Government Use of Extra Legal Measures Against Media Practitioners

GOVERNMENT USE OF EXTRA LEGAL MEASURES AGAINST MEDIA PRACTITIONERS A CASE STUDY OF SANI ABACHA

In writing  this work of study, efforts were made to search and college/ literature  that will help  the reader in understanding the project from sources like Newspapers and Magazines both at the National Library and offices of Tell Magazine, News watch, Guardian and Textbooks touched on relevant  issues  of the project.

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1.2     REVIEW

It will be germane and ideal while writing a project like this for one to embark on  some empirical studies as a way of  illuminating and bringing to the fore the idea behind the work. Several proponents of libertarian concept otherwise known as  free press have positioned that it is based on the premise that the media must a matter of principle be devoid of Official control.  Little wonder John Milton in his book “ Areopagitica “ 1644) made the contentions .

That  men are rational and capable of  distinguishing truth from falsehood. That in confrontation between truth and falsehood that the latter will succumb.      That those who have something to say should be given the right, chance  and freedom to say it.  And that government should keep away from the content between truth and falsehood.

 

Thomas Jefferson, a great proponent of libertarian philosophy and American Nationalist, significantly quipped that “ If given the opportunity to choose between government without the press and press without government  that  he will not hesitate to choose the latter.  He went ahead to state that with free and sufficient press, the right , liberties and privileges of individuals are guaranteed than   is the case  in some countries where freedom of the press and the people are not assured by government.

(Thomas Jefferson, 3rd United States President)

 

Back home in Nigerian, we can appreciate the fact that  reasonable number of Nigerians have come to realize the importance of press freedom.  Ken Oknokwo in his book (The history of Nigerian Press) said “Freedom of Speech is enshrined in the constitution enjoins journalists to uphold public accountability  of government.  Yet where the  acts of corruption are proved in facts and in truth, journalist  is harassed by  agencies of the Hate, not because they told lies, but because he told the  truth.  He continued  that, it is in this regard that  a law is needed to project him  from undue harassment from doing  what the supreme law asks him  to do.

In a motion  exparte filed on behalf News watch chiefs, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed, Sani Fawehinmi said “ I know the government tricks in matters of fundamental human rights”  He further  affirmed that “ while you are blatting in one court to secure the release of a defame,   the government  would take him to an obscure court in  order to obtain some legitimacy  for his continued detention.  This however, goes to show the brutality of the government  on the  press.

 

Ekpu, Agbese and Mohammed wanted a  declaration in their application  for lease to enforce  their fundamental human right that their arrest was wrong, illegal, unconstitutional and  a violation of their human rights and people’s right (Ratification and enforcement) Act cap 10, laws of the federal Republic of Nigeria 1990.

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According to Nobel Laureate, professor Wole Sopinka, in a speech on behalf  of editor in- chief Tom  magazine  who was jailed on a trump charge,  in London, April 31, 1998, during the presentation ceremony of UNESCO said, “The testimony left no doubt whatever that  journalist as a group,  have borne the heaviest brunt of Abacha’s barbarity and their plight serves to underline the predicament of the average Nigerian  today.

 

Under Abacha dispensation, when journalists are released from detention, the parting words  of their torturers were; well we hope you have learnt your lessons;  we will  let you go this time, but the next time you will be wasted (UNESCO1998).

 

In his words, William Orme, committee  on projection of journalists (CPJS)  executive director wrote Abacha to denounce the deportation  of Gerald Brooks, The wall street journal and the detention of News watch editors, he was of the view that “ Their detention appears a mark of return to the pattern of repression of free speech  familiar under the former  head of state (President Ibrahim Babangida).

 

With the release of three journalists  in May  and the replacement of seven others, it is obvious  that press freedom is still a distant each  in the wilderness”.  Osifo whiskey on his release from the Abacha Sukg

(Tell: May 11, 1998).

More than 19 journalists are still in lists in indicative of what is happening to public citizens, you can separate the journalist from the public, Kaduna Kerina, the programmes Director  for Committee on protection of journalists (CPJs) in Africa (Newswatch May 18, 1998)

 

Lanre Arogundaed, Chairman Lagos State Council of NUJ, had in the statement issued by journalists for Democratic Right (JODER) said “ Our colleagues are constantly harassed, detained imprisoned by government and its agents.

To reveal the secret sides of the government can cost one his life.  In Feb3, 1997, Tell magazine reported “Two journalist lost in transit”  In his words Babafemi Ojudu, one of the editors of the News said concerning this issue that Kaltho (one of the missing journalists) is a captive of the junta (Abacha).

 

Journalists have however, familiarized themselves  with harsh treatments and unfriendly environment they face during military era.  Their disappoint lies on the fact that judiciary  turned against them when they hoped on  it as a recourse for hope  and justice.

Akmrimade after Oni Okapku’s judgment said “It  was from the fact that it was not  the military government detaining them in such a manner now,  but  someone from the judiciary which is supposed to be the last hope of the common man.

Nevertheless, blame should not be solely apportioned to Oni Okpaku, hence all forms of government states the nature and coloration of the government within which at  operated.  Oni- Okapku’s judgment  look place within the period of Gen Abacha as commander- in –chief

Some people however, had talked  on how  the press can be reconciled to the government.

Onagornwa on this said “Rather than resort to Unorthodox methods of dealing  with the press,  government should seek redress in court of law

Ralph Akmfeleye, head of department of mass communication, University  of Lagos, sees  the reaction  of the government as a renege on its pledge not to arrest journalists any longer as said by  Jerry Gana, the information and culture minister at a workshop on the press. Gana said “As a government are resolve that we are not going to use the hammer, harass or interfere in the operations  of any media organization.  The position of the government he continued is that self regulation is the best way and we like Nigerian press  to regulate itself”.

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He further disclosed that if anyone is waiting for this government to change its tactics    and begin to close down media houses,  harass media practitioners, then you have to wait for too long.  We are not going to do that.

 

Ralph Aknofeleye, says he was “grossly  disappointed at the acts of  intimidation he described the harassment of journalists  as “old –fashioned” and very dangerous for a government that  is seeking legitimacy and acceptability.”

The harassment and hostility of Abacha junta towards TELL Magazine  was indeed an affair almost  as old as the regime itself.  In January 2, 1994, Sate security service (S.S.S) seized 50,000 copies of the  magazine from their respective printer.  The junta then was just a little more than a month in office.  Spokesmen of the regime Olu Ornaornwa, then Attorney general and minister of justice, Jerry  Gana, minister of information and culture, chief David Atlah, Chief press secretary to the junta    told an  outraged nation  that the seizure was unauthorized and must have been embarked upon by over-zealous security operatives who were yet to known that Abacha’s regime was different from the old “oppressive administration of IBB.

There sized edition was titled “RETURN of TYRANNY: Abacha Bares His Fangs”

George Mba was arrested by the men of the Directorate of Military Intelligence and was eventually tried for an interview he had with Army Public Relations director.  He  was sentenced to  life imprisonment and later it  reduced to 15 years imprisonment for what  the authorities claimed  was his role in allege coup plot”    There were also cases of mysterious killings, and we are not unmindful of the fact that Abacha regime found much love in extra- legal measures and brutal relations against perceived  opponents leading Newspaper houses were proscribed on flimsy charges of stock- piling arms critical media houses became the target of sanctions and facesless arsonists.  In the circumstance, the public and the families of those  whose rights were tramped upon and dehumanized  should not look too far for the perpetrators.

 

During the regime under review came the resurrection of decree No. 43 of 1993 which established Newspaper Registration Board (NRB) which has been declared unconstitutional, none and void in a suit filed by guardian  Newspaper.  The decree required Newspaper organization for registration and re-registration with two hundred and fifty thousand naira (N250,000) non-refundable before it  can seek for registration.  (Tell July 17, 1995) of course the decree was opposed by Nigerian press organization (NOP) comprising Nigerian Union  of Journalists  (NUJ), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and National Association of Advertising of Nigeria (NAAN).

 

Guardian and punch that were deproscribed by Abacha’s regime immediately he came to power were later proscribed after dome months by order of Decree 7.

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These newspapers returned to news- stand after 15 months of proscription which was an enormous financial loss and hardship too their employees.

(Tell, October 30, 1995, pg. 32)

The regime under review went too far in use of extra- legal measures to gag and muzzle the press in order to  silence it.  Trump-up-charge were used which range from newspaper premises being used to stone arms and ammunition (Newswatch, June 2, 1995  pg. 35).  On the 15th August, 1994, Guardian Newspaper, Guardian on Sunday, African Guardian were sealed off because of allegation of its write up about the June 12 annulled presidential election.  The proscription lasted for six months,  on December 12, 1994, when they were due to be deproscribed, the federal government extended the proscription  for six months.  On September  1994, the administration prohibited proscribed from circulation about sixteen (16) publication of guardian, concord and punch via decree 6, 7  and 8  respectively for  initial period of six months after which the proscription and subsequent renewal Ten (10)

Journalists of the proscribed media organization according to the Lagos state council of Nigeria union of journalists (N.U.J) have since died of sheer frustration. (Vanguard February 28, 1996)

 

Apart from legal limitations, government of Gen –Abacha  was bent  on using all available measures to  suppress the press from keeping the public abreast of events within  their environment.  Press under this regime went through ordeal and trauma Abacha when he took over power on November 17, 1993, in his maiden broadcast of Nigerian did say that his relationship with the press will be cordial, because according to him, the press is going to play greater role  in national construction, rehabilitation  and reconciliation as well as national development in the country.  As a way of implementing what he professed, he described some of the media houses that were closed by Babangida regime.  These are Punch Newspaper, National  concord, Guardian Newspaper.  The Sketch and Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation.

With this act of magnanimity, the press thought that he meant well but the song changed and the real Abacha was unveiled when the acclaimed winner of June 12, 1992 election MKO Abiola decided to claim his mandate as shown by the electorates.

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