NIGERIA MEDIA MONITOR
#03-21 MONDAY JUNE 1, 1998* EDITOR GETS INDEFINITE SUSPENSION * JOURNALISTS ASSAULTED IN COURT * GOVERNMENT REVOKES TELECOM LICENCES; LAUNCHES INFOTECH INITIATIVE * SOYINKA SPEAKS ON SIEGE IN NIGERIA. EDITOR GETS INDEFINITE SUSPENSION An Editor with the Ogun State Television (OGTV), Mrs Mosun Mosunro, was suspended indefinitely May 25 for allegedly approving the broadcast of a statement issued by the Ogun State chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). The statement which asked christians to boycott a government-organised prayer programme in Abuja, the capital, was considered offensive by the state goverment. The allegedly offensive news item was relayed on the station on 19 May, during its 8.30 pm news bulletin. The General Manager of the station, Mr. Segun Olaleye, earlier summoned and reprimanded by the state admininstrators, Group Captain Sam Ewang, ordered Mrs. Mosunro to proceed on an indefinite suspension without pay. JOURNALISTS ASSAULTED IN COURT; NUJ ORDERS BLACKOUT ON POLICE ACTIVITIES The Chief Magistrate Court in Ibadan, Oyo state, was thrown into confusion May 25 as it continued the trial of Sunday Tribune editor Femi Adeoti and others. Stern-looking anti-riot policemen deployed to the court premises started harassing and beating journalists. The National president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists and the chairman of the Oyo state council of the Union, Messrs Lanre Ogundipe and Soladoye Ademola, were assaulted while a senior editor with the Nigerian Tribune, Yinka Olujisi, was brutallised by the anti-riot policemen. The video cassettes of Ibadan-based Galaxy Television were siezed by the policemen. They refused to release the cassettes despite the court's order. At an emergency conference of the NUJ at the Union's press centre, Iyaganku, Ibadan after the court proceedings, journalists decided to shun all police activities in the state until the police command returned the video cassettes seized at the court with an apology to all journalists harassed or assaulted. Meanwhile, the magistrate court adjourned the case till 24 June, 1998 on the request of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Mrs. Fola Oyekan, who argued that the case file got to her only the previous day and that the police were still going on with their investigations. Before the adjournment, the counsel to Mr. Femi Adeoti, Mr. Akinjide Sadiq, had told the court that medical facilities were not given to Adeoti as ordered by the court at its previous sitting. This, according to him, caused Femi's dizziness and weakness that was couspicously noticed the proceedings. FG REVOKES LICENCES OF 12 TELECOMS COMPANIES The Federal Government has revoked the licenses of 12 companies earlier signed on to provide various telecommunications services in the country. The companies with licences for Internet, paging, VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal), sales and installation of terminal equipment and pay-phone service are all based in Lagos. The revocation was announced at the weekend during the formal commissioning of the Internet gateway of MicroCom Systems Limited by the Minister of Communications, Major General Patrick Aziza. Executive Vice-chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Engineer Cletus Iromantu, who represented the minister at the event, disclosed that the licences were revoked because the affected firms did not comply with the stipulated conditions for the issuance of the telecommunications licences. He alleged that non-payment of licensing fees, non-commencement of service within the stipulated period of grace and other defaults by the firms made NCC to revoke the licence. Iromantu also disclosed that more revocations were underway because some licencees have not approached NCC to claim their licenses and "we keep carrying a large inventory of licenses". Some of the affected companies include Vantage Technologies, Kalandas Nigeria Limited, Bod-Gee Ventures Nigeria Limited and Villa Communications earlier licensed in the category of sales and installation of terminal equipment. Also affected are licences for paging services which include Bod-Gee Ventures Nigeria Limited, Dotts Communications Limited and Kalandas Nigeria Limited. Two Internet service lincesees, Shalis Nigeria Limited and Kalandas Nigeria Limited were also affected in the revocation exercise. Tele-Africa Nigeria Limited and Associated Telecommunications Company Limited, lincesees for PMC (Personal Mobile Communications) in cellular service and pay-phone services respectively were also revoked. FG LAUNCHES INTERNET, INFOTECH INITIATIVE The Federal Government has launched the Nigeria Internet and Information Technology Initiative (NIITI) as a way of promoting the virtues of the global network of computers. The Minister of Communications, Major General Patrick Aziza, revealed this at the weekend while commissioning an Internet gateway in Lagos. The gateway currently running at 256 kilobits per second (kb/s) and expandable to two megabits (2MB), is hosted by Microcom Systems Limited, one of the 32 Internet service providers licensed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). Aziza, who was represented by the executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Mr. Cletus Iromantu, said government was well disposed to work in partnership with the private sector in order to achieve affordability and accessibility of telephone and related services to the people. The launching of the Internet initiative, he said, was to demonstrate government's commitment towards promoting the widespread use of the Internet not only for commerce and education "but also for governance through creating greater awareness in the civil and public service about the Internet as well as identifying specific projects in support of this". NTERVIEW NIGERIA: A STATE OF SIEGE by Wole Soyinka Q: What can you tell us about the current situation for human rights, and more particularly for freedom of expression, in Nigeria? A: The situation is frankly abysmal. Freedom of expression and human rights are in a state of siege. What we have at the moment is government by terror. The journalists and the intellectuals and artists are at the forefront of repression. In particular, journalists are routinely arrested, detained without trial, tortured. When a journalist is wanted, his or her family, with an aged mother or children, are taken hostage and put behind bars until they can find the wanted person. That incidentally applies also to other people, but it is most notorious in the case of journalists. As you know, Christine Anyanwu is serving 15 years, after secret trial by military tribunal, for simply publishing the truth that there was no coup attempt two years ago which resulted in a former head of state being sent to prison. That was her only crime, so you can imagine what happens to other people. There is no question at all that freedom of expression is in a state of siege under Abacha's dictatorship. Q: Do you think that the international community had done enough in condemning the Nigerian regime and putting pressure on it to cease violating human rights? A: The answer to that is a categorical "no". The attitude toward this dictatorship's brutality has been at best lukewarm, compromising, complacent; it's almost been a policy of appeasement. Yes, there are the occasional gestures made towards the detained journalists and democracy activists, like the recent award of a prestigious prize (the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize) to Christine Anyanwu, and you have organisations like Reporters Sans Frontieres, Amnesty International who do their best, but governments have been singularly complacent. It's curious that what they tolerate in Nigeria is something which they are quick to condemn when it happens in, let's say, Yugoslavia or wherever in Europe. Q: We have seen both great and small strides towards increased democracy in the East of Europe, in Latin America and in parts of Asia in the last decade. With one or two exceptions, such as South Africa, the African continent has failed to benefit from these winds of change. Why does Africa remain a priviledged state for dictators and authoritarian regimes? A: Yes, there has been a set-back to democracy in many zones of the continent, particulary in West Africa, and this will continue, I think, until the international community recognises that the very security of their interests on that continent is tied to open government, to participatory government, accoutable government - in other words, to democracy. Some African goverments already realise this, but we have, unfortunately, the pupils of certain schools of power from the West who have been brought up in the notion that the European world in particular, the European/American world, are very happy dealing with the so-called strong men. In other words, businesses find it easier to obtain their interest in the short term by dealing with one person rather than with democratic, representative regimes and some of these soldiers, some of these opportunists and adventurists have grown up in that tradition. It will take a while for them to be schooled properly and, unfortunately,sometimes violently, that the African people are tired of being ridden roughshod by any petty little sergeant-major who thinks his turn has come to taste the booty of power. In this exercise, it requires the intervention and the collaboration of the international community with democratic forces. I think some of the European nations and businesses are beginning to realise that their interests actually lie with a democratic dispensation, but, unfortunately, not too many yet. Q: Do you think that the United Nations, with its new-found authority on the global political stage, can play a more effective role in advancing the cause of human rights and freedom of expression? If so, how? A: Yes, absolutely. Unfortunately, the United Nations is made up of nations, the kind we have been talking about, who very often conflate, or give priority to short-term interests and long-term interests. The grotesque episode of a brutal dictatorship like Nigeria going to the rescue of democracy in Sierra Leone is receiving the most peculiar kind of response from the United Nations and the international community. The language that is being used is a language of gratitude and thanks and approval. I am quite happy in the sense that the people of Sierra Leone are poised to regain their democratic liberties, but such an action should have been taken by an authentic African force or an authentic United Nations force rather than through the leadership of a regime that should be a pariah among nations. So we have this double standard, this double dealing which confuses groupings on the African continent. The United Nations, I'm afraid, has got to get its priorities right, has got to have democratic language of a greater clarity than at present. Q: Could you tell us a little about your life as a writer in exile? What are you able to do, either individually or with your colleagues in the International Parliament of Writers, to fight against the repression of free expression? A: Well, through the International Parliament of Writers, we have been able to establish a series of what we call "villes refuges", cities of asylum for the benefit of beleaguered writers who require some space and time of recover in order to build their carrers and continue their vocation in peace. This string of cities is lengthening all the time in Europe and parts of America. We have been able to intervene with some effect in the plight of some of our members, but without hard commitments of organisations like the Commonweath Union, the European Union, the council of Europe, O.A.U and so on, there is very little that organisations like the Parliament can really do. They can't be as effective as they would be if they had the concrete backing, with punitive measures, against delinquent regimes. That would send a very clear signal that, towards the end of the 20th century, the world will just not accept any longer the various crimes against humanity and the suppression of free expression, free movement and association. As for what I do, how I continue to survive, to make my own vocation, which is writing, I manage to capture a few hours breathing creative space from time to time, nothing on the level of what I would prefer because my immediate concern is to retrieve my own creative space in Nigeria, both for myself and for fellow writers and artists. So the politics of my present situation takes absolute priority. Wole Soyinka, Writer, Nigeria. Wole Soyinka, the 1986 Nobel Prize Winner for Literature and President of the International Parliament of Writers, has been an outspoken advocate of democracy and free expression. He has been living in exile since fleeing the military regime of Nigeria's dictator, General Sani Abacha, in December 1994. He often speaks and writes about the need for African writers to be the conscience of their countries. He gave this interview to the World Association of Newspapers (WAN).
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