By Chief Mike Ozekhome,SAN,OFR
Constitutional Lawyer and Human Rights Activist
For quite some time,this clueless government has engaged in unwarranted harassment of the 4th Estate of the realm,the press.This is the only entity recognised by section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution,to hold government accountable and responsible to the Nigerian people.I whole-heartedly condemn,in most unequivocal terms,the latest onslaught,assault and detention carried out by an increasingly intolerant and desperate non performing government,in a Gestapo like manner,against the Premium Times and veteran journalist,Samuel Ogundipe,including Misikilu Mojeed,the Editor-In-Chief of Premium Times.This medium house is a well known pro-masses online publication.Their “offence” is that this same media house that had exposed the richochetting and never ending NYSC certificate forgery saga (“Adeosungate”) of Kemi Adeosun,the Finance minister,is that it published a yet unrefuted skewed interim report by the Police,forwarded to acting President,Prof Yemi Osibanjo,on the well deserved sacking of Lawal Daura,over his ignoble role in laying seige on the NASS,the 3rd arm of government.The Police has since abandoned its constitutional role under sections 214 and 215 of the Constitution and section 4 of the Police Act,of protecting and defending the Nigerian people,in an aberrative preference for being an instrument of government tyranny,oppression,repression and arbitrary subjugation of the very people it was set up to protect and defend in the first place.
I had warned in 2016,when hooded and masked DSS and EFCC operatives infamously descended on judges in their homes in the wee hours of morning,broke down their doors and terrorised the judges and members of their families,that Nigeria was steadily gravitating towards dictatorship,absolutism and fascism.I predicted then that the government’s next port of call would be the legislature and then the 4th Estate of the realm.These predictions have since come to pass.Ironically,those who not only disagreed with me then,but even cowardly abused me,for this nostradamus,-like astral peep into the future,are today emergency born-again “crusaders” against this sustained anti-people norm of this government.
How the cookies crumble!!! The government has since taken us back to the inglorious locust days of Decree NO 4 of 1984,under the same Muhammadu Buhari (then as military dictator).Under that Decree,publication of any material,even if true and correct,was a crime,once it “embarrassed” the government.
Messrs Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor were victims who were unceremoniously jailed under the draconian piece of legislation.Fundamental human rights to life,of personal liberty,free speech,association,assemby,fair hearing,et al,are constitutionally guaranteed by various sections of the Nigerian Constitution,the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.
The Nigeria Police Force and other security agents obey these instruments in breach ,as mere tools in the hands of tin gods and deities at the corridors of power.
As far back as 1985,the Court of Appeal had declared illegal and unconstitutional,the detention of Elder statesman,Dr Arthur Nwankwo,in the case of Arthur Nwankwo v The State (1985) 6 NCLR 228.In that case,Nwankwo was charged with sedition under section 51 of the Criminal Code before the Onitsha High Court,for publishing a book that exposed corruption under then Governor Jim Nwobodo of then Anambra state.He was convicted and sentenced to one year imprisonment,But, the Court of Appeal in setting aside both conviction and sentence on the ground of illegality of the offence of sedition,held as follows:
“We are no longer the illiterates or the mob society our colonial masters had in mind when the law was promulgated.
To retain section 51 of the Criminal Code in its present form,that is, even if not inconsistent with the freedom of expression guaranteed by our Constitution,will be deadly weapon to be used at will by a corrupt government or a tyrant..Let us not diminish from the freedom gained from our colonial masters by resorting to laws enacted by them to suit their purpose”.
The court opined that those in positions of authority should develop thick skin against public critique of their actions.
The Federal High Court in Maliam Ismaila v Presideht (2009-10) CHR 166,was later to strike down many provisions contained in the Nigerian Press Council,on the grounds,inter alia,that they amounted to censorship of the press and could therefore be used by the government to censor freedom of expression provided in section 39 of the 1999 Constitution.
In both Adikwu &Ors v Federal House of Representatives of the NASS & Ors (1982) 3 NCLR 394,and Tony Momoh vs Senate of the NASS &Ors (1981) 1 NCLR 105,the courts upheld and broadened the legal and constitutional vistas of the rights of journalists to freely publish stories,without being censured or being compelled to disclose the sources of their privileged information.
The courts reasoned,rightly in my humble view,that free media reports in any democratic society are matters of public interest and that free flow of information and protection of journalists’ confidential relationship with their sources of information must be upheld as a necessary constitutional safeguard and guarantee of freedom of speech and expression,so as to prevent such sources from drying up.I therefore call on the government to IMMEDIATELY and UNCONDITIONALLY RELEASE Messrs Ogundipe and Mojeed and leave Premium Times abd other media houses alone,to carry out their social and constitutional responsibilities.Where it believes they have committed any offence known to law,they should be released and charged to court immediately.That is the path of honour dignity,ethics,morality,legalism and constitionalism.This government should STOP mocking the people that “elected” it to office,with serial anti-people actions,chasticement,intimidation,harassment,embarrassment and utmost ridicule.
The prevailing grinding hunger,deprivation,abject penury,insecurity,parlous economy and unspeakable acts of monumental corruption enthroned and nurtured by this government are already more than enough for beleaguered Nigerians to contend with.The government should not add salt un un to injury by further depriving Nigerians of their inalienable rights freely given to them by God almighty.