By Tonnie Iredia
The Chairman of Nigeria’s Code of Conduct Tribunal CCT, Danladi Umar was for wrong reasons in the news for much of last week. Interestingly, the issue at stake had nothing to do with his assignment of determining the level of adherence of public officers to the official code of conduct required of them. Instead, the story was about his interaction in a market-place, with one Clement Sargwak, a security guard at the Banex Plaza in Abuja.
Umar had gone there in his private capacity as a citizen to transact some business which ended up in a case of assault. Several analysts who have dwelt extensively on the story have placed sufficient focus on blame game, making it superfluous to further engage in a rehash of that line of thought. What is yet to be done, is to enumerate the effects of the story on our nation’s growth and development. This is precisely what this piece seeks to do today in the hope that some useful lessons can be learnt by us all.
The first and perhaps the most important issue which the story throws up is the inability of powerful Nigerians especially policy makers to comprehend and appreciate not just the power of the social media but the role it can play in reforming society. With increasing population and corresponding increases in societal activities, the under-equipped, under-staffed and under-remunerated conventional media can hardly cover a substantial portion of daily events.
Much of what happens in the country is thus under-reported. In which case,were it not for the social media, not many would have had the privilege of knowing what transpired at Banex Plaza last week. What this suggests is that contrary to the belief of many highly placed individuals, especially some legislators who have been anxious to make laws against what they see as the evils of the social media, the platform has its own advantages.
For its interactivity, portability, speed of information dissemination and international context, Nigeria certainly needs the social media. Of what use is any medium of communication which covers only segments of a few events that the people may, as a result of many challenges, never get to know about? Yet, ours is a developing society that is in dire need of public enlightenment. Indeed, but for the social media which enabled the instantaneous dissemination of how the entire Banex Plaza incident happened, denials, claims and counter claims would have completely rendered the event incomprehensible.
We can only hope therefore, that our leaders will begin to see the need to depart from the desire to kill the social media which in every other nation is employed as a veritable tool for development communication. This underscores this column’s earlier submission that replicating harsh regulations as well as increasing the powers of regulatory bodies can only impede information management, they can neither resolve nor alter the propensity for fake news.
The viewpoint that Nigeria’s current information management framework is probably not far above the stone age level is visibly represented by the press statement issued by the CCT to ‘inform’ Nigerians on the incident through a narration of the version of its boss. The statement left people to wonder about the briefing or induction course designed by the Ministry of Information for press officers assigned to government organizations.
At what point are they to speak and what format is devised for the statements they issue about their organizations and their activities? There are two speculations provided by the statement issued by Ibraheem Al-Hassan, the Head of the Press and Public Relations Unit of the CCT. The first is that the press officer is probably not a professional. The second is that in line with what happens in many parts of our country, where everyone thinks that the job of information management is an all-comers’ game, the press officer was told what to write and in fact how to write it, without regards for the absurdity that such statements may convey.
Another interesting dimension of the story is the light which it has thrown on what Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi state, rightly decried the other day as ethnic profiling. Attributing the source of conflict to those the Umar side described as ‘Biafran boys’ clearly illuminates the dangers of condemning one ethnic group because of the actions of one or a sub-group of the relevant ethnic category.
By resorting to profiling, the story-teller instinctively gave the impression that the disagreement was premeditated; and that the so-called Biafra boys knew the movement of the CCT boss and actually awaited his arrival to unleash an attack on him. If so, how often is such behaviour portrayed in that location and how many Umars have been so attacked to justify the generalisation? The truth in our considered opinion is that the incident was a petty conflict concerning the management of space in the crowded Plaza.
It has however served to remind us of the challenges of maintaining the Master Plan of Abuja. One of the factors which informed the decision to build a new federal capital was the intolerable congestion of Lagos- the old capital city. In the last few years, the fear that the congestion of Lagos can easily be surpassed has become a possibility that Abuja residents are imagining every day. Commercial businesses have sprung up so rapidly beyond what was planned for the spaces available. Banex Plaza and other locations now accommodate far more persons and activities than envisaged.
What happened to the CCT chair was an everyday occurrence to virtually anyone visiting the place where traffic control is left in the hands of young persons who have little regard for anyone. In the circumstance, it is likely that Sargwak, the guard may have been annoying rude to a big man who thinks his status can be used to alter the established order of human and vehicular movement anywhere, Banex Plaza inclusive. Hence the incident in which one of the parties inflicted injury on the other.
On the issue of law enforcement, the narrative was that the guard who happened to be the injured party was the one arrested by the police and held until a bail was granted.Who reported the matter to the police and how was guilt established to warrant the detention of Sargwak? If no one is surprised at the turn of events, what light does it throw on Nigeria’s type of rule of law? Who was the agent provocateur?
Who injured the other? Why was it only the guard and not the two parties that were summoned to the police station to write statements which can assist the police in its investigations? Answers to these questions are likely to confirm that the Banex Plaza incident is a typical true story of daily living in our clime in which there is hardly any room for accountability by the highly placed. To those who are unable to understand our type of democracy, the Banex Plaza incident is a sad reminder that the people who should be sovereign and ministered unto by those elected or appointed to serve them have remained for longer than makes sense, the object rather than the subject of democracy