Every profession has a mandate. The media profession, to which I proudly belong, has the core I-SEE mandate to Inform, Set agenda, Educate and Entertain. It is worrisome that the overarching goal of many media houses these days appears to be to advertise and promote whatever and whoever helps to grow their bank balance. There seems to be a complicity of silence amongst serving and veteran media professionals, including those that went into the trenches to save democracy from the jaws of military adventurism, but who now adorn the siddon-look toga of indifference and watch unfolding events in the country without lifting a finger to their keypads. Isn’t it time to ponder whether we should, by omission or commission, dip the flame of knowledge, dignity, courage, altruism and professionalism of our heroes past into the muddy waters of self-interest and partisan brinkmanship?
Two recent developments readily come to mind: “Operation Amotekun”, a conglomeration of vigilante groups in the southwest inaugurated to combat the growing menace of insecurity in the region, and the Supreme Court ruling on the 2019 gubernatorial election in Nigeria’s southeastern state of Imo.
Amotekun is said to be the name of a ferocious animal of the wild cat family that stealthily stalks and suddenly pounces on its target. In this case, traditional and political leaders in the region have decided to adopt the Amotekun strategy to tackle the growing number of predators, including armed robbers, kidnappers, ritualists, and the savage ‘herdsmen’ ravaging farmlands, raping mothers and daughters, decimating hapless fathers and husbands and pillaging and murdering wayfarers in cold blood.
All the governors, monarchs and Yoruba leaders who spoke at the launch of the initiative stressed that “Operation Amotekun”, also known as the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN), was not initiated for the South West to cause disunity in Nigeria or for Yorubaland to break away from the nation, and it is not an affront to the constitution of Nigeria as the security network would play complementary roles for the armed forces in the country.
But the federal government says ‘no way!’. In a statement signed by Dr Umar Gwandu, the Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), the government said, “The setting up of the paramilitary organization called “Amotekun” is illegal and runs contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian law”.“The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) has established the Army, Navy and Airforce, including the Police and other numerous paramilitary organisations for the purpose of the defence of Nigeria.
“As a consequence of this, no State Government, whether singly or in a group has the legal right and competence to establish any form of organization or agency for the defence of Nigeria or any of its constituent parts,” the statement read in part.
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) has asked South-West governors to ignore the statement by the Attorney-General of the Federation. The group asked Malami to explain what made Hisbah police in Kano and the Civilian Joint Task Force in the North East legal.
“He should further explain to us what makes Civilian JTF legal in the North East where there is war and in Zamfara, Katsina, and Kano where there is no war, while Amotekun is illegal, the SMBLF said.”
The group noted, “This is a defining moment to decide if we are under segregation and different laws in this country.”
Insecurity is a collective threat anywhere. The very fact that the major proponents of AMOTEKUN are political and traditional heavyweights with different political affiliations and entrenched partisan inclinations underscores the anecdote of the plastic bag of faeces hanging on a ceiling fan in the living room. If nobody stops the fan and takes it down, it would be a matter of time before it bursts, spills the faeces on the faces of all within reach, and leave behind a stench that would take more effort to discard than it would have taken to dislodge the doo-doo bag from the ceiling fan.
The analogy of halitosis by Prince Kassim Afegbua speaks to this narrative. Prince Afegbua said in his response to the Supreme Court verdict on the 2019 gubernatorial election in Imo state: “It is often difficult to cover up halitosis in whatever form or shape”. In a press statement entitled ‘This House Stinks’ on the apex court’s ruling that translates into a quit notice for the current occupier of Douglas House, Owerri, renamed Peoples House by his predecessor, the notable public affairs analyst said:
“Fact is, with series of questionable judgments and verdicts from the hallowed grounds of the Apex Court, one is beginning to ponder why Nigerians have elected to self- destruct. It does not make any meaning to queue up for votes at the elections, because the Supreme Court has now assumed the final executioner of the electoral process. What will suit us, would be a process where instead of wasting humongous resources conducting elections, the Supreme Court should appoint state Governors and Lawmakers to fill up the spaces.
“It hurts to see the last hope of the common man delivering such a judgment with curious figures produced from the pit of hell to confer Executive Authority on a candidate that came fourth in an election… it is often difficult to cover up halitosis in whatever form or shape. This verdict has just exposed very succinctly that we are still in the jungle in all aspect of our national life”.
Afegbua’s rather harsh verdict, itself, might be dismissed by detractors as the rant of a disgruntled opposition frontliner. But as they say, we ought to separate the message from the messenger. The prince is known for his forthrightness from whichever camp he had chosen to pitch his tent in the past. His outburst, in this instance, is not a matter of whether he is right or wrong. It is a matter for well-meaning citizens to ponder, as to whether the institutions that guarantee or ought to guarantee their citizenship and secure the pillars that hold the nation together are under siege. However, this is not about Afegbua. Citing him here is informed by the relevance of his antecedents to the subject matter.
Talking about antecedents, Afegbua was a cum laude student of journalism/public relations. He has held several media-related positions, including director of publicity for the National Democratic Party, and special adviser on media and public affairs to former governor of Edo state, now chairman of the governing party APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who also made him commissioner for information and orientation in the state.
He is the spokesperson for Nigeria’s only military president to date, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), now in retirement. Quite a number of people would remember the rumble Afegbua caused not too long ago when he spoke out against his principal, as it were, in the matter of IBB’s reported advice to President Muhammadu Buhari not to seek re-election in 2019 on the grounds that, according to the Okpilla prince, “General Babangida wants a new side of leadership, from the younger generation of Nigerians who in his own views have the resourcefulness, the energy and capacity to manage governmental affairs”.
IBB had distanced himself from the statement, but Afegbua stood his ground, insisting that his action was not unilateral and that IBB had in fact called him later to say that “the statement stands” – which is not difficult to believe, as Afegbua still stands in his position of spokesperson to the enigmatic general.
Some legal luminaries have doffed their wigs to the executors of the head-shaking Supreme Court judgment. They adjudge it as technically correct because the Supreme Court ‘rightly’ validated the results of polling units that were initially set aside by INEC officials at the collation centres, after they had been endorsed by presiding officers at more than 380 polling units. These same results are described by some analysts as “apparently concocted, perhaps not having any basis whatsoever in reality, but signed by INEC presiding officers and they gave Uzodinma an “incredibly unassailable lead”. It was on the basis of this they were excluded by collation officers from the INEC results that gave Ihedioha the Douglas House’s certificate of occupancy.
The exclusion of those apparently compromised results was the kernel of the petition Uzodinma took to the Appeal Court and then to the Supreme Court. The ruling from the apex court is that neither collation officers nor a returning officer has the power in law to exclude a result duly signed by the presiding officer at a polling unit; only the election tribunal possesses the power to cancel or exclude such a result. Legal analysts say that Ihedioha’s legal team made the tragic error of not filing a counter petition interrogating the integrity of the ‘dubious’ results.
Even though Ihedioha polled 273,404 votes to secure INEC’s certificate of return, which was upheld by the Imo State Election Petition Tribunal, the appellants claimed he did not obtain the constitutional one-quarter of the votes in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state, in line with the provisions of the law, and also alleged substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act and Guidelines, including other irregularities.
But the Court of Appeal in its judgment held that the case of the petitioners was not meritorious because they failed to call relevant witnesses and that the evidence of witnesses called was based on hearsay. This was the verdict set aside in the unanimous judgment of the Supreme Court’s seven-member panel, read by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun.
Uzodinma had appealed the appellate court’s judgment along with APGA’s candidate, Ifeanyi Ararume for whom INEC initially recorded 114, 676 votes; Action Alliance (AA) and its candidate, Uche Nwosu – former-governor-now-senator Rochas Okorocha’s son-in-law who later withdrew his appeal (190,364 votes) and APC’s Uzodinma (96,458 votes).
On the other side of the judicial isle are those who are wondering aloud whether Nigeria is heading for a new level where rationality is sacrificed on the altar of technicality.
The new results, according to the Supreme court, are:
Hope Uzodimma APC- 96,458 + 213,295 votes from the 388 polling units previously set aside =309,753
Emeka Ihedioha PDP – 273,404 + zero = 273,404
Uche Nwosu, AA – 190,364 + nada = 190 364
Ifeanyi Ararume , APGA – 114,676 + ikoko = 114, 676
The rational question people are asking is whether every voter in the 388 polling units previously set aside voted for Hope Uzodinma. Besides, a report by Daily Trust after the governorship and state assembly elections held on the same day, March 9, 2019, indicated that the PDP, Ihedioha’s party, won 13 out of the 27 seats in the assembly; AA 8 seats; and APGA 6 seats. Is it possible that the people that voted ‘overwhelmingly’ for the APC gubernatorial candidate were so hopeless (pun intended) that they went to sleep when it was time to vote for their local representatives at the State House of Assembly?
It is said that the onus is on a litigant to prove his case beyond reasonable doubt. Shouldn’t jurors ensure also that their judgments are beyond reasonable doubt? The last hope for any Nigerian seeking legal redress is the Supreme Court. When that court is perceived to be compromised, then the mantra of equality before the law can as well be thrown into the rubbish dump of despair.
In South Africa, as in other countries, the judicial authority of the country is vested in the courts, which are independent and subject only to the Constitution and the law. Section 166 of the South African Constitution identifies these courts as: the Constitutional Court; the Supreme Court of Appeal; the High Courts; the Magistrates’ Courts; and any other court established or recognised by an Act of parliament. The Constitutional Court is the highest court in the land when it comes to the interpretation, protection and enforcement of the constitution. As we all know, many issues arising from elections are constitutional in nature.
Whereas in South Africa anyone dissatisfied with the outcome of a constitutional matter has ultimate recourse to the Constitutional Court, in Nigeria the Supreme Court is the final bus stop. It goes without saying, therefore, that such a court should issue judgments that are, in the very least, above reasonable doubt. Can anyone sincerely say that is the case with the Nigerian Supreme Court of Thisday?
What then should be done about this? This is a democracy and the people need to speak out. The media is (supposed to be) the Champion of the people, their Vanguard and their Guardian, the Inquirer and the Observer they can Daily Trust to Monitor the government and its agents, and Punch them hard to wakefulness when they slip into wasteful slumber.
The media is supposed to be a Galaxy of Channels; indeed, the most Independent and most credible Voice of Nigeria, through which the people transmit their concerns to those in positions of Leadership in The Nation, not for Encomium, but as a sacred duty so that the government may create a Blueprint for National Accord, security, peace and progress.
It is imperative for the media and its operatives to constantly remind those that hold the levers of power at any given time that the course through which they choose to steer the ship of state will invariably determine not only the destination of the nation, but also the estimation of their legacy – whether it ends up being worthy of celebration or denigration.
Sadly, many former media torchbearers that brought illumination to foggy issues of state with courage and erudition and caused Ripples in anti-democratic camps have, in their newfound cosy cocoons in corridors of power, metamorphosed into arrogant, condescending, complicit and lickspittle sidekicks.
Does the Fourth Estate of the Realm really know the power it wields? US-based veteran broadcaster Chris Obi-Rapu puts the role and the power of the media succinctly when he says:
“We all know how politicians and tough military men seek the favors of broadcasters and newspaper guys in our country. Does it not follow that we are the power behind the thrones of this country? The big thing is that these politicians and military men still see what we do as big time mystery. But we have successfully demystified ourselves and freely gave them back the great powers of the 4th Estate of the Realm; to create cultures for us. We failed because we do not know the powers we have in the first instance. We are actually the creators of culture of good or bad or what the country has become. It is when we become ideologically sound that we can start creating good cultures for our people. It is this soundness of knowledge that could propel us to project what is actually needful for the future of our people. We must understand the basic fact; that any issue that we buy into would automatically become general public issue, thereby turning out to become government policy. If you want any issue to become a policy, get the press to buy in and once they own it, the public, including politicians would key into the debate till it becomes a public policy.”
What more can one say but to conclude with a favourite caveat in matters like this, couched in the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller, who initially supported Adolf Hitler but later became one of the arrowheads of the opposition to the Nazification of German Protestant churches.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
May that not be the portion of media professionals in Nigeria – as Christians would put it!
First published on Newsplus.com.ng on January 15, 2020
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