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Friday 9 February 2018

Editorial: The Press, Freedom of Information Act, Regime Corruption In Nigeria And The Rest Of Us

By Chukwuemeka Chimerue || Chief Editor, The Biafra Times

February 9, 2018

Hmm! It’s been long since I last issued an editorial. I’ve been engrossed mainly on eventful reports, editings and sometimes investigating on things that concerns me. However, following events these past few weeks has made it become necessary we don’t allow some matters go down the wrong path — matters which includes trying to gag the media by those unscrupulous elements employed with our public funds and taxations to monitor the social media, wanton arrests and persecution of dissent speakers, media aides and all those whom in one way or another, do not agree with the tyrannical administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. Also part of these disturbing events is the alleged employment of international media consultants by Lai Mohammed’s Ministry of Information, possibly to help them in the continued dissemination of falsehood, and deception against the common citizens and those ever willing to expose their atrocities.

It’s hard not to feel greatly assaulted by these many occurrences of late: primary of which is orchestrated by government agencies. Assaulted? A dictionary defines the word as “an act or an attempt to do bodily injury to another or an instance of unlawfully threatening or attempting to injure another.” Injury in this instance may also be psychological.

For the members of the pen fraternity who are abreast with the situation, it was no surprise that the current regime would go extra miles in trying to tame or curtail the lenght of exposure of its numerous scandalous rights abuses, short-sightedness, corruption, incompetency, utter disregard to the rule of law, amongst other regime atrocities against the citizens and society at large, for the wider world to see.

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However, many pundits and event observers have rightly said that Nigeria is ruled today by ignorance because the press leaves much to be desired. They have severally bemoaned the lacklustre quality of investigative reporting in the Nigerian media space, noting that the press has failed to capitalize on the passage of the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA. They further argued that the quality of investigative reporting should have increased since the Act was passed into law as the nation abounds with many talented and courageous journalists for whom the FOIA will be a great benefit.

But of course, those views however sensible and accurate they appear to be, has been seriously breached and trampled upon by the desperate gagging, interference and persecution of members of the Press by this present administration that only a handful of courageous journalists could withstand its overbearing tyranny.

In trying to conceal its corrupt activities, human rights violation and other heinous vices, the federal government has employed and deployed every possible methods in making sure the international community do not get to understand the real situation on ground, including setting up monitoring agents on the social media, bribing social media experts and workers to block sensitive posts from users and also contracting both local and international media gurus to dissipate or neutralize the effect of exposure of their crimes against the citizens, even when series of evidential videos and pictures abound.

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We have witnessed in recent times, the travails and persecution of dissent voices such as the likes of the former aviation minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, the media aide of the former military Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida, et al, in the hands of government official only because they disagreed with the style of bad leadership of the administration. All these anomalies contributes to the illegal subjugation and breach of the freedom of individuals, press, exercising their inalienable rights to speech, information and expression.

It also cannot be forgotten in a hurry, the irresponsible and gestapo-style invasion and seizure of some media gadgets belonging to members of the press at the Nigerian Union of Journalists’ Secretariat in Umuahia by some rampaging Nigerian soldiers during the heat of their operation, tagged Python Dance, last year. Often times, media persons are barred from gaining access to certain places they are supposed to receive information from.

One, therefore wonders if all these unlawful assaults on the press/media, sometimes using the military, is what should be obtainable in a society taunted to uphold civil and democratic principles. But alas, Nigeria as a lawless entity which neglects even its own laws, is full of absurdities.

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Biodun Jeyifo; an emeritus professor of English at Cornell University, New York, United States, in one of his lectures, highlighted the dangerous effect of corruption, which has eaten deep into the fabric of the Nigerian society. He regretted that though the present administration came into power by riding on the back of its anti-corruption crusades, the incidence of corruption had increased in the country, a phenomenon he adduced to the slap-in-the-wrist punishment meted out on the corrupt. He described a scenario where corrupt officials of the present administration are being shielded from prosecution as sectional, irresponsible and insincerity on the acclaimed fight against corruption.

According to him, “There’s corruption everywhere in the world but what makes the Nigerian case different is because the corrupt do not only rub their actions in the faces of the public but they also never get punished.”

Buttressing his point, the University of Ibandan-trained scholar noted that corrupt officials go as far as winning elections in spite of their past atrocities. He stressed that the FOIA was being underutilised noting that politicians should be held accountable.

“I readily accept the fact though, that not all our politicians and political parties are corrupt and mediocre but I do think that a great majority of them are fundamentally pre-disposed to being corrupt and being mediocre. This is not because they are necessarily or inherently corrupt or mediocre, it just happens that this is the prevailing order or sequence that they know,” he said.

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However, there is need to point out at this juncture that corruption was not the exclusive preserve of the ruling class, it has also trickled down to other sectors of the Nigerian society, including the media. Little wonder today we witness the decay and decline in all these sectors.

Suggesting a way out, I would likely call on all well-meaning citizens, including members of the press, to employ the FOIA to force leaders to be accountable. No matter the height of intimidation or persecution, we must always strive to employ all means possible in exposing many regime atrocities against humanity. Members of the media are tasked to use the FOIA to investigate and expose the lifestyle of presumed corrupt politicians. Other members of the public must also learn to furnish the press with veritable information that could help in making the society better.

Nigerians deserved the right to know how they are governed, a vital component of democracy was the accountability of public officials. Members of the press also should step up investigations on issues hidden from the society. They should shun indiscriminate bribing and unhealthy influence from the political class.

The Biafra Times
Publisher: Chijindu Benjamin Ukah
Contact us: [email protected]

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