May 19, 2024

I don’t think this govt has bad human rights record —Ubani, ex-NBA Vice Chairman

Monday Ubani, Twitter ban

Monday Ubani

•Says rights of citizens must be respected

By Dickson Omobola

A former National Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Monday Ubani, in this interview, speaks on the clampdown on journalists and the need for the government to respect the rights of citizens among other issues.

On publications

A lot of things are happening about the abuse of people on the internet. With each passing day, the abuse becomes much worse. Sometimes, some of these publications are done without verification and finding out the other side of the story.

Many online journalists publish stories with terrible headlines. When arrested, they begin to complain. The principle of balanced journalism states that journalists should seek clarification from an individual before publishing.

Yet, because of the internet, what we have now is that people publish stories without recourse to giving an opportunity to the individual against whom they intend to publish. This practice has resulted in law enforcement agents having them arrested. As a result, they start begging.

Long detention

I don’t like the long detention of an accused person or citizen. What I have always advocated is that if anyone is arrested, the police should investigate expeditiously and charge that person to court instead of detaining the person without conviction. I believe that anybody alleged to have committed a crime is presumed to be innocent until proven otherwise.

Cyber Crime Act

Now, there is a Cyber Crime Act that says it is an offence to cyberstalk, and publish terrible things against anybody. The way people now react to people’s opinions on social media can be very nauseating. It is not healthy to use abusive words for people when communicating, particularly on social media. If somebody says something with which you do not agree, you can intelligently respond to that person. Give clarification to what you think is the right thing. It is not right to abuse the person and make all manner of allegations without evidence.

If any person is alleged to have committed a crime, especially under the Cyber Crime Act, I advise that the person is immediately arraigned and given a chance to defend himself. As responsible Nigerians, we must be very careful about the way we use social media to destroy public officers.

I have handled so many cases that bother human rights, but I also do not want a situation where people take undue advantage of the law. It is improper to abuse and violate the rights of other people because the law provides freedom for certain things. However, I agree that those who are alleged to have committed a crime must be investigated. If there is any allegation against them, they should also be tried promptly. Before going to press to publish anything against government officials, it behoves the individual to ensure the facts are correct.

I have defended people who were incarcerated. I have also found out that oftentimes most information written about persons is not correct and it gave that person the room to invoke the security agencies to arrest. The Cyber Crime Act was passed through the National Assembly. All of us are aware that before it was passed, it went through public hearing.

It means that we agreed that there are legal consequences for anything that maligns an individual or destroys an individual’s reputation without evidence. But, it also doesn’t mean that anyone who has committed a crime should be kept in indefinite detention. The person should be charged to court and allowed to explain himself and whatever he has published. Where did he get what he published? Is this correct? Is there evidence to prove his allegations? These are questions the individual should be allowed to answer in court because whoever alleges must prove. It is wrong to make any categorical statement against somebody without any fact or proof.

That person must be allowed to provide proof because if he doesn’t, there are consequences. We must not malign, we must not tell lies or cyber stalk any person because we have access to the media or social platforms.

This administration came into office with a promise to respect human rights. What can you say about its democratic credentials?

This administration has not done badly. We have not had any issues of disobedience to court orders as we used to. I don’t think they have a bad record, although there are some excesses on the part of security agencies. I can’t attribute those excesses to the government because most of the things are done without the knowledge of the executive.

If we want to respect the rule of law, if we want to respect fundamental human rights, our policemen require some level of training to understand that every citizen is entitled to their rights including those who are alleged to have committed a crime. As for the government, in trying to balance rights and obedience to the rule of law, we have not had flagrant disobedience to court orders. Nevertheless, to whom much is given, much is required. They still need to do more to ensure that security agencies do not take laws into their own hands.

How do you think the international community, especially the world powers who take human rights seriously, see us with what has happened and the potential consequences? And what does this do to free speech and media rights?

International bodies will be watching to see where the government has erred or where those people alleged to have been arrested may have erred. I may not be in a position to speak on what their feelings are, but I also think that we must try as much as possible to practise responsible journalism. At the same time, the government must try as much as possible to respect the rights of citizens.

In doing that, they must ensure that whoever is alleged to have committed a crime is allowed to defend himself in court. If not given an opportunity and put in detention without trial, the government will be disrespected by the international community. The international community won’t like that.

What is your advice to the media and Nigerians generally stemming from these incidents?

Both government and citizens should know that we are all citizens of Nigeria. The government should try as much as possible to give the people dividends of democracy. Citizens also must be alert and hold the government accountable. The government must also be responsible to the people.

There must be reciprocal responsibility on the part of the people in doing their duty, including paying taxes, obeying laws and encouraging the government to succeed. It is mutual. The only thing that can make the country grow is where there is respect, mutuality and understanding between the citizens and government.