Usmanu Dan Fodio (1954-1816) once etched his words on marble thus: “Conscience is an open wound; only truth can heal it.”
The Guardian newspaper adopted an abridged version of it as its slogan: “Conscience, nurtured by truth”. Confucius himself declared: “those who know the truth are not equal to those who love it”. Let us see more: “in a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act” – George Orwell; “truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away” – Elvis Presley; “there’s an old saying that if a lie is told often enough, it becomes the truth. Actually, it doesn’t. What happens is that people simply start believing that it’s true” – Bailey Jackson; “a lie is like a snowball, it starts off small and then grows and grows until a point where it’s so big, it falls apart and then the truth is discovered” – Chris Hughes; “standing courageously for an unpopular opinion is not easy, but the rewards of standing courageously for the truth will last forever” – Rick Warren.
History at work
These quotes take us to Obadiah Mailafia, his undenied statement about a sitting governor being a commander of the deadly sect, Boko Haram, and the government’s snappy kneel-jerk reaction, as always, when truth is involved. I still can’t understand this government, nearly five and a half years into its tenure. It denies obvious truth, and does so much éclat and propaganda that will make Adolf Hitler’s Joseph Goebbels green with envy from his cold grave. Goebbels (1897-1945) was a German Nazi politician and Third Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany (1933-1945). He was renowned for his anti-semitism and advocacy for the extermination of the Jews in the Holocaust. But when the chips were down, following Hitler’s suicide in a besieged bunker, Goebbels was made to serve as German Chancellor for a single day before he and his wife, Magda Ritschel Goebbels, poisoned their six children and also took their own lives.
NBC, Mailafia and Boko Haram
This brings me to the current issue of Ahmadu Bello and Oxford-trained Dr. Obadiah Mailafia (peace lover), where the former African Development Bank (ADB) official and deputy governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank had alleged in a radio interview that an unnamed sitting governor in the northern part of Nigeria was a commander of dreaded Boko Haram sect. Let me state right away that I detest hate speech and hate speech-makers, especially by unseen persons. Prof. Wole Soyinka, on Monday, December 5, 2016, in his Freedom Park, Lagos, conference, titled, “The green god and the idolatory of Mutantis”, variously (in much anger) after being unjustly attacked, referred to Internet hate speech-makers as “barbarians,” “illiterate bloggers,” “miscreants,” “some imbecile,” “slavish in mentality,” and “millipedes of the Internet, who crawl out at any excuse and leave a slime in their trail”.
So, in Mailafia’s exposition, there was immediate national bedlam. The DSS (Plateau State) promptly invited and grilled him for nearly seven hours, and let him off. Though he apologised for the national anxiety he caused, he said he never knew that his interview would go viral (quite naïve). He, however, maintained he had obtained his information in his village market from Fulani traders when he went to buy fonio (abacha). He said those peddling herder-farmer narrative over Boko Haram are “accessories to genocide.” He says he supports General T.Y. Danjuma’s earlier assertion that the Army colludes with Boko Haram perpetrators. He said Boko Haram had already infiltrated Southern Nigerian forests, and they said, “when they are done with villages, they will move to the cities and go after big personalities in their homes and lead them to war in the country. That was what I heard and I repeat it”. Mailafia was as clear as a whistle.
Surprisingly, the government, rather than embrace Mailafia and seek more information, or charge him to court, if it believed an offence had been committed, left the message for the messenger. It went for the jugular of Nigeria Info 99.3 FM radio station, Lagos, fining it N5 million for alleged “unprofessional conduct,” for lending its platform to “promoting unverifiable and inciting views that could encourage or incite crime and lead to public disorder”.
So many things are wrong with this government’s impulsive reaction, which the radio station should challenge in court. The National Broadcasting Commission claimed the station breached sections 3.1.1 and 3.1.2 of its code. The station is being punished for a broadcast that may lead to (but has not been shown to have actually led to) “public disorder or hate, be repugnant to public feelings” (section 3.1.1). No one has come forward to say his feelings were injured. If anything, Nigerians’ feelings have been lifted and balmed by this refreshing revelation. No one has shown any “public disorder or hate” allegedly occasioned by this speech. So, the government, like under Major-General (rtd) Buhari’s Decree No. 4 of 1984, is punishing future acts, future possibilities and even mere suspicion of future violence (not proven). The NBC said the fine was “expected to serve as a deterrent to all broadcast stations in Nigeria who are quick to provide platforms for subversive rhetoric and the exposition of spurious and unverifiable claims to desist from such”. I disagree. The fine is simply punitive and most unfair.
Even the Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF), through its chairman, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State, has since acknowledged the weighty nature of the allegations, and called on all citizens with useful information on the activities of criminals and terrorist groups to come to the government’s aid with such useful information. It said the allegation cannot be swept under the carpet and demanded for “immediate and thorough investigation”. So, what is Mailafia’s offence? What is the radio station’s offence? I cannot see any.
Even if Mailafia’s statement were false, was it legal, legitimate and moral for the same NBC, which made the code, to be the investigator, accuser, prosecutor, witness, judge, jury and jailer of the radio station, all at the same time? Why hide under hate speech (which, to me, is highly obnoxious and not supported by me), to attempt to conscript free speech space and muzzle genuine criticisms? This amounts to a violent violation of section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, which provides that “the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.”
The NBC’s reaction also violates section 39 of the same Constitution, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948; these and all other international human rights instruments, guarantee freedom of speech, and freedom to hold opinions, and receive and impact ideas, without let or hindrance.
How can a regulatory organisation (NBC) become the monitor-general that punishes a radio station at a time the very speech utterer (Maialafia) had been appropriately quizzed by the appropriate agency (DSS) and allowed home? What manner of duplicity and injustice is this? By the way, these provisions of the NBC Code are lower in hierarchy than a NASS Act, let alone the Constitution (the Kabiyesi, Eze, Emir, font et origo and grundnorm of our laws). To that extent, they are null and void and of no effect whatsoever, by virtue of section 1(3) of the Constitution. Not only is the fine unjustified, illegal and unconstitutional, it is also immoral and infradig that the NBC can constitute itself into the legislature (maker of the Code); the executive (investigator and prosecutor) and the judge (that convicted and imposed the fine). This violates section 36(4) of the 1999 Constitution, which enjoins that anyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent and tried before a competent court of law or tribunal set up in such a way as to secure its independence and impartiality. It also violates the hallowed doctrine of separation of powers ably propounded by a great French philosopher Baron de Montesquieu in 1748. How do you punish an organisation or person without any hearing, let alone a fair one, and a proper public trial?
The legal position as upheld by superior courts is that it is illegal for any regulatory agency to impose fines on anyone [NOSDRA V. EXXON MOBIL (2018) JELR 41137(CA)]. Indeed, once a person or organisation has been accused of a criminal offence, only a competent court of law, and not an administrative body, can try and convict such a person [DENLOYE V MEDICAL AND DENTAL PRACTITIONERS DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE (1968) 1 All NLR 306; GARBA V. UNIVERSITY OF MAIDUGURI (1986) All N.L.R. 149.]
It is most unfortunate that Mailafia’s headache was being made to afflict the Lagos radio station, rather than Mailafia, the owner of the head. A government should not be so jerky, edgy, spasmodic and and convulsive. If it believes it has performed well, it should exhibit more confidence and tolerance of plurality of voices.
Government’s strong arm and frequent gaffes
On April 30, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed deceased 59-year-old Tobias Chukwuemeka Okwuru, from Amudo, Ezza South LGA, Ebonyi State, into the Federal Character Commission, alongside 37 others.
Earlier, on December 30, 2017, Buhari had appointed five dead persons – Francis Okpozor, a senator in the Second Republic; Donald Ugbaja, a retired Deputy Inspector-General of Police; Ahmed Bunza, sole administrator of Jega Local Government Area of Kebbi State, Christopher Utov (former proprietor of Fidei Polytechnic, Gboko), and Kabir Umar (former Emir of Katagum in Bauchi State) – into various boards and parastatals. The living did not have these jobs. Rather than swallow pride and apologise to Nigerians over these gaffes (perhaps, inadvertent), his grovelling propagandists came out smoking to defend them.
On July 7, 2018, news broke out that Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, then Minister of Finance, had illegally obtained a forged NYSC Exemption Certificate, to get her ministerial appointment.
(To be continued)
Thought for the week
Everything has a price but nothing is costlier than your spoken words in hate and unspoken words in love.”
(P.S. Jagadeesh Kumar)