Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 10 June 2014 | 2,873 times
From the last week of May till the first week of June 2014, the Nigerian military, out of the blues, waged unrelenting attacks against the nation’s print media. Same time, the chronically ineffective and professionally inefficient National Broadcasting Commission of Nigeria [NBC] issued a set of outrageous (mis)orders, directing broadcast media owners to submit list of their guests scheduled for live programmes hours before the commencement of such programmes. About same time, the decadent Nigerian Films and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) failed to issue certification for the introduction to the Nigerian film market of the iconic movie adaptation of the book by the young and upwardly mobile writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, titled “Half of the Yellow Sun.” The Abuja-based censors board, which by all indications is living on borrowed time given that the militarised atmosphere under which it was established has been taken over by the democratic experimentation.
The Video Censors Board said it was unable to issue certification for the film produced by the highly-rated UK-based, but Nigerian born producer, Mr. Biyi Bandele Thomas to be viewed in Nigeria fully because it contains certain aspects which in their warped imagination may instigate unrests, [whatever that means]. Half of a Yellow Sun's film adaptation has already been previewed and widely acclaimed in international cities such as New York, London and Canada. So the month of May 2014 and early June 2014 can be perfectly captured as the period of infamy and another surreptitious attempt by the Nigerian military to drag the hands of the clock back by, say, 100 years. The manner and strategies of the attack of these media outlets were so crude and primitive that even President Vladimir Putin of Russia will be smiling that, at least, he has some friends in a distant land called Nigeria; where professional military officers would at the slightest 'provocation' deploy their arms and ammunitions bought with public funds to attack the same people who are the real owners of the Nigerian sovereignty. The Russian leader, a former secret service officer, is known as the contemporary world's most notorious tyrant and anti-press politician.
The story of the attacks masterminded by the hierarchy of the Nigerian military against the Nigerian media sounds like the parable of the serial rapist who would not let his conscience call him to order, unless he is caught by the long arm of the law, else he continues in his acts of treachery and infamy. The Nigerian military tried as much as they could to explain away the massive undemocratic and unconstitutional attacks against specific media publications such as LEADERSHIP, NATION, PUNCH and later extended to all national newspapers by saying that it was just doing the routine “stop and search” for certain materials that would undermine national security. This explanation turns logic on its head because in a democracy, the accuser cannot be the prosecutor and judge in his own case. If that despotic scenario is allowed to be perpetuated, we can as well say good bye to anything we ever know as modern day democracy and civilisation. Section 22 of the Constitution clearly recognises the media as the conscience of the nation, and in section 39 guarantees freedom of information to all Nigerians. Therefore, the Nigerian military under any guise is not permitted legally to stop the circulation of any newspaper without a valid and binding order of a competent court of law in line with section 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 [as amended].
These atrocious criminal acts of media repression, which represents everything that is bad and despicable, was even explained by the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, who happened to be a former media person, as if he is not aware of the far- reaching implication of letting the military destroy and ruin the fourth estate of the realm.
The extent of rot that would follow the sinister attempts by the military to muzzle the press is that government of the day may have given authorisation for the institutionalisation of impunity, lawlessness and the resort to self-help, and this goes a long way to give further weapon to the evil practitioners of jungle justice. What will the Federal Government tell all those in the riotous crowd of irrational public who take delight in lynching any suspected criminal? At the last count in recent time, over two dozen suspected kidnappers have been lynched to death by riotous mobs without letting the law to take its full course. Now, with the rampage of the military against the media and the lazy justification being bandied by state officials, it goes without doubt that those who carry out jungle justice also have government backing. The other day the Director General of the National Orientation Agency was quoted in the media as allegedly praising the villagers who reportedly lynched some suspected armed insurgents. Any wonder then that these acts of lawlessness by the military have found willing allies in government?
If section 6 so validates the constitutional supremacy of the law court as the only independent arbiter in all disputes, why then will the government stand by and seek to justify these acts of infamy and injustice against the media? Again, as I had written above, the actions of the Nigerian military in stopping media houses from reaching their readers with their newspapers and at the same time bringing up some irrational and spurious arguments to justify these outrageous and primitive acts of mischief, is like the action of the serial rapist who while committing the atrocity of rape and sexual violation of the victim may be thinking that he is deriving maximum pleasure from this infamy, until he is either called to order by subjecting his crime against humanity to the heavyweight of the law; or he may as well continue in the atrocious act believing that might is right.
The Federal Government must stop justifying acts of irrational attacks against the media by the military because the implication is that if they succeed in muzzling the press, which is a strategic tool for sustaining the current democratic experiments, then they will go for the jugulars of the civilian administrators of Nigeria who were democratically elected. Sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as I said, are very clear on the fundamental freedoms guaranteed to both the media and the citizenry regarding freedom of information. The most interesting dimension of all these acts of treachery by the Nigerian military is that these criminal acts are all happening right under the nose of these same civilian leaders who were elected by the people in line with the Constitution, which is now being raped by the Nigerian military. It is to the credit of the current head of state that the legendary Freedom of Information Act materialised after several attempts failed under previous administrations in the last 15 years. Why is the current government allowing certain public servants in military uniform to rubbish the much esteemed legacy of this government? By the way, the military is also an institution and a creation of the Constitution and so I am shocked that in 21st Century Nigeria, the military seeks to take us back to the Medieval era when emperors elevated their selfish interests to the supreme laws of their respective constituencies.
The Federal Government must caution these military operatives to stop taking laws into their hands, and to seek legal redress, if they perceive that the media has violated any of their legal interest. But it is certainly not against national security interest for the media to focus on some acts of suspected corruption that may have happened in the military, since no institution in Nigeria is above the law. As an Igbo adage says: Please, let President Jonathan remove the hand of a monkey from the soup before it is misconstrued a human hand.
The media must be given their fundamental freedoms to carry out their constitutional duty by checkmating public officers, who should discharge their respective duties in line with the tenets and letters of the law and the Constitution, which is the grund norm of the land and which must be respected by all and sundry.
•RIGHTSVIEW appears twice a week on Wednesday and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).
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