“Every free society has a journalist.”- Agba Jalingo
For living up to the responsibility of his vocation and professional calling and for also daring to report the sleaze observed in the five hundred million naira appropriated and approved for Cross River Micro Finance Bank, Agba Jalingo was hounded like a common criminal from his home in Lagos in the middle of the night by armed men on the orders of Governor Ben Ayade. He was detained for days, tortured and arraigned before a Federal High Court in Calabar on charges bothering on terrorism and attempt to topple the government of Cross River State. The governor and his government has for the past four months threatened, boasted and applied underhand tactics designed to keep the accused in detention as much as he could. But as the saying goes, nothing lasts forever. The infallible God is surely with the oppressed. It is a matter of time. The two count charges preferred against him are not only laughable but also ridiculous. Every sane individual understood that Agba never took up arms against the state. Furthermore, Cross River is a microcosm of the federal government which cannot be toppled in the absence of the latter. When has investigative journalism and internet blogging become a potent arm of terrorism and coup-de-tat? One is compelled to join the conversation of the unfair and unlawful detention of Agba Jalingo and others for some obvious reason. It was simply uncalled for.
At the flag-off ceremony of the annual Calabar Carnival, the governor declared the occasion open with a well researched theme, “Humanity to show kindness and Love.” As widely reported in the media, the governor maintained that; “the world has lost the value of humanity, replacing it with wickedness.” The topic in ones estimation was a reflection of the mood of the season in which Christ was born in love to serve kindness and save humanity from the throes of wickedness. What is humanity? What is kindness? What is love? Humanity and kindness are both subsumed in sublime love of one another and the society at large. It is simply means to be at peace with all men. Understanding and applying the golden rule: do unto others what you expect them to do to you. With the obvious sanctimonious pronouncement, one had thought that the governor would have ordered the immediate discontinuation of the trial of Agba Jalingo, in addition to Paul Ifere and Joseph Odok who are in the same bad book of the governor. And or even drive to the correctional facility where they are kept and threw their prison gate open in the spirit of the season.
Alas! It ended there at the carnival. Do what I say and not what I do. The utterances of the governor were not backed by action and expected goodwill. It is an irony that a man in the news for a wrong reason bearing the trade mark of man’s inhumanity to man could lecture Nigerians on humanity, kindness and love; the virtues he has in short supply. How could one juxtapose the extrapolation of the governor on the subject he preached at the carnival with the current travails of Jalingo and two others? Despite the public outcry against their unfair detention and trial, the governor still went home a happy man to enjoy the Christmas and New Year celebrations with his family while Agba and others were left in prison custody as a reward for daring to exhibit high sense of integrity and patriotism. Those in government are practical examples of the Pharisees who are known for always not practicing what they preach. The irony of human behaviour is embedded in the prevalent hypocrisy often exhibited especially by those in the corridors of power when occasions call for such pretension. The lesson delivered by the governor is an unfortunate own-goal against his government. This has openly exposed the ego and hypocrisy of men especially those in power and the unfortunate dead silence of those who ought to have spoken up.
Those in position of authority should be told in clear terms that individuals or group who are critical of government policies and programmes are not the actual enemy of the state. They are the pepperish spices and ingredients of caution which often adds its unique taste to the boiling soup of good governance prepared for public consumption. One advantage of paying attention to these sets of irritants or wailers if you like was the fact that accommodating their views does not diminish the humanity of anyone including the governor. It affords those in power the opportunity to change gear and evaluate their speed when they on the destructive fast lane often ignored by praise singers who always prod them to apply full throttle to their detriment.
The pen they say is always mightier than the sword while truth will triumph over falsehood. A clamp down on journalists and voices of dissent by any arm of government is a direct reflection of failure and poor judgment. It is no offence for citizens to raise their voices against corruption, corrupt tendencies or any perceived anomaly of those in government. It is the duty of journalists to hold government accountable for any perceived misdemeanor. The constitutional provision in Section 39(1) made it clear that; “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinion and to receive impart ideas and information without interferance. Governor Ayade cannot claim ignorant of this law. It was baffling that the three individuals in the bad book of governor Ayade were charged with both attempt to topple the government or terrorism. What a good coincidence of lack of diligent trump up charges. Journalism profession is under threat in Cross River. One had thought that the Nigerian Union of Journalist, Cross River Chapter and Government House Correspondent Chapel would have boycotted government reportage in solidarity with their own. Today, it is Agba Jalingo; tomorrow it might be you. Where the Guinea fowl is being roasted; the chicken takes a few lessons. “It is a paradox that every dictator has climbed to power on the ladder of free speech. Immediately on attaining power, each dictator has suppressed all free speech except his own.”- Herbert Hoover. In his reaction on the trial of Agba Jalingo, Wole Soyinka pointed out thus; “this is a dishonest service to silence the people by government which has no more answer to give… It is one of the most absurd political arrangement for a non sovereign government to claim there is an attempt to topple it.” People of good consciences should rise up against this injustice and attempt to gag us and take our voices away from us.
*** Sunday Onyemachi Eze, a Media and Communication Specialist lives in Kaduna. He wrote via firstname.lastname@example.org and 08060901201.