word means it sounds vulgar to me) his tenure as the constitutional Head of State, Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But the how and what made the project fail will be hard to tell. Many pretenders are making spurious claims about their roles in the scuttling of the mega political enterprise. This effort is not a case against such false characters. Time will soon assist telling who did what and for what reasons. What I want to use as a backdrop for the call for the making of the sunshine law is the role of the media in the failed project. I give the winning medal to the media, especially those media houses and outfits that Abdulkadir Kure, the malicious Governor of Niger state, singled out as the killers of the third term project. He was extremely loose and offensive in the interview he granted Thisday newspaper but he was right about the role of the South-South owned media outfits in the botched third term project.
Indeed the third project was an attempted coup against NEPAD and the African Union. It was an atavistic push for the destruction of all that democracy had laboured for in Nigeria and on the continent. Not even the dream of Charles Taylor to establish a rogue empire in West Africa was as dangerous as the desire of the stingy old man to stay in office beyond May 29, 2007.What pushed the man, who even though is just about 68 is fondly called Baba, is difficult to tell but what is certain is that he will retire from office with the lesson that the media is most relevant in the democratic process. As a General and decorator of Generals he must have failed to recite the all important verse that says that the pen is mightier than the sword. Now he knows better. He now knows that a coup against the people would be difficult without the connivance of the media.Baba Sege whose errand boys are said to be good in surmounting obstacles with Ghana Must Go Bags was said to have refused to pour libation to the gods of the media first before starting the third term engine. Sources close to him said that he could not be convinced about settling the media before embarking on the third term journey. How foolhardy! How could he have dreamt of performing such an impossible political miracle? Imagine the thought of cheating the citizenry without settling the official parrots of the nation. But that is on the humorous side. The serious point is that the media has come to stay and as Edmund Burke puts it “Three Estates in Parliament; but in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth estate more important far than they all”.
Unlike Baba who ignored the media, the media had had its eyes on him from the day he assumed office. The media is the longest serving political General in the country. It has been there in the days of colonialism and had fought all sorts of battles to win sovereignty for the people of Nigeria. It was there during the delicate years of early independence. It survived the civil war and did not falter under the jackboot of the military. It was at the vanguard of the fight against the military and it was the most single important warrior that wrestled power from the military. But like Edmund Burke said it remains at the gallery looking down and watching the other estates. The media knows the heart of men. It knows the animal called man and his predilection for power. That was how it saw the early warning signs of the third term project. It alerted the nation but many fine hearted Nigerians could not see reason as to why a man in the person of President Obasanjo would want to stay in office a minute beyond his tenure. It is not naivety perse.Who can easily see a rogue in a player if not a player? The media have seen politicians in all manner of colours and they can off handedly tell the fake from the genuine.
But for the media Obasanjo would have cleverly manipulated the system and turned around to blame it on the legislature for amending the constitution. He orchestrated all sorts of charades to hoodwink the people but the media was on his heels informing and educating the people about his Machiavellian plans.
The media knew that left alone, the legislators would cower to pressure and greed. It therefore put a camera and reporter on each and every one of the legislators. It brought the legislative process and the legislators to the living rooms of Nigerians. That singular act won the war. With no apology to anybody, the legislature would have failed Nigerians if the media had not used its joker on them. What the victory means is that the media is a very important element in the democratic process and as such deserves to be empowered the more if we want to fast track our democratic process. The media would need to know and should be in the know of the actions and activities of all public office holders, institutions and agencies. I have once called for the fast tracking of the ‘Freedom of Information Bill’ that has been in the General Assembly since June 2005. I am standing on the victory of the media against the third term to repeat the call for the passing of the bill into law before the forth coming elections.
For those who are interested, the ‘Freedom of Information’ law will break the barriers impeding on the right of the media and individuals to know how government business is done. It will abrogate the official secret Act that shields certain information and actions of government from public scrutiny. It will make government and governmental business accessible and available to the citizenry. Every citizen the requests for information concerning aspects and business of government would be entitled to such information and where the authority in custody of such information is reluctant in giving such information, the onus would be on such and authority to convince the person in need of such information why such information should not be made available to him or her. There is a lot of secrecy surrounding governmental process and the law when passed would set clear rules regarding governmental secrecy. The law will enjoin government and government people to make information on the goings on in government available to the public. It is meant to strengthen the constitutional freedom of the press and the right of every Nigerian to have access to information concerning government business. The law will actualize transparency and empower each and every Nigerian to be part and parcel of the democratic and democratization process. Can you imagine what it means for you to know how much NNPC is earning per day and how that money is disbursed? Can you imagine the power you will have if you have certified documents concerning the earnings of your local government and how that money is used? That is why I like those who call such a law as open records law or sunshine law meaning that the sun should shine on the democratic process.
As many as 61 countries have such laws and it should interest you that the only African country that has passed such a law is South Africa. Nigeria is among the 16 or so countries with pending legislations on it.