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Freedom of speech-concerns

By Donu Kogbara
A COUPLE of weeks ago, a group of Nigerian public commentators, intellectuals, activists and writers wrote an open letter in which they expressed – to President Muhammadu Buhari – deep concern over “what appears to be an increase in harassment by security services of journalists going about their work.”

Dapo Olorunyomi and Evelyn Okakwu after being freed from arrest

The letter was signed by Kadaria Ahmed, Kayode Ogundamisi, Pius Adesanmi, Sonala Olumhense, Akin Adesokan, Okey Ndibe, Moses Ochonu, Farooq Kperogi, Lola Shoneyin, Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, and Okechuckwu Nwanguma.

The letter highlighted the recent arrest and detention of Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, the publisher of the Premium Times news website (after plain clothes security personnel had raided his office).

Complaints were also made about the fact that the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, was detained on a spurious allegation shortly after he arrived in Nigeria from the United States. The worrying arrests of Abu Siddiqi and Ahmed Salkida, were also mentioned.

The authors of the letter reminded the President that a free press “is central to democracy and its mandate as assigned in section 22 of the Nigerian constitution includes that of being watchdog on all aspects of governance while advancing democracy and promoting the building of a just and equitable society.”

Then they added that: “We are particularly disturbed by the fact that a democratically elected government appears ready to trample all over the media when it carries out its duties as stipulated in the constitution. This document is the same one that confers legitimacy and authority  on you and the office you hold.”

And that the Nigerian constitution contains provisions for libel and slander laws that were “designed to hold the press to account if they fail in their responsibility of taking care and doing their job diligently. We expect the security services, who after all are the custodians of our laws, to lead by example by respecting these laws.”

The signatories condemned “a disturbing trend that suggests not just an attempt to criminalize the important work that journalists in Nigeria do, but also a drive to frighten and cow  and  stop  this  critical constitutionally mandated work  through the aggressive  use of  the state security apparatus.”

They went on to describe the above developments as an abuse of office and to urge Mr President to explicitly declare a belief in the importance of freedom of the press, instruct Nigeria’s security operatives to stop hassling journalists and …” insist that in cases where the police believe  a crime has been committed that they respect the law and the constitution and make arrests and charge suspects to court in a timely and transparent manner that will enable the public assess the legitimacy of the charges.”

Ms Ahmed and her co-signatories have yet to receive any response from the Presidency. This silence is very unfortunate. I recall Ms Ahmed campaigning for Buhari during the run-up to the 2015 election; and I’d have thought that she of all people would receive speedy and respectful feedback if she ever felt a need to express concerns about the media’s relationship with the Buhari administration.

Southern CJN

HOT off the Premium Times website: The Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, has appealed to Nigerians not to pressure President Muhammadu Buhari into appointing him the substantive Chief Justice. Mr. Onnoghen made the appeal in a statement by his media aide, Awassam Bassey.

Buhari has come under criticism for not submitting Mr. Onnoghen’s name to Senate for confirmation as substantive chief justice, almost three months since he was appointed in acting capacity. The National Judicial Council had earlier recommended Mr. Onnoghen to President Buhari to be the substantive chief justice of Nigeria.

Pemium Times reported how Mr. Onnoghen’s role as Acting Chief Justice will lapse on February 10 after which Mr. Buhari might be unable to submit his name to the Senate again based on a constitutional provision.

Several lawyers and activists have since condemned the President for not submitting Mr. Onnoghen’s name and not addressing Nigerians on reasons for his inaction. On Thursday, influential statesman, Abubakar Umar, advised the NJC not to submit any other name to the President should he fail to submit Mr Onnoghen’s name to the Senate as appropriate.

“Already, many analysts view this action as a ploy to deny a southerner his right to succession based on his seniority in keeping with the appointment protocol observed by the NJC in making the appointment,” Mr. Umar, a retired colonel, said.

Yet again, the Presidency fails to respond satisfactorily to legitimate queries. Poor Onnoghen is trying his best to be diplomatic and mature. Bravo to Abubakar Umar, a northerner, for standing up for Onnoghen and being so ethnically objective.

NDDC

LAST week, I blamed some of the failures of the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) on interference from people who do not come from the Niger Delta (for example, northern grandees who collect contracts from the NDDC). Vanguard reader, Prince Amatari Bipeledei (08037115639), felt moved to comment:

The problem of NDDC is not lack of funds but greed and poor management by those saddled (the Board) with the responsibility of carrying out the vision and mission… Contracts aimed at changing the region are awarded to their proxies, cronies and pseudo companies. And these contracts are not executed.

Another factor is interference from the greedy politicians from the Niger Delta and political appointees of the Presidency. We have in several publications called for the probe of NDDC because NDDC is stinking and the fight against corruption by Mr President cannot be complete until NDDC has been probed.


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