SAMOA LGBT agreement and freedom of expression

Tue, Jul 9, 2024
By editor
8 MIN READ

Opinion

By Funmi Adebayo

 IT is sad that the Tinubu government has resorted to intimidating, threatening, and blackmailing individuals and the media for exercising their constitutional right to freedom of expression by commenting on the Samoa LGBT Agreement, which Nigeria has unfortunately signed. The Tinubu government is reportedly either threatening to sue or has sued the Daily Trust Newspaper over its fair comment on the Samoa LGBT Agreement. Blinded by misplaced sycophancy, Doyin Okupe was quoted as saying that “deliberate misinformation” on the Samoa Agreement is treasonable. This is very childish. No reasonable Nigerian takes Doyin Okupe seriously. Mr. Okupe used to be the Labour Party spokesman, but now he is the spokesman of the ruling party simply because of money. He speaks from both sides of his mouth depending on where the money is coming from.

There is an ARISE TV video clip that has been trending on WhatsApp and social media platforms. It is the clip wherein Sonnie Ekwowusi, a lawyer and Chairman of the Human and Constitutional Rights Committee of the African Bar Association, explained the Samoa Agreement and the implications of Nigeria signing the Agreement. Commenting on this video clip, the government or its agents tried to blackmail Sonnie Ekwowusi by alleging that he is a member of the pro-Peter Obi campaign and that there is no provision for any LGBTQ rights in the Samoa Agreement.

This is untrue. I have just finished listening to a Channels TV video clip which is also circulating on social media. In the clip, Sonnie Ekwowusi explained the Samoa Agreement and the implications of Nigeria signing the Agreement. He stated that the Samoa LGBT Agreement contains Articles 2(5), 29(5), and 36(1)(2) promoting LGBT, Comprehensive Sexuality Education, abortion, and transgender issues, which violate Nigerian cultural and religious heritage and Chapter 2 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, and Articles 2, 8, 17, 18, 28, and 29 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which are now part and parcel of Nigerian law. Barr. Ekwowusi also said that during the negotiation stages of the Agreement, which he attended, the European Union was requested to expunge the aforesaid offensive articles from the Agreement, but it refused. Instead of doing so, the European Union went about bribing different African government officials to sign the Agreement. He also mentioned that the Samoa Agreement has no glossary or interpretation section to define the words and phrases in the Agreement.

 He further said that the Agreement is like giving an open cheque to the European Union because, in the coming months and years, the European Union will be making dangerous decisions binding on Nigeria and other countries that signed the Agreement. He said that the European Union does not care about the ratification and domestication of the Samoa Agreement by Nigeria and that since Nigeria has signed the Agreement, the European Union will be sending their envoys to Nigeria for the implementation of the Agreement.

So, how can the Minister for Information and the Minister for Budget and Planning go about denying that the Agreement contains the aforesaid offensive provisions? He who asserts must prove. If the two Ministers are asserting that the copy of the Agreement signed by Nigeria does not contain the offensive provisions, they should make it available for the public to see. Merely blackmailing someone or threatening the Daily Trust for speaking the truth is in bad taste. The difference between our political officeholders and those abroad is that the latter admit the truth when they err. For example, look at the humble manner in which the British former Minister Rishi Sunak came out in public to apologize to the whole world for the failure of his government. Can this happen in Nigeria? No. Can any Nigerian political officeholder come out in public to admit failure? No. Most political officeholders in Nigeria are arrogant and proud. They want to always appear in a good light in public even when they are wrong.

By virtue of section 39 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution, every person in Nigeria is entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. Since 1859, when Rev. Henry Townsend’s Iwe Irohin Yoruba (the first newspaper in Nigeria) made its debut, the print media has effectively performed its traditional function as a societal watchdog in Nigeria to the best of its ability. Given its role in constitutional democracy, the press is dubbed the Fourth Estate of the Realm, after the Legislature. In common parlance, the press is simply referred to as the watchdog of society. Therefore, the press is not a societal nuisance. Nigerian journalists come within the purview of the law, and their activities are governed by law.

Therefore, any individual in Nigeria can freely express his or her opinion in public. Under the law, he or she can freely criticize the government. Similarly, a newspaper or a publisher of a newspaper cannot be punished for commenting on matters of public interest. In Akinrinsola v. A.G. Anambra State (1980) 2NLR 17, the court held that a publication of a general comment on a matter related to a court proceeding presided over by a judge cannot be held to be contemptuous of the court. Remember the case of Tony Momoh? Tony Momoh, a lawyer, journalist, and Editor of the Daily Times from March 1976 to May 1980, ran a column in the Daily Times named “Grape Vine.” On February 4, 1980, Momoh published in his column a story entitled “MPs, Senators, and Cards.” In the story, Momoh insinuated that some members of the National Assembly were taking advantage of their privileged position as MPs to enter government offices and obtain contracts. The story caused a significant stir at the National Assembly. After exhaustively debating the matter, the Senate resolved to invite Momoh to come to the Senate and disclose what he knew about the members of the National Assembly who were abusing their privileges, as well as disclose the names of the legislators referred to in his “Grape Vine.” On February 11, 1980, this resolution was communicated to Tony Momoh.

On February 18, 1980, Momoh went to court to challenge his invitation by the Senate. His lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, argued that the invitation by the Senate was a complete violation of his fundamental rights, including the right to express his opinion. In his ruling, Justice Candidate Johnson (then Chief of Lagos State) granted Momoh’s prayer and agreed that the Senate’s invitation violated Momoh’s right to freedom of expression. The judge also emphasized the importance of the freedom of the press in Nigeria. He stated that any attempt to force a person like Momoh, who disseminates information through the medium of a newspaper, to disclose the source of his information apparently given in confidence is an interference with the freedom of the press. The Senate got annoyed and appealed against the ruling. While ruling that the Senate had no power to invite Momoh, the Court of Appeal said that the Senate could only invite a member of the public to the Senate when they wanted to gather facts for the purpose of enabling them to make laws on a matter.

More importantly, the Freedom of Information Act is aimed at placing information in the public domain. The major value underlying freedom of information is society’s need for the maximum flow of information. It is the duty of the press to keep the citizens informed of the different opinions being expressed and what is happening in the seat of government so that the citizens will be able to make better political decisions. With the Freedom of Information Act, a journalist can walk into any government office and demand information or documents exposing any corrupt public servant.

What this translates to is that the people enjoy the freedom to express themselves as well as criticize the government in our constitutional democracy. A government that does not accept criticism or opposition is an irresponsible government. The Tinubu government must understand that the people are the sovereigns in our presidential democracy. Power belongs to the people. Our political office holders are mere servants of the people and should be accountable to the people for all their deeds and misdeeds.

Under the different military dictatorships and totalitarian regimes in Nigeria, the people and the Nigerian press suffered emasculation, intimidation, suppression, and proscriptions. However, with the restoration of democratic government in Nigeria since May 29, 1999, the fundamental human rights enshrined in sections 33-46 of the 1999 Constitution are enforceable. The 1999 Constitution is rooted in national ethos. The government cannot blackmail anybody or any media outlet for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is not negotiable.

 ***Funmi Adebayo, a criminologist, writes from Ogun State.

A.I

July 09, 2024 @ 18:33 GMT|

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