WHEN FREEDOM IS THREATENED
Today, the 17th of August 2020 is worthy of note, in the negative, as a day freedom suffered a big blow and a sharp turn for Nigeria’s democratic journey, for on this day, my co-chair of the National Consultative Front, Rt. Hon. Ghali Umar Na’aba, and Dr. Obadiah Mailafia were invited by the Department of State Security (DSS) on Account of remarks they made. For Dr. Mailafia, it was a second journey within a week.
I am worried because history shows us that such invitations bear ominous foreboding. This is because Freedom of Expression is usually the first victim in the descent toward Totalitarianism. Check the trends in the early days of Hitler’s Germany, Nikolai Ceausescu’s Romania and Erich Honecker’s East Germany.
Much blood has been shed to prevent our country from the undeserved fate of a Totalitarian order. That blood flow includes that of General Shehu Musa Yar’adua, the young men who died protesting the annulment of the elections of the 12th June 1993, and the life of Chief MKO Abiola who we have come to honor posthumously, added to those of many undergraduates, like Kunle Adepeju at the University of Ibadan some 48 years ago. Had Adepeju not been shot by the police he probably would have been a Grandfather today. Should his grandchildren’s peers be denied the freedom he gave his life for? His cause brought me to the street in public protest for the first time in my life.
That these security harassments of citizens exercising their fundamental human rights to express themselves and request accountability from those who ostensibly represent them is coming exactly one month to the day the United Nations set aside, September 15, to mark International Democracy Day, leads me to call on the global community, from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the prosecutors of the International Criminal Court, and our development partners to note developments in Nigeria and prepare to act appropriately.
I also want to invite Nigerians, across all divides, to rise to citizenship and to send a clear message to power that the Nigerian people will not brook a return to dictatorship. If we resisted the military, surely the people can resist civilians bound towards fascism.
A word is important here also for the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission which has acted inappropriately in levying a fine against a broadcaster for doing their job honorably. They should study carefully the evolution of freedom of expression in the broadcast industry in the United States of America.
The doctrine on freedom of expression in the US is premised on the fact that greater harm is done in preventing free expression, even when the person is talking nonsense, so that the greater good comes from placing the other point of view in the same public domain and eventually truth overruns falsehood in the discerning public ear and mind.
in the early days of Broadcasting in the US it was argued that because the spectrum was a scarce commodity and should be operated fairly for the good of all, regulators thought they should intervene to ensure a balance of access. That resulted in the 1970s when I lived there, in the Fairness Doctrine of the Federal Communications Commission. This required that broadcasters give the right to reply to those at the receiving end to state their position or the counterpoint.
They were thus usually given time slots around midnight to reply. For us as Graduate Students returning from the Library at that time, we were aggravated to watch replies to original reports and comments we had not seen. With time, the Fairness. Doctrine became superfluous and was rested by the Reagan Administration. We too must learn to let competing and alternative truths determine the truth.
In calling on security people to desist from bullying citizens who express their views, and government officials who use their powers to terrorize citizens for demanding accountability from government to show maturity, I would like a clear reminder to power that security agents in being overzealous have been more responsible for the fall of regimes than any other phenomenon I am aware of. From the troubles in Western Nigeria to Nikolai Ceausescu’s Romania and Erich Honecker’s East Germany.
I also want to remind supranational agencies of the reasons people like me campaigned intensely, Internationally, for International Criminal Courts to deal with Genocide, Assault on fundamental human rights, and economic genocide against the people through the corruption of the powerful via state capture, in the early 1990s.
Finally, I want to remind us, as Jurgen Habermas, the contemporary German Philosopher of the Public Sphere argues, that Democracy is about reasoned, rational, public conversation. It defines modernity. We all owe it as a duty to progress, to keep public conversation reasoned and rational and there should be no hindrance to that. Anyone who thinks he has power should not waste it on law-abiding citizens but should go and engage Boko Haram, or Bandits in the Northwest. We need the peace they can achieve there.
Nigeria Will Rise Up Again.
Patrick Okedinachi Utomi (Prof) Co-Chair National Consultative Front, founder, CVL.