On Friday, March 28, 2014, I was taken aback when I first read on the Facebook wall of a Port-Harcourt based media consultant and writer, Odimegwu Onwumere about the arrest of Mr. EbereWabara, a veteran journalist and associate editor with the Sun Newspaper, in a Gestapo-like manner that easily reminds one of the military era.
According to Onwumere, who spoke with the wife of the senior editor and English grammar expert, police officers from the Abia State Police Command stormed the Lagos residence of Wabara in the early hours of the day, and arrested him supposedly on the orders of Abia State Governor, Theodore Orji, without due recourse to the canons of democracy.
Wabara was said to have been whisked away to Umuahia in Abia State, where he was detained and later on bail, after the intervention of the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar. The release of Wabara did not come without serious condemnation of the action of the police officers from individuals and different groups in the country.
The Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) were quick to decry the molestation of one of their own and asked for his immediate and unconditional release. The likes of Femi Falana, the human rights lawyer, Richard Akinola, a lawyer and journalist, Igho Akeregha, acting president of Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO and Hon. Victor AfamOgene, Deputy Chairman, House of Reps Committee on Media and Publicity, all added their voices in knocking the action of the policemen, describing it as undemocratic, unlawful and appalling.
Some legal pundits have argued that the Law of sedition is a relic of imperial rule that died with colonialism and was buried with it thereafter. Commenting on the status of the law of sedition in Nigeria, foremost constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), said the Court of Appeal repealed the law over two decades ago.
His words: “Sedition is a colonial law, which went away with colonialism. It was a law meant to protect the government from being brought into disrepute. Now we have a constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. As such, the law of sedition can’t co-exist with the provisions of the constitution on freedom of speech and expression. The Court of Appeal declared over 20 years ago that sedition has ceased to exist and that is the way it must be.”
In 2006, a similar incident had occurred where two journalists, GbengaAruleba of African Independent Television (AIT) and RotimiDurojaiye of Daily Independent were charged with sedition over a presidential jet story during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
Durojaiye had published a piece on June 12, 2006 with the caption: “Controversy over age, cost of presidential jet.” Durojaiye who is now the Editor of the newspaper said research by Daily Independent showed that the government had bought a five-year-old aircraft from the German carrier Lufthansa and not a new jet directly from Boeing, as it claimed. Aruleba was joined in the sedition charge for making the Daily Independent article the subject of discussion the following day in his national talk show programme on AIT.
In a publication captioned: “Who is Afraid of Sedition?” written to condemn the action of Obasanjo’s regime then, Reuben Abati, a highly respected journalist and popular critic of government activities at that time (now on the side of government) said: “Sedition, the law under which two journalists and two media houses, GbengaAruleba and RotimiDurojaiye are currently being tried at an Abuja Federal High Court is a relic of colonial rule, a tool of tyranny, and a dead law, duly pronounced so by the courts, whose reinvention is a comment not on the practice of responsible journalism but on the growing resort of the Obasanjo administration and the ruling PDP to a culture of intolerance that is completely antithetical to democratic norms…”
It is important for those in charge of governments at all levels in the country to know that we are now in an era where citizens are very much free to exercise their fundamental human rights as enshrined in the constitution. As noted by Lagos lawyer and Alternative Dispute Resolution Practitioner, Valentino Buoro, “if the government feels so much injured in its reputation, it should file a libel suit against the journalist and his publishers and allow an independent court to adjudicate on the matter. Battering, starvation and dehumanization in any form do no good to the democratic credentials of an elected government.”
Jegede wrote from AbujaNo tags for this post.