(Vanguard of Sunday, April 16, 2000)
Many are worried about what is going on. So many people speaking at the same time, saying so many different things. It is as if they just woke up yesterday to discover that they have been on the same boat with those they have never met, with those who should be gotten rid of so that they are not polluted.
So, many want to declare their national groups independent of the Nigerian arrangement. Some are modest enough to give the disintegration move a more palatable name – Confederation. Others do not want to hear anything about any new arrangement. How many times shall we have constitutions? One in 1960, one in 1963, one in 1979, one in 1989, attempted one in 1995, and one in 1999. Haba!
Then the complaints pour in. When the military were there, this could not have happened. When the military were there, there was no armed robbery; no rubbish from NEPA, no fuel queues! That is the Nigerian forgetting the past to run down the present. But the presence of the military has been explained many times to be tantamount to the existence of a state of emergency when all rights are suspended and due process goes to bed.
It cannot be said enough that those days should be seen to have gone forever and that we should learn what it is to embrace the democratic path. In my encounter with colleagues at the International Press Centre, about which I have written in the last two weeks, I discussed democracy and tried to say that it is not just INEC arranging an election and a party winning it.
Or that political parties are formed and they broadcast their primaries and conventions on satellite for the whole world to behold; or that elected officers take office and are heard and seen passing resolutions and threatening to impose their version of the budget on the President.
Democracy is a way life manifests in a polity to such extent that an environment is created to live and let live. This acceptance of ‘live and let live’ accommodates the enjoyment of certain basic freedoms that are associated with homo sapiens. That you are a human being automatically guarantees, for your use, these basic rights.
They are the gift from God to man and no one can or should take them away without due process. Some of these rights are contained in our Constitution, in Chapter 4 which deals with Fundamental Rights. These rights include the right to life and the right to dignity of the human person.
Democracy is the form of government most suitable for ensuring the protection of the rights. No other form of government has proved more resilient and suitable for the protection of the rights.
The world has tried dictatorships in different colourations and discovered that the management of people could not be adequately done unless the people themselves were part and parcel of that management. It has been and will always be very tempting for those in power to want to exercise it without consultation. But democracy works because there is that consultation.
Consultation is not a reaction to advertisements in the media. It may be part of it. But people must express themselves freely and openly. How else do you sustain a marketplace of ideas! It is a place where everyone has their say – the good, the bad and the ugly. The limitations of the exercise of these rights are defined and must be fully appreciated even before the exercise of the rights.
Since democracy works more effectively when there is acceptance of division of labour, there is likely to be an open clash among the operatives where interests conflict with duty.
The unfortunate thing is that the automatic narrowing of vision when issues affect operatives in the system, may lead to confrontations, the like of which blew open the other day when security agencies went to Thisday and were alleged to have shut it down. They said they were there to invite the chief executive to their office, and that they were armed with a warrant.
The newspaper had issued a statement to the effect that they were investigating certain materials which touched on some security operatives and people in government. Like happened when some policemen went to a newspaper house and invited the paper to see the police because they wrote about the Inspector-General of Police; like happened when the Senate of the National Assembly sent for Tell Magazine when they wrote about what Waku was said to have said, there is this tendency for those bodies or persons affected in media watch to bend over backwards and invite the media for `explanation` for no other visible reason than that the story in question affects them.
The Nduka Obaigbena saga, and it is going to be that where he has had to resign his position of editor-in-chief to clear his name, is one that must be thoroughly investigated. He seems to be saying that he is being hounded because he has material that touches on some persons in government.
The State Security Service (SSS) did the unusual by saying that there is some deadly thing they are investigating about Thisday, but that the immediate cause of their inviting the chief executive was that he ran up a bill in the United States and issued a cheque which was not honoured!
I was upset by the statement of the SSS. When has our state security outfit been turned into a debt collector for an American hotel?
Only the previous day, I was in court and heard someone complain that his client was demanding more than 890,000 American dollars from a Nigerian on behalf of his client in London. The judge had given them an opportunity to settle this matter and report on how payments would be made!
And here is our whole national security outfit invading a newspaper house and shutting it down because they invited one of their workers from whom an American hotel is expecting 23 thousand dollars!
Whether we like it or not, there is only one open medium for the consultation with the people and that medium is the press. The truth is that there can be no democracy without the press.
The success of a democracy is therefore easily identifiable from the measure of freedom of the press in the polity. That freedom itself is ascertainable from how much the press can control, professionally, its own internal operation of generating information, processing it and disseminating it.
Any attempt by anyone to interfere with any of the three stages of collection, processing and dissemination of information amounts to censorship. What material can security men be looking for in a newspaper house? We must learn the procedures for doing things in the new time. Any other way will continue to be called into question.
I have not been able to persuade myself that the presence of the security agents in Thisday premises, even with a warrant, was pushing for due process, especially when they themselves announced to the world that they were there to invite someone who had not paid his hotel bills!
What are lawyers in Nigeria here for, and why were all the cases being tried by tribunals on trade and financial mal-practices transferred to the Federal High Court and all the investigations handed over to the Nigeria Police?
(Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary, Vol. 1, pages 66 – 69)