*Ozekhome, Maduemesi, Arewa group say Nigeria turning to police state
By Emma Okereh, William Orji and Myke Uzendu
Nigerians have reacted angrily to the federal government’s invitation of people considered to hold alternative view points on national issues, stating that the country is gradually turning to a police state.
Prominent lawyer and human rights activists, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), Barr. Uche Maduemesi and the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), have condemned of the invitations and the N5 million fine slammed on private radio station, Nigeria-Info (99.3-FM), for airing the live interview of Dr. Obadiya Mailafiya, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Chief Ozekhome in condemning the development stated that what is happening shows clearly that the Buhari government is aware that it has not performed and struggling to cover up failures.
He said: “I have been warning over the years that this government will come for the media, having gone for the opposition, human rights activists, the judiciary, I knew it was a matter of time before they come for the media. I am not surprised; I can only be surprised that Nigerians are surprised.
“When you have the feeling that you have not performed, you become very edgy, very dodgy, and very sensitive to criticisms.
“A government must develop thick skin to be able to look at criticism and know which part to take and which to ignore. A government cannot claim to be so righteous that it cannot make mistakes.
“This is the worst government so far since January 1914, when Lord Lugard amalgamated Northern and Southern protectorates to form Nigeria.
“This is a government comprising mostly more than 90 per cent of the people who were very active and vibrant in the opposition during the Jonathan administration, under the aegis of a group called “Occupy Nigeria”, demonstrating on the streets everyday against the removal of oil subsidy, which they themselves (present administration) had already removed and also increased the pump price of oil.
“They were on the streets demonstrating, nobody harassed them; they were even protected by the police. Then suddenly, they do not want any criticism. They go against people who criticize them. Courts will give order they will chose to disobey the order. Human rights activists are being detained; hate speech law is being pursued to its logical conclusion to ensure that people are jailed.
“One Dr. Mailafiya who made a very revealing statement on Boko Haram, they are harassing the man. They allowed him to go after coercing him, yet the radio station which could not have controlled what the man said, was fined N5 million.
“This is taking me to what Thomas Jefferson, one great American president said: ‘when a government fears the people, you know there is rule of law, but when the people fears their government, then you know that there is despotism, fascism, and anarchy.’
“This is a moment where the people fear the government rather than the government fearing the people in a democratic government.
It is so sad that people cannot talk. People are now talking in whispers. The freedom of speech has been conscripted; the political space conscripted; the electoral space conscripted; the space are fundamentally flawed; votes are no longer being counted or allowed to count; might has become right; military police are used to secure victory; when the victory eludes them, they make sure they employ the services of the judiciary, brow beat it so that they can giver judgment to them. We are living in a state that is despotic and totalitarian”.
He advised government to “allow rule of law prevail; allow fundamental rights of the citizens bloom and blossom; give democratic dividends to the people; allow meaningful criticism and opposition, adding “we all cannot sleep on the same bed, facing the same side at the same time. It is no possible”.
On his part, another human rights lawyer, Barr. Uche Maduemesi, said that using security agencies to suppress free speech (freedom of expression), is against democratic norms.
“I advise that what government should have done is to take those people into confidence so they can assist it get useful information that can help them fight insurgency and banditry. Government said they had degraded them, but we have all seen that it is not so.
“For the media house that is fined for airing live interview, slamming fine on them is wrong. There is no way any person will know what somebody will say in an interview. So, it is wrong to have fined the media house.
“Recall that during the Jonathan administration, government wanted to negotiate with the Boko Haram. They (BH) nominated the current president and heavens did not fall.
“He was not arrested by the government, even though the feeling was that if he had nothing to do with them, they couldn’t have nominated him. The Jonathan government allowed him to enjoy his life as free citizen”.
*Na’abba will honur DSS invitation today, says Tanko Yunusa
Meanwhile, the Head of Public Affairs Bureau of NCFront, Dr. Tanko Yunusa, has stated that the NCFront co-Chair and former Speaker of the House of Representtives, Hon. Ghali Umar Na’abba will today at noon, honour the invitation sent to him on Friday by the Department of State Security (DSS).
Yunusa last Thursday in an interview on Channels Television said Na’aba was invited over the NCFront agenda “to bring about a new Nigeria that works for all.”
Na’aba had at a press conference said the present government has been conducting itself on “a high degree of irresponsibility at all levels”.
*Nigeria turning to police state – Arewa groups
Meanwhile a Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), has said the continuous attempt to suppress freedom of expression of Nigerians by the government “is exposing its failure in sportsmanship, statesmanship and political craftsmanship”.
The CNG said it is “worrisome that the current administration is becoming more and more intolerant of the opposition and gradually dragging the country towards becoming a police state”.
Spokesman, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, in a statement on Sunday said they are alarmed by reports that Na’abba, has been invited by the DSS over his interview.
*NBC Code: SERAP demands withdrawal of N5m fine
In another development, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked President Buhari to instruct the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), to withdraw the N5million fine on hate speech.
In the letter, SERAP asked Buhari to direct Mohammed and the NBC “to immediately rescind the fine of N5 million imposed on Nigeria-Info 99.3 FM radio station, due the interview of Dr. Mailafiya.
The NBC had last week warned journalists and broadcast stations, stating that if they air statements or interviews of guests who “denigrate our governors, lawmakers, elders, and leaders, the Commission may be compelled to impose sanctions to curb this practice.”
SERAP in a statement by its Deputy-Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said: “Rather than pushing to enforce a culture to respect president, governors, lawmakers, elders, and other leaders, the Information Minister and the NBC should use their entrusted public office and mandates to promote a culture of public debate, access to information, transparency and accountability in government.”
They said that nothing can be more destructive to people’s exercise of human rights, and to democratic politics than to suppress the media, insisting that, the alleged ‘cultural codes’, which Mohammed and NBC are now using to punish journalists, broadcast stations and other Nigerians are patently contrary to the public interests”.
They warned that if after seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, they fail to hear from them, “the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel you to do so in the public interest”.