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4 Questions on Leadership and President Yar’Adua

December 31, 2008

“By doubting we come to question, and by questioning, we perceive the truth.” (Peter Abelard, 1079-1142)

By chance, Perceptor saw the report in Leadership headlined: ‘Yar’Adua Sick Again’


As it turned out, the President – whether or not he was sick – certainly didn’t miss the public functions that the report accused him of missing. Citing observance of the rule of law, Yar’Adua announced that he would sue Leadership for libel. Although the announcement of the intended litigation was accompanied by some whining about ‘malicious rumours and outright falsehood’, this was a relative improvement over the ‘beat-them-up’, ‘lock-them-up’, ‘close-them-down’ philosophy that had been followed with regard to previous allegedly false reports about the President’s person. However, by the end of the week, the old philosophy had re-asserted itself, as the SSS detained the Executive Director, the Weekend Editor, the writer of the report, and finally, the publisher of the newspaper. Because Perceptor also notes that last week, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) was meeting in Abuja last week, and that Nigeria’s report to the United Nations Human Rights Council was also being finalized at the beginning of the past week, it will be no surprise that some questions arise:

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1.Is it a mere coincidence that while the ACHPR was meeting in Abuja, the Yar’Adua posture was that it was treating the false report as a civil matter, but as soon as the Commission’s meeting ended, it adopted the brutal and intolerant abuse of human rights that is in danger of becoming a hallmark of his approach to any discussion of his health.

Actually, Perceptor doesn’t buy the idea that there’s no coincidence. Human rights activists from across the continent had gathered in Abuja since Thursday 6th November, while the African Commission started its meeting on Monday 10th. On Saturday 8th the Leadership story appeared, then the apparently mild response was wheeled out. Perceptor will need a bit more than ‘Because I say so’ to clear the impression that the Yar’Adua response was designed to present a false picture of the rosy state of human rights in Nigeria to the African Commission, since it is clear that as soon as their backs were turned, he no longer bothered to maintain the mask.

2. If, as Presidential Spokesperson, Segun Adeniyi, and others, insist, there is nothing unusual about occasional ill health, why is it libellous to(mistakenly) state that the President was ill?

Perceptor notes the hostile attitude in some echelons of the Peoples Democratic Party to the free press, what with Senate President David Mark demanding, as a condition for passage of the (frankly, quite ridiculously) emasculated Freedom of Information Bill, that libel be made a criminal offence (duuuhh! Mr. Senate President, the offence of criminal libel is already on our statute books!), while the riotous response of the House of Representatives to any attempt to discuss the same Bill cannot be overlooked either. But while Adeniyi has attempted to write the judgment in the yet-to-be-filed action for libel, by claiming that
‘… the ONLY REASONABLE CONCLUSION is that the publishers of the newspapers ran the report in furtherance of their reprehensible efforts to embarrass the President and destabilize his administration.’
In Singapore, political leaders use the laws of libel to bankrupt critics. So Perceptor finds the insistence on suing for libel sinister and oppressive. Perceptor also wants to know more – IS the administration so shaky that a false report of ill health can destabilize it?

3. Now that he has decided to arrest people for writing the wrong thing, does Yar’Adua intend to pursue his libel action against Leadership?

Of course, it may be that Yar’Adua realised that it isn’t really libellous to say that someone is sick when he’s spent so much time telling us that it is normal for people to fall sick from time to time, so he had to hit out in a different way. But suppose the Leadership detainees make statements to the SSS on the matter. Will Yar’Adua scruple to use information gained by the SSS in his libel action? Shouldn’t he immediately halt the civil action in respect of the report now and forever?

4. Shouldn’t the President acknowledge that he created the problem himself by being in fact taken ill and lying to the Nigerian people about his condition?

During his campaign to be elected president, Yar’Adua fell ill, and was rushed abroad to Germany for treatment. Instead of coming clean then, he pretended that he was just having some tests, or some such story, and followed up with ridiculous claims about playing five hours’ squash a day. More recently, during his 17 day trip to Saudi Arabia allegedly on ‘lesser haj’, he returned under cover of darkness and offered no apology to the Nigerian people for the ‘lies and distortions’ to which they had been subjected during and after his absence. Is it because we can’t sue him that he felt he could get away with it? While Perceptor considers that it would be morally reprehensible in any event for the President to maintain his libel action when he is locking up the people whom he wants to sue, matters are made even worse – from the ethical point of view – by the fact that if Yar’Adua had in fact been as open as he pretends that he has been on the subject of his health, there would hardly have been the same level of concern, distrust and anxiety on the part of the public in the first place. So why descend on Leadership?

5. Why did Yar’Adua keep away from the opening of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights in Abuja on Monday?

Although it could have taken him as little as an hour if he had really wanted to attend the African Commission, the President had already made up his mind to keep well away from the African Commission, and designated Minister for Petroleum, Odein Ajumogobia, to stand in for him at the opening ceremonies before the offending story appeared. Of course, while Ajumogobia is indeed a lawyer, it is difficult to see why he was more qualified than … say … the Vice President … to represent the President, but that is another question. But could it be that the President might have been ‘embarrassed’ – not by false stories about his health – but by the morally untenable situation created by previous and ongoing abuses, using the SSS to arrest, lock up, close down and generally punish people because he thought that they were saying the wrong thing about him personally? (Or has Jonathan Elendu’s passport been returned

Déjà vu (Part I)
Perceptor can’t be the only Naija suffering from déjà vu over the Obama election, but you wouldn’t know it, going by all the columnists wittering on about ‘When are we going to get our own Obama’, ‘In search of the Nigerian Obama’, ‘Can an Obama ever emerge in Nigeria?’ Other variations on the theme are the ‘Can someone from a Minority Tribe ever be elected President in Nigeria?’, or ‘Can an Igbo man ever be elected President in Nigeria?’, or better still (given that in theory, the zoning rotation idea ought eventually to produce an Igbo President) can an Igbo man ever be elected Local Government Chairman in Lagos State?

Well, Perceptor is sorry, but as far as Perceptor is concerned, Nigeria in fact had its own Obama. The American Obama wrote about ‘The Audacity of Hope’. The Nigerian Obama’s campaign slogan was ‘HOPE ‘93’. Ring a bell? Forget what happened AFTER the June 12th election. Remember what happened BEFORE Ibrahim Babangida’s disastrous intervention. A Nigerian presidential candidate campaigned – not as a Yoruba man, not as a Muslim, though he was both of these – but as a Nigerian. Nigerian voters cast their votes – not on the basis that he was or was not a Yoruba or a Muslim – but on the basis of his individual appeal. M.K.O. Abiola was our ‘Obama’. When we voted on June 12th 1993, we as a nation, just like Americans on November 4th 2008, rejected the politics of identity and fear, and voted for hope and change. In Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare wrote:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”

Can anybody seriously contest that on June 12th 1993, Nigeria was afloat on such a full sea? And we, the people, determined to take that tide at the flood. But Ibrahim Babangida had other ideas. He prevented us from taking that tide at the flood. And what, dear country people, has been the voyage of our nation’s life since? ‘In shallows and in miseries’ hardly begins to describe it. Lost ventures? Ibrahim Babangida sure has a lot to answer for.

So the answer is, that if an Igbo person runs as an Igbo, because it is the ‘turn’ of Igbo people, then, absent zoning, whether or not he or she in fact wins, we won’t have our ‘Obama’. What our Nigerian ‘Obama’ seekers forget is that just as in the United States, where every group identified by race, is a minority (no matter how much they may occupy almost the whole space at the higher echelons of the establishment) so also in Nigeria. Every tribe or ethnic group, including the ‘big three’, is a minority. None can command up to 50% of the population. So every candidate has to appeal beyond their own particular ethnic group or religion. We’ve done it before. Are we going to do it again?

Déjà vu (Part II), or

Perceptor hates to mention Governor Raji Fashola of Lagos State twice in a row, but Perceptor finds his sympathy and offer of assistance to Ms. Uzoma Okere, the victim of a brutal assault by naval ratings because of her alleged failure to get out of the way of the ‘convoy’ of Rear Admiral Olufemi Arogundade quickly enough, rather beside the point. Or to be frank, downright irritating. The help Fashola offers ranges from ‘making representations’ to President Umaru Yar’Adua, to offering legal assistance through the Office of the Public Defender, depending on the advice of the Solicitor-General of Lagos State.

Perceptor was under the impression that what happened to Ms. Okere was a criminal assault. It is an offence under the laws of Lagos State. The Governor is the Chief Security Officer of Lagos State. He also, through his Commissioners, and in particular, through the Ministry of Justice, controls not only the Solicitor-General and the OPD, but the Director of Public Prosecutions. Perceptor would have expected that the Governor, in his capacity as such Chief Security Officer, would have directed the Nigeria Police Force to fish out and arrest those directly and indirectly responsible for the assault. The report that ought to be being studied in the Ministry of Justice, is not some report about what can be done by the Solicitor-General to ‘assist’ Ms. Okere, but a police report about what can be done by the Lagos State DPP to bring the perpetrators to justice!

Perceptor sympathises with Ms. Okere, and expects her to get both compensation and justice. But the incident is not about just Ms. Okere, or the other people also assaulted by the navy; a passenger in her car and the Price Waterhouse Coopers staff who were filming the incident. Perceptor remembers that when late Chief M.K.O. Abiola was assaulted by members of the armed forces (in his case, the Nigerian Air Force), the incident was swept under the carpet and forgotten as the behaviour of ‘Mad Dogs’. Now here we are, years later, with another ‘mad dog’ incident. Déjà vu all over again. If a criminal assault is reduced to a matter of appeasing or compensating Ms. Okere (or pressurizing her – or her dad – to ‘forgive’ her attackers), Perceptor wonders what protection there is for the next victim of the ‘mad dog’ syndrome. Perceptor believes that the best cure for the ‘mad dog’ syndrome is the removal of impunity for the perpetrators. Then the next would-be ‘mad dog’ might think before going berserk, and claiming that he was ‘provoked’.

In this case, the Governor, who is supposed to be responsible for the security of all those in Lagos State, holds both the knife and the yam. Yes it would be a good idea for him to keep President Yar’Adua, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, informed of what he proposes to do, and there may be legal requirements that he do so. But it would be fatal for him to cede responsibility for the necessary criminal prosecution to the Federal Government, or to act as if he needs their permission to act. Expressing sympathy for Ms. Okere really isn’t going to produce the required iyan. Potential or future victims expect him to live up to his responsibilities as Chief Security Officer of Lagos State and remove the impunity that some uniformed people believe they enjoy. That is the way to provide security for the people of Lagos State.

History Lesson
When 16th century England was threatened with invasion by Spain, the then queen, (Elizabeth I) went down to Tilbury to see her troops and give them a pep talk. Her ministers and generals were worried that she might be exposed to crude words or even danger if she mingled with the rough, armed soldiers, not all of whom were ‘officers and gentlemen’. Elizabeth’s response was a famous and stirring speech, which Perceptor does not intend to repeat here. But our extravagant bullet-proof car-buying ‘elected representatives’ would do well to note her opening words:

“Let tyrants fear; I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects.”
How are our elected representatives behaving themselves?

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