Arrest of the Sun editor: A Trojan FOIA

Badamasi S. Burji

Nigeria has been described as the most dangerous place in Africa, after Somalia, for journalists. In its latest survey dated May 2, 2013, the reputable international media advocacy organization – the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), revealed that due to increasing anti-press violence and persecutions, especially by government officials and security agencies, “Nigeria has emerged as the most dangerous place in Africa, after Somalia, for journalists”.

It is unfortunate that Nigerian leaders, especially the politicians at various tiers of government across the country, have failed to learn from history. Successive administrations in the country – military and civilian, have never hidden the unwarranted and undeserved disdain they have for the helpless, hapless and defenceless journalists in the country.Those in government have cultivated the habit of not regarding and treating journalists as patriotic partners-in-progress.

The authorities at various levels are yet to realise that the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, being the traditional arms of government, also require the unflinching support and co-operation of the journalists (Fourth Estate of the Realm) to succeed in their respective official engagements.It is unfortunate and saddening that almost 53 years after independence, Nigerian leaders, government officials and security agencies still have the age-long perception that journalists are their enemies that should be harassed, attacked, arrested, jailed and even killed while performing their lawful duties.
At various times in the past, many journalists suffered in the hands of wicked security operatives and power-drunk influential government officials.For no justifiable reasons, many journalists have been attacked and seriously injured by security operatives while on official duties. Some journalists have been maimed or even killed during the process. Our worry is that just last week policemen from the Abia State Command stormed the Surulere, Lagos residence of Mr. Ebere Wabara, The Sun Associate Editor and Special Assistant on Media to former governor of Abia state, Dr. Uzor Orji Kalu, and whisked him away.

Adanna Wabara, a mother of two kids aged eight and six years, respectively, said between 6.30 and 7.00a.m, her husband had gone downstairs to take something from his car.According to her,“shortly after, I heard him shouting, and I ran downstairs.  I saw between seven and eight men, who said they were policemen.  They said he needed to follow them to Umuahia, that there was a petition against him for sedition.
“They took us back into the house, one of them brought out an identity card, showing that he was a policeman. They requested to search our bedroom.  They did, and collected my husband’s laptop and telephone. They took him to Sholoki Police Station but later they had moved him away. His phones could not be reached, and he had not eaten.”

The Sun Publishing Limited sees the abduction of Mr Wabara obviously on the orders of the Abia state Commissioner of Police, Mr Adamu Ibrahim, and perhaps under the further instruction of the state governor, Chief T. A. Orji, as a throwback to the dark days of military dictatorship, when might was right, and the strong trampled on the weak. If Mr Wabara infringed any law, we would have expected the police to invite him to answer questions, and then charge him to court.

Those entrusted with the upholding of the law are not expected to trample on others.  This is what the policemen from Abia State have done, and it runs contrary to the code of conduct for policemen as espoused by the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Dikko Abubakar.The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), on Saturday called on the Nigeria Police to release the associate editor. Governor Orji of Abia clearly shows that Nigeria is still in its undemocratic periods. After about 15 years of uninterrupted democracy, we are yet to move away from the anti-democratic practices that characterized former military regimes.

However this reminds me to ask where is honourable minister Labaran Maku who just few months ago confidently addressed the members of Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) in Asaba, the Delta state capital. He said that the Nigeria Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is one of the legacies that the Jonathan administration needs every journalist always to cherish and remember. While the honourable minister is busy portraying the good side of the government, this recent arrest and detention runs contrary to common sense and the law.

This portrays a government that makes mockery of the freedom of expression and democracy when they encourage a culture of impunity and lawlessness against the media.No responsible government should be seen arresting and detaining its citizens indiscriminately.It is unfortunate that the government of Abia had openly shown its bias in this case as everything conceivable is being done to frustrate the release of Wabara. We are cautioning leaders on engaging in such acts of impunity. Release Wabara unconditionally and the time to stop such acts of impunity is long overdue.

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