NIGERIA MEDIA MONITOR
#03-12 MONDAY, MARCH 23, 1998* JOURNALISTS ARRESTED * ABACHA DIDN'T PROMISE TO RELEASE DETAINEES, SAYS POLICE BOSS * MILITARY RULE ENDANGERS JOURNALISM - NUJ BOSS * COURT STRIKES OUT SEDITION CASE * GOVT. DIRECTS AGENCIES TO PATRONISE ITS MEDIA * NITEL SIGNS ANOTHER INTERCONNECTIVITY PACT * A TWIST IN DETAINEES TALE * DETAINEES AND THE POLICE CHIEF * REVIEWING CABLE SATELLITE BROADCASTING LAW - 2 NEWSREEL JOURNALIST, RIGHTS ACTIVISTS ARRESTED A journalist with Vanguard newspapers, Joe Ajaero, has been arrested. Ajaero was arrested along with Mr. Femi Falana, attorney and rights activist, and eight others in Ilorin, Kwara state capital on March 12, 1998. They were picked up by security operatives at an hotel where they were attending a seminar on "Labour Legislations", organised by Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The operatives had earlier disrupted the seminar at Satellite Hotel, forcing the organizers to change the venue to Oak land Hotel, in another part of the town. At about 1.00 a.m, the operatives invaded the new location, effected the arrests and took the eleven persons to the State Security Service (SSS) offices in the town. The arrests came barely one week after Labour Minister, Alhaji Uba Ahmed told journalists in Lagos that government would soon take steps to check the activities of labour non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and their trade union allies. On March 17, they were brought before an Ilorin Chief Magistrate Court, charged for "unlawful assembly contrary to section 104 of the Penal Code". They were each granted bail to the sum of N50,000 ($600) and reliable surety in the same amount. They are to return to court in May 25. LIBERIAN FORCES ARREST NIGERIAN JOURNALISTS Three Nigerian journalists in transit in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, were on March 14 arrested by a combined team of heavily armed units of the Liberian National Police, the remnants of Armed Forces of Liberia and other security agencies. They were among 18 defence correspondents, led by Acting Director Defence Information Col. Godwin Ugbo, arrived the Liberian capital on March 13, from Sierra Leone where they witnessed the re-installation ceremonies of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. Oladipo of Newswatch magazine. He had cuts in his head, hands and back. He was hospitalised after his release. The other, Mr. Chris Agbambu of Nigerian Tribune fainted Mr. Francis Ayigbe was left to attend to his two wounded colleague. The other journalists including women, were held in an unventilated room in one of the hotels in Central Monrovia. The journalists said about $1,000 belonging to the journalists were removed from their rooms and pockets. Initially, the security operatives accused the journalists of espionage. Later they told their commanders that the reporters were carrying a briefcase containing substances suspected to be cocaine. The arrests started about 9.25 a.m (10.25a.m Nigeria time) when about 80 armed policemen in uniform and other security agencies surrounded the Africa Palace Hotel and Elmeson Hotel in search of Nigerians. POLICE BOSS DENIES ABACHA'S AMNESTY PROMISE The Inspector General of Police (IG), Alhaji Ibrahim Commaissie, has denied the Head of State, General Sani Abacha, made any statement suggesting a promise to free detainees in his (Abacha's) November 17, 1997 broadcast to the nation. The IG was reported as saying on March 11 that what Gen. Abacha promised was amnesty for prisoners. "Why are people out for sheer mischief to misconstrue the statement? Amnesty has to do with people already convicted and are in prison. There is a law to deal with that. Prerogative of mercy deals with that. People do not bother to read the law to know what it means", the IG was quoted as saying. But in swift reactions, media, human rights and other groups, have condemned the IG's position, and asked the government to honour its promise. In a November 17, 1997 broadcast to the nation to mark the fourth anniversary of his seizure of power, Gen. Abacha had said: "Under these circumstances, we have reviewed the cases of all detained persons. In doing so, we have taken into full account the appeals of well-meaning Nigerians. Government has, therefore, decided to grant amnesty to those detained persons whose release would constitute no further impediment to peace and security of our country. The appropriate agency has been directed to release details of those affected by this exercise. It is my hope that all those released will reintegrate into society and make positive contributions to the national endeavour". The promise has still to be fulfilled. MILITARY RULE ENDANGERS JOURNALISM Journalism practice in Nigeria is endangered by military rule, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has said, while throwing its weight behind democratisation. NUJ President, Lanre Ogundipe who made the remark at a press conference in Lagos March 11, however, contended that for the on-going transition to be meaningful, all political detainees have to be set free, while Nigerians are allowed to exercise their freedom as civilised human beings. Mr. Ogundipe, who was on tour of the NUJ Lagos council with national officers of the union said further that journalists support any attempt to return the country to civil and democratic rule. This, he said, would provide an opportunity for the NUJ members to do their job in a free atmosphere and better discharge their responsibility of upholding the people's freedom. COURT STRIKES OUT CASE AGAINST DETAINED CONTACTORS Two contractors who had been in detention for over six months for calling for the removal of Navy Captain Joseph Adeusi as military administrator of Akwa Ibom State had a seeming experience when an Uyo Magistrate struck out the cases brought against them. The contractors, Messrs. Chris Ibia and Ndaroke Ekanem were assigned before Uyo Magistrate Court, after this last September, and separate five court charges of sedition were preferred against them for calling for Navy Captain Adeusi's removal as indicated in two separate newspaper advertisements. Striking out the suit on March 5, the Chief Magistrate, Mrs. E.F.F. Obot said they were struck out for want of diligent prosecution. The court noted that the prosecuting officer has been continuously absent from the court without any explanation. Counsel to the contractors, Joe Ekanem had urged the court to strike out the case in his submission arguing that the Director of Public Prosecutions had continuously been absent without any explanation. Messrs. Ibia and Ekanem were among eight contractors representing the Nigeria Chambers of Indigenous Contractors who signed two separate advertisements in different national dailies calling for the removal of Navy Captain Adeusi over non-payment of controlled debts totalling N1.13 billion. Both men had been in detention since their arrest. GOVERNMENT DIRECTS AGENCIES TO PATRONISE ITS MEDIA The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGP), Alhaji Gidado Idris, has directed all government agencies to patronise the two federal government-owned newspapers, the Daily Times and the New Nigerian. In a circular to all permanent Secretaries, head of extra-ministerial departments and government-owned companies, the SGF said in Abuja that such patronage was necessary to "help put the two dailies on proper footing." He pointed out that the two papers were currently experiencing sliding "fortunes arising mainly from hostilities in certain quarters and lack of patronage generally". Gidado said it was for this reason that the government decided that its ministries and agencies should extend more effective patronage to these newspapers through advertisements and wider circulation. The SGF directed all concerned to comply with the directive to enable the two papers to fulfil their mission to the society at large. NITEL SIGNS INTERCONNECTIVITY PACT WITH MOBITEL Deregulation of telecommunications sector has deepened with the signing of interconnectivity pact between MOBITEL limited, a private telephone operator and the Nigerian Telecommunication Limited (NITEL). MOBITEL becomes the seventh private company to enter into interconectivity with NITEL. The other six are Multi-links Telecommunications Limited, Em-International Systems Limited (EMIS), Intercellular Nigeria Limited, Independent Telephone Network (ITN), Bourded Telecommunications Limited and VGC communications limited. MOBITEL chairman, Major Gen. Tanko Ayuba (rtd) in a statement in Lagos said the agreement was signed last week in NITEL corporate headquarters in Abuja. Ayuba, a former communications minister, signed on behalf of MOBITEL while NITEL's Managing Director, Prof. Buba Bajoga endorsed on behalf of the parastatal. "With this development, MOBITEL is poised to commence the provision of digital telephone services for both residential and business customers in the Lagos area very soon", said Ayuba. The company, he further said, will deploy within its network 'wireline and wireless local loop services that will provide among other services. A TWIST IN DETAINEES' TALE "Under these circumstances, we have reviewed cases of all detained persons. In doing so, we have taken into full account the appeals of well-meaning Nigerians. Government has, therefore, decided to grant amnesty to those detained persons whose release would constitute no further impediment to peace and security of our country. The appropriate agency has been directed to release details of those affected by this exercise. It is my hope that all those released will reintegrate into society and make positive contributions to the national endeavour." -Head of State, General Sani Abacha, in a speech on November 17, 1997, to mark the fourth year of his administration. Dr. Bode Olajumoke, a lawyer; Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, a political scientist; Chief Emmanuel Sorunke, an Egba chief; Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Chief Lamidi Adedibu, a politician; Daniel Kanu of YEEA were among those who understood this statement to mean that an amnesty was to be granted to some detainees. There were more: Esther Kokori, a detainee's wife, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a NADECO chieftain; Ango Abdullahi, a former vice-chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University; Chief Chewas Okorie of Igboezue, Comrade Mike Osemene, a trade unionist also joined in applauding the expected amnesty after listening to the broadcast and reading the text that was published by all the national dailies. By November 21, the amnesty looked so real that the moves were mostly to include the names of those who should qualify. An initial list of 75 was published by many newspapers, quoting a source in the Presidency which claimed that a committee, including the Inspector-General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomaisse, had been constituted to come up with a final list. Not to be left out, the Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) went a step further. On November 25, it sent a memo to the Inspector-General of Police, listing 120 people who it thought should benefit from the amnesty. All these were greeted with deafening silence by the authorities. Gani Fawehinmi and Femi Falana went to court in December asking that the head of state be compelled to fulfil his statement. They cited a 1975 Supreme Court decision in Ike Vs. Nzekwe in which the court ruled that a speech by the head of state had the force of law. Again, a lengthy silence followed. In the interim, many newspapers made a ritual of writing editorials, many of them front-page comments, to remind the government about the promised amnesty. These changed nothing. The death of former Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters, Major-General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua on December 8, 1997 changed the national focus. People still called for the release of political and other detainees, an indication that they thought such a promise had been made. The United States government also understood there was an anmesty on the way. In a December 10, 1997 statement after the death of Gen. Yar'Adua, the State Department in Washington DC said: "On November 17, 1997 the Head of State, General Sani Abacha made a speech promising the release of political detainees presently being held in Nigeria, which the Nigerian human rights groups estimate to number between 100 and 200". Afenifere, a political group, made the last call for the release of the detainees on December 16, 1997, six days before the alleged coup attempt was announced. The alleged plot took over the centre stage of national affairs. No detainee has been released unless one is to count Yar'Adua's corpse that was handed over to his family. But not everyone believed that there would be an amnesty. First to raise the doubts was Dr. Nathaniel Aina, a former Ondo State deputy governor who reacted thus to the November 17, broadcast: "His pronouncement on the release of detainees is far below expectation, his message is not clear at all. What is the yardstick that they would use to determine who and who will not constitute security risk among those who have been detained that will be eligible for release?" Senator Abraham Adesanya, NADECO chief had said that Chief MKO Abiola will not be among the beneficiaries of the amnesty because he would constitute a risk to the administration. The shock of Alhaji Coomassie's disclosure that there was no amnesty promised has been difficult to deal with. He told The Guardian: "Why are people, out of sheer mischief, trying to miscontrue the statement? Amnesty is to do with people already convicted and are in prison. There is a law to deal with that. Prerogative of mercy deals with that. People do not bother to read the law to know what it means." It would therefore seem that everybody, except those in the innermost recesses of government, knows that prerogative of mercy, and not amnesty, will free the detainees. Either way, very few people are interested in legalese. They would want to see the detainees released whatever the method is called. Are the detainees to be released? Source: Vanguard, Editorial, March 17 & 18, 1998 DETAINEES AND THE I-G The Inspector-General of Police (I-G), Ibrahim Coomassie, said the other day that the November 17, 1997, anniversary speech by the Head of State, General Sani Abacha, is being misinterpreted by the press to mean the release of political detainees instead of granting of amnesty to prisoners. Alhaji Ibrahim accused the press of always wilfully misinterpreting government. He, therefore, implied that it is wrong for the public to expect, or to continue to pressurise the Federal Government to release political detainees who, according to him, are being held under Decree 2. We will like to disagree with the Inspector-General, for the November 17 speech is a public document. What it says and does not say is clear and incontrovertible. It is the Inspector-General who is misinterpreting the Head of State. Considering the text of the broadcast, no-one can be in doubt about its content, tone and intent. What the Head of State said was as follows "...we have reviewed the cases of all detained persons. In doing so, we have taken into full account the appeals of well-meaning Nigerians. Government has, therefore, decided to grant amnesty to those detained persons whose release would constitute no further impediment to the peace and security of our country." Of all the things that the Head of State said in the speech, what had the greatest impact was his statement about detainees. Clearly, a conflict of authority is indicated if the Inspector-General of Police has a different meaning for what the Head of State said. General Abacha's statement on detainees should have been the last word on the issue. And to show that the Head of State's speech carried due weight, its contents should have been honoured and put into effect. The public ought not be put in a situation where they will have to refer to other sources for explanation on what is a straightforward and unambiguous speech of the Head of State. Gen. Abacha addressed the issue of detainees against the background of persistent calls for amnesty from within the country and abroad. Which was why the decision to release them was widely praised as a major achievement for the administration and an advancement for the nation. The Head of State himself spoke of reconciliation. And indeed, the release of the detainees could have provided fresh opportunities for dialogue between the government and the opposition. NARECOM, the agency given the task to see to this, would also have been strengthened. Four months after, however, the reverse is the case because the detainees are still in custody. The aggrieved sections of our society are even now more aggrieved than before. NARECOM itself is floundering as options for dialogue and reconciliation appear to be in retreat. A greater affiction in the land is the growing population of those in our midst who are beginning to disbelieve the government. This cynicism is unhealthy for the polity, and the government should be genuinely concerned. There are two other issues involved. At the time the Head of State was making his speech, last year, the tradition has been that the detainees should have been on their way home. A list of those to be released should have been prepared before-hand, and the appropriate authorities instructed to implement the directive. This would have achieved maximum effect. The praise that the statement attracted, and the relief expressed by friends and relations of detainees, would have been well observed. Both the government and the opposition, and indeed the country, could have made huge political gain out of this. It would appear, indeed, that the Federal Government was at some point thinking along these lines. The Head of State told the nation: "The appropriate agency has been directed to release details of those affected..." He added: "It is my hope that all those released...." What should be noted is that the Head of State spoke in the past tense, giving the indication that action had already been taken and concluded. He did not speak in a future tense. In other words, he was not making a promise. He was stating a definitive line of action. On several occasions in the past four months, government spokespersons had assured the public that a list of those to be released was actually being compiled. At what point did government change its mind? What had led to the confusion now being expressed by the Inspector-General of Police? Perhaps even more important is the issue of integrity. The Head of State made a statement before the entire nation concerning a major public issue. It is to be expected that the apparatus of government will stand by that statement and honour it. Source: The Guardian, Editorial March 16, 1998.
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