by Abraham Ogbodo
Last week, I wrote on a proposed bill, which seeks to calibrate free expression into love and hate speeches, with the latter attracting serious penalties including 10 years imprisonment and death. As I wrote from one end, a colleague, Mr. Don Okere, editor of Daily Independent Newspaper was at another end battling to call public attention to the unlawful detention of the Abuja Bureau Chief of the newspaper, Mr. Tony Ezimakor by the Department for State Security (DSS). The reporter was kept for days and incommunicado for refusal to disclose how he got information that the DSS had paid a princely $2 million to secure the release of some of the Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram terrorists in April 2014.
I do not know, who between Lawal Daura, the Director-general of DSS and President Muhammadu Buhari should take the blame for this. From the little I know of Daura, he is loaded with a lot of native enthusiasm that forbids him from pretence. Most times, and perhaps, without realising it, he presents himself more as a Fulani than he does as a Nigerian. He also does not pretend about his big stake in the Buhari presidency.
On the killer Fulani herdsmen for instance, he told editors once in Abuja to return home and study deeper to establish all the semantic dimensions of the phrase “reprisal attacks.” In his thinking, that phrase could be invoked at all times to free the killer herdsmen from culpability. He has singlehandedly stopped the Senate confirmation of Mr. Ibrahim Magu, who is President Buhari’s nominee as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); and nothing has happened. In fact, he has made life very difficult for Magu. Overall, Daura carries on as if he was the one that appointed President Buhari and not the other way round.
On a second thought, I would want to let Daura be and put the entire blame on the head of Buhari for degenerating into a ceremonial head in a presidential system of government. The art and science of power even under the so-called collectivity of the parliamentary arrangement allow for distribution of actions, but that is where it ends. Thereafter, the arising successes or failures of good or bad actions must be appropriately focused on the head. The head here is Buhari and not Daura, no matter the point the latter makes about his entrenchment in the current government.
Besides, in the matter under review, that is the abrogation of civil liberties, Buhari has a lot of cognate experience. In 1984 as Military head of State, he promulgated Decree 4 (Public Officers Protection Against False Publications) and in no time, two former journalists of The Guardian Newspaper, Ndukar Irabor and Tunde Thompson, were on their way to prison for refusing to divulge the source of a story, which allegedly embarrassed the Buhari/Idiagbon military junta.
This is the ugly background. It is not wrong therefore to say that President Buhari is somehow finding it difficult to contain his nostalgia. Nineteen years into the new democratic dawn and after a successful transmission of power from a ruling to opposition party, we should not be actually discussing the basic elements of democratic practice. But that is the reality, which we cannot run away from.
When the DSS raided serving justices of the Supreme Court, Prof Itse Sagay and Mr. Femi Falana, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), explained that the action was in furtherance of a better Nigeria and that some articles within the body of laws that governs the country (and clearly outside any intervention by the National Judicial Council – NJC) allow serving judges to be raided and humiliated by security operatives on suspicion of their (judges) being corrupt.
When court orders are flouted like the directives of an irresponsible father, the same set of lawyers will be on hand to explain away such infractions as part of the ingredients needed for Buhari to make a good soup. The EFCC too is accommodated with its sensational media trials of persons accused of corruption in the explanations by the learned men. And so, gradually, Nigerians are returning to Babylon (captivity) and they shall be fully there by the time the Hate Speech Act comes on stream to legitimize the abrogation of freedom of expression.
Even if Buhari had been willing to undertake the transition from autocracy to democracy, he seems very constrained not by circumstances but by persons who are laying bigger claim to the presidency than himself and who do not have any vision about power utilization outside consumption and self aggrandizement. This is complicating Buhari’s full transition to a democratic leader. In fact, the process is becoming as difficult as the transition from left-hand to right-hand drive in traffic management. When the latter happened in Nigeria in 1972 for instance, it came with so many issues. There were accidents in which people died before Nigerians got accustomed to the asymmetry change.
Nigerians are far from being accustomed to the Buhari’s brand of democratization and as it was in 1972 with the switch from left to right hand drive, there have been casualties. Farmers have been killed by herders without arrests, prosecution and conviction. In more than a few cases, court pronouncements have been treated like beer parlour declarations. There is as much impunity among a privileged class as there is immunity to protect the impunity of that class.
Citizens are losing faith in government’s capacity to protect them and resorting to self help even as the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris plans to make self defence more difficult with a new policy on fire arms in the face of unrestrained and rampaging armed herdsmen.
The other day, it was the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai who ordered the arrest of Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of an online newspaper, Premium Times, for alleged libellous publication against the army chief. Let’s agree for a moment that whatever that was published on the platform was indeed a libellous statement. Are such matters in the purview of the institution of the army to handle? And when has libel become a felony that requires arrest and detention of the accused by the arm, not even police, pending a formal charge in court?
These are some of the missteps that have continued to belie Buhari’s claim of repentance. He is an irreconcilable contradiction in a proper democratic environment. Apart from his own sins, others sin on his behalf and he does not know how to differentiate between his sins and the sins of others. He even does nothing to correct a wrong impression and with time, every stupid impression about him, including his alleged backing of killer herdsmen, has begun to assume a garb of reality.
I don’t know how many more people are preparing to commit sins on behalf of Buhari. I just want to warn would-be sinners to look away from the media anytime they are ready to strike. Like soldiers who fight wars they have not created, journalists report stories they have not created. Daura and Buratai might not have known this fact before they acted wrongly.
Now that they have known, I am appealing to them, as well as others in the Buhari team with a tendency to commit sin against the media, to desist because the venture is simply fruitless. Decree 4 of 1984 cannot be contemplated in any form in 2018. It will not happen. And I add also that in recorded history, no force has been able to stop the media. The media has always survived tribulations to report the fall of dictators and this is not going to change anytime soon.
- This piece was written by Abraham Ogbodo/Guardian