By Mike Ozekhome, SAN
Power intoxicates. Power bemuses and makes nonsense of tyrants and narcissists. Shuttle diplomacy czar, Henry Kissinger, once described power as an “aphrodisiac”.
It was Cambridge-trained Historian and Politician, Sir John Dalberg-Acton, who once remarked that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This means that as a person’s power increases, his moral sense diminishes. Absolute power means total untrammelled authority, despotism, dictatorship, tyranny, autocracy or autarchy. This was why the longest reigning King of France, Lois X1V, who reigned for 72 years and 110 days, could stand in front of Parliament in sheer absolutist inebriation and declare imperiously, “lè’tat c’est moi” (“I am the state”, or, “the State is me”).
Louis saw himself as God’s representative on earth, endowed with a divine right to wield absolute monarchical powers. He chose the sun as his emblem and dorned the image of an omniscient and infallible ‘Soleil’ (‘Sun King’). Such is now appearing to be the case of Civil Engineer, Governor David Nweze Umahi of Ebonyi state, regarding his imperious ‘fatwa’ pronounced against the Correspondents of The Sun and Vanguard newspapers in the ordinary course of their duties. And he did this in a whole state broadcast aired on Ebonyi state Radio and Television stations, when it is the global pandemic and its containment that he and other governors ought to be daily concerned with. What was the offence of the journalists?
Umahi had, on Saturday, 18th April, 2020, banned and ordered the arrest of Chijioke Agwu, correspondent of of the Sun newspaper, for merely reporting, with vital and uncontradicted statistics duly released by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), a story titled, “anxiety, fear, as lassa fever wreaks havoc in Ebonyi”.
Three days later, Peter Okutu, Vanguard correspondent, was arrested on the orders of Ohaukwu LGA Chairman, Mr. Clement Odah, over a report he made on the alleged military invasion of Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo community in the Ohaukwu LGA.
In a most appalling and horrifying manner,the Governor,in the full glare of the whole world, proclaimed: “Ebonyi State is no longer a dumping ground.Only the other day,Chijioke Agwu wrote that Lassa Fever is killing Ebonyi people in droves and a few days back, Mr Peter Okutu of Vanguard did his own”.
On Okutu, he wondered why his (Umahi’s) “officials have allowed him to continue to do that,because he is not from Ebonyi State”.The obvious suggestion here is that media Correspondents in Ebonyi State should necessarily hail from the state so as to,perhaps,write favourable reports about Umahi and his government, even if facts showed the contrary.
Hear our new Emperor:”I want to ban him for life with Chijioke Agwu. I don’t want to see them anywhere in any government facility”.
The Sheriff then proceeded with his hardly veiled threats against the safety of all journalists operating in Ebonyi State, thus:”if you think you have the pen,we have the koboko(whip). Let’s leave the court alone.Ebonyi people are very angry with the press and let me warn that I won’t be able to control them or know when they unleash mayhem on you if you continue to write to create panic in the state”.Gosh!.Blimey!!
Here is a Governor, the supposed Chief Security Officer of his state by virtue of section 215 (4) of the 1999 Constitution, which squarely places on his shoulders, the duty of “maintenance and securing of public safety and public order within the state”, reading the riot, nay, death act. Can someone please help me read to His Excellency (because he is a respected Engineer, therefore a layman on matters of law), the clear wordings of section 22 of the 1999 Constitution?
It says, ” the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability and the government to the people”. This is all too clear and unambiguous.That is why the press is popularly called the “fourth estate of the ream”.
The press is one of the indispensable building blocks of any true democracy,such as,at least,we pretend to operate.Any attempt to muscle or emasculate it or its practitioners amounts to sheer tyranny and dictatorship.And this must be fiercely resisted.Why would journalists be hounded and hunted down like game or quarry for merely carrying out their Constitutional responsibilities? Are newspapers sent by their managements to massage the ego of Umahi and his government,or to inform and publish facts of what they observe.Most heart-rending is the the denial by the Governor’s Special Assistant on Media, Francis Nwanze.
In a most tendentious and poorly cooked denial which was not backed with any evidence.He said the video and audio of the Governor’s statements were doctored. He described the publications by the two seasoned journalists as “unverified and false reports capable of causing panic in Ebonyi State”.
In neither case did he provide or attempt to make available any shred of evidence by way of the original or contrary data, to controvert the journalists’ publications and the Governor’s reaction.In decent societies, the Governor would simply have apologised, recalled the journalists and go ahead face serious issues of governance.
In the absence of that,where the Governor genuinely feels convinced the journalists had overstepped their boundaries, he could resort to court through a defamation suit. It is outrageous and condescending to hear a Governor say,”let’s leave the courts alone”.
This is veneered euphemism for saying,”let’s resort to brute force and self-help”. Governor Umahi lacks the legal or constitutional competency to so do. Nor can he decide which journalist comes to his state to reside or work.Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution clearly prohibits Governor Umahi from doing this. It provides laconically, thus: “every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom”.
This is also aided by section 40 of the Constitution which makes every Nigerian citizen entitled to the right to “assemble freely and associate with other persons”. A near similar scenario such as this played out in MINISTER OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS V SHUGABA DARMAN (1982) 3 NCLR 915. In that causa celebra, the NPN government of Alhaji Aliyu Shehu Usman Shagari through its minister of Internal Affairs, Alhaji Maitama Sule, had deported Shugaba Abdulrahman Darman (1920-2010),to Chad,on January 24,1980, claiming he was a Chadian. It was politically motivated because Darman, a very charismatic crowd- pulling, grass-roots politician belonged to the rival GNPP, led by Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, alias, “politics without bitterness”. He was very critical of the Shagari government at such crowded rallies and became a thorn in its flesh. His deportation elicited public outrage and great condemnation of the Shagari government. It therefore hurriedly set up the one-man Justice P.C.Okanbo Tribunal of Inquiry, whose impartiality was greatly doubted. This led the GNPP to head for the court.
Indeed, the government procured a Chadian woman as a witness,who came forward,crying profusely that she was the biological mother of Shugaba, and wanted her son back to Chad. Shugaba denied ever knowing the woman, and argued that his well known mother was alive and kicking, though with poor sight.
A Maiduguri High Court ruled in Shugaba’s favour, revoked the deportation order, and awarded exemplary and punitive damages to him in the sum of 350,000(a very huge sum in 1982). Subsequent appeals by the government to both the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court were thrown out. At the Supreme Court,it was an unanimous judgement anchored by Justice Coker. The compensation was never paid before General Muhammadu Buhari led a military coup that overthrew the Shagari government on October 31,1983.
Darman was later to say he had forgiven the Shagari government for this scuttled act of impunity.
This is the history Governor Umahi is struggling very hard to repeat by threatening a “deportation” of Nigerian journalists from his state, for writing allegedly unfavourable reports about his government.
For the avoidance of doubt, Governor Umahi lacks such powers, whether legal, constitutional or moral. He should withdraw the threat immediately and allow Agwu and Okutu perform their legitimate duties. Let all our rulers (not leaders) face the tsunami pandemic called Covid-19 or corona virus.
– Apr. 25, 2020 @ 10:15 GMT |