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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.