As the trial of the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, continues at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Danladi Umar, has advocated for the return of Decree No 2.
Speaking at the end of Tuesday’s proceedings, Umar, who has repeatedly made unguarded statements in the past, stated that “journalists should be punished” for publishing falsehood,”it is a criminal offence.”
” If not that we are under a democratic setting, I would have advocated for the retention of Decree No. 2,” he added.
Recall that during the military administration of General Muhammadu Buhari, Decree Number 2 gave the Chief of Staff at Supreme Headquarters the power to detain for up to six months without trial anyone considered a security risk.
At the time, special military tribunals increasingly replaced law courts while the state security agency, the National Security Organisation, were given greater powers.
The regime also jailed its critics, as in the case of, afro-beat king Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. He was arrested on 4 September 1984 at the airport as he was about to embark on an American tour. Using the wide powers bestowed upon it by Decree Number 2, the government sentenced Fela to five years in prison.
In 1984, Buhari passed Decree Number 4, the Protection Against False Accusations Decree, considered by scholars as the most repressive press law ever enacted in Nigeria. Section 1 of the law provided that “Any person who publishes in any form, whether written or otherwise, any message, rumour, report or statement […] which is false in any material particular or which brings or is calculated to bring the Federal Military Government or the Government of a state or public officer to ridicule or disrepute, shall be guilty of an offense under this Decree”. The law further stated that offending journalists and publishers will be tried by an open military tribunal, whose ruling would be final and unappealable in any court and those found guilty would be eligible for a fine not less than 10,000 naira and a jail sentence of up to two years.
Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor of The Guardian were among the journalists who were tried under the decree.
Danladi said this in response to articles that appeared in some section of the media last week that the trial of the Senate President was adjourned indefinitely.
It is noteworthy that the CCT Chairman is an extension of the Presidency and his words today have sent a strong signal that the administration of President Buhari, who was at the helm of affairs when this decree was introduced 30 years ago might be coming back.