Saturday, 24 May 2008

Nigeria: The powerful taking the law into their hands

The third part of that programme

If we are to go by the respect for the rule of law as the core intent of President Yar’Adua’s programme in Nigeria, I have noted we also have to have that go in tandem with equality before the law.

Reading another news story today leaves me very aware of the fact that the President does have a mammoth task before him and I can only wish him Godspeed.

Obviously, it appears many of my insights seem to revolve around the family of the ex-President, I would have you know that their cases are not unique and almost always representative of people who can wield power and peddle influence by reason of their association rather than personal achievement.

Daughter bothers mother

This time the matter concerns of the mother of Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello – Mrs Remi Obasanjo; considering the tribulations her daughter has been going through and they the parents would quite have us believe their daughter is being persecuted and victimized as a means of getting at her father.

That is a matter for some other debaters; however, it is nice to see that families do close ranks when met with some sort of adversity.

It would appear the mother had been in Abuja to offer moral support to her daughter and only just returned to Lagos after her daughter had fulfilled her bail conditions.

Since the daughter until recently had been as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel the press decided to seek a sound bite off her mother in Lagos about the travails of her daughter.

Within the law your privacy

Now, anyone anywhere should be at liberty to exercise the right to privacy and be able to seek relieve from intrusion of the press. Generally, that should be a polite message to visitors that one is not interested in their entreaties and inquiries, failing that one can seek the help of law enforcement or go as far as seeking an injunction from a court of law.

A journalist from the Punch newspaper - the powerful have a seething contempt for professional, journalists, most especially - visited the premises of Mrs Remi Obasanjo in Lagos seeking an interview and presented his business card to the security guard; soon afterwards an aide of the madam came to the gate and this allegedly is the conversation that took place between them.

The threatening conversation

Aide: Are you the owner of this card?

Reporter: Yes.

Aide: Madam is not in the mood to see anybody now and I will advise you strongly that you leave this place at once.

Reporter: Did Madam actually send you to deliver this message?

Aide: Yes, and I will advise you in your own interest to leave and never to come around this place again.

Reporter: Why?

Aide: Well, I have just told you, if you love yourself, don’t come here again. Or why do you want to risk your life?

Reporter: But this is not my first visit here.

Aide: And since you have been coming, how many times have you seen her? So, in your own interest don’t come here again.

Reporter: But make sure you give my card to her.

Aide: She has seen your card, and will call you when she is in the mood to talk. Bye

Reporter: All right.

My pique

I have a serious problem with this conversation, the first clause of the second sentence of the Aide is fine enough – Madam is not in the mood to see anybody now – fair enough she has had a rough few weeks on account of her daughter.

Is there any reason to then try to menace the journalist with – I will advise you strongly that you leave this place at once – it is very much like chasing away a stray dog; there might be cases for treating journalists as dogs, but I do not think the conversation warranted this level of hostility.

The reporter then tries to ascertain if the threat was a direct order from the madam or the aide being supercilious and working beyond her brief.

Incriminating her mistress she affirms that she was told to threaten the journalist – fine enough.

She then threatens the well-being of the journalist saying he should in his own interest leave and never come back again – well, where there is a public interest issue that would be a difficult order to follow – we can agree that the case of the daughter does not automatically make the mother a public interest subject.

The threats and menace continue with this statement – I have just told you, if you love yourself, don’t come here again. Or why do you want to risk your life? – She does appeal to his sense of self-preservation but a threat to his life?

Is Nigeria this lawless?

This is just not on, is Nigeria such a lawless society?

Is she implying that an enquiry made of the ex-wife of a former president can lead to a homicide in trying to escape or avoid media scrutiny?

That I would say is completely lawless, no one should have their lives cheapened in such a way in order to convey a message that they are being inconvenienced, it is really taking the law into their hands and there are places where such a threat would be prosecuted to the limits of the law exacting apologies and compensation.

But this is turning into a train of ideals that need to be part of the President’s grand scheme – respect for the rule of law, equality before the law and not taking the law into ones hands.

The aide either exceeded her lawful remit or her madam was wielding influence and power that primarily should belong to law enforcement and legal process – you can refuse to see a journalist, you can beseech the journalist not to visit or pursue you but you have crossed the line of legality when you threaten a journalist with menace.

In the end, I am glad she did not send out her security guards to beat the journalist to a pulp, I would not put it beyond their ilk to commit such a heinous act and get away with it.

I think can now really announce that I am officially exiled from Nigeria – I cannot countenance this kind of attitude, it is just not on.

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