Winning the Battle for free press in Nigeria


As the information age progresses, writers and journalists have emerged the power brokers in political system and also have become greater
targets of unscrupulous governments with so many means at their disposal. A
cable network news just announced the publication of a book detailing
increasing persecution of journalists and writer in 2009.In America, the
election of President Barack Obama has brought to the fore the huge power of
the media and internet. While America has taken a positive competitive attitude
to the new changes in events, developed and developing countries like China and Nigeria are
yet to grapple with it. President Obama is running an open participatory
government with full blown websites accessible on all issues to all manner of
persons at all times. On the contrary, China is joining those who have decided
to limit their citizen’s use of the internet banning some web sites. Although Nigeria has set out on a path of change but the system cannot do magic as things are. If the Good luck era cannot sharply separate itself from these evil geniuses,then it is equally as guilty.

Meanwhile let us take a closer look at how they operate. They employ covert actions to restrict writers’ access to new technology
through hacking and interference of mail boxes, facebook, etc. Remember
that infamous branding campaign... Also last year
the supposedly progressive Governors forum met in Yenagoa Bayelsa State to
deliberate amongst other agendas on the activities of “seditious writers”, whatever that
means in a country where everybody disobeys the constitution, where the courts
are for the highest bidder, where unarmed people are murdered on television
without trial as long as they are perceived threats to the powers that be. So
the new threats have become bloggers on the internet and they would go to every
length to stop each article from being published. I want to give you a peek
into their losing battle to keep their own people from seeing the light.

For some of you in developed societies, sedition is indeed a crime that should be avoided by writer, but then your society has a settled
value system of what is right and wrong. Probably you have a constitution and
stable institutions working it, and you know how many people in your country so
that you can identify the missing or dead and so you can solve murders or extra
judicial killings. I mean when your countrymen die you don’t have a
proliferation of claims as to the number that died and you don’t deny some of
them as aliens Most probably you can obtain information from government
agencies when you need to verify stories before publication and the government
does not try to eliminate you for pursuing certain unclassified information
that should have been made public. I am sure you can feel me in what I am about
to say.

Before I go into details consider that recently an enquiry has just been set up to probe the killing of unarmed men, women and children in
Maiduguri, courtesy of the damming evidence just published in Aljazeera
network. Before now every year the human Rights Watch and Civil Liberties will
cry out about increasing arbitrary extra judicial killings of people in Police
Stations, Detention centers and
checkpoints but the government will deny such a thing happening. Of course
there is no evidence, because if the security forces catch you taking pictures
without their permission, they will kill you first and deny you ever existed;
remember that there is no record or census figures and the courts only sit at
your behest-that is if you would foot the bill. If not you can always come for
your postponement of case notice. The system has broken down long time ago and
has become by choice. You want security, you pay for it. The policemen are
there for your taking and like Shell Petroleum you can take them, retrain them
and they will give you wonderfully efficient services. It is so with customs, legislators,
bankers, lawyers, etc; even the ordinary file jacket of an accused in the law
courts does not move on its own volition except you push it. You can decide
that the file will not be found and so the judge will postpone such a case sine die. You can now understand why it
took Nigerian legislators so long to recognize they did not have a President to
work with in Nigeria. Why? Someone was pushing them to the state of lack of
awareness. So my friend what sort of enquiry will they set up on something that
is so prevalent in Nigeria that if you stop it today the prison and detention
system will come to a stand still. How can they create space in the overcrowded
police cells for new inmates when they have to grapple with a cell space that
has remained stagnant for twenty years of state failure to plan? How are these
unfortunates disposed? Since there are no records and because it is ‘our
internal affairs’, foreign investigation cannot hold here at least not without
giving us the tip off to gather things up. There are the options of mass graves
or they may up being accused post-humusly as armed robbery and maybe a public
display to earn some of their killers press accolades and promotion as well as
to assure the international community that there is good security, ‘just equip
us very well that is all’.

So if I may venture a guess, the enquiry will dwell on finding out the man who made the video, was it from within or without? If
within, where is he or his family, what is their source of income, do they have
houses or other properties that can be sabotaged; if he is employed, who is the
employer? How can we make him testify that he forged the video? ‘If the
employer refuses to discredit him by firing him or declaring him a mental case,
we can always remove his power supply to make his company unprofitable and make
him suffer until he plays ball’ It is exactly the problem Nigerians will face
even with a new acting President in power, there is no quick fix for the
problems except fundamental restructuring changes are undertaken very quickly
before the old system drowns new efforts at reforms.

How is the new government handling issues? Although too early to judge but the same gag tactics has continued in the media. This time
every effort is made to rubbish the advantage of the information age in
Nigeria. You can imagine the chagrin of the juntas kitchen cabinet when they
discovered that disputed BBC interview backfired on them having formed the
damming evidence they had spent billions of naira to protect from the public
.It has the same effect with the Aljazeera video: one small step for man, a
giant step for Nigeria. It is all in the age where photographers and bloggers
are designated state security risks.

What about the ineffectual response of the junta to these threats In Nigeria? Deliberate
subversion. Here, GSM revolution has turned into a misery as tapping of phones
have become a vehicle for state and non state monitoring of Nigerians. All
sorts of tricks are delivered to your bedroom via the GSM even the native
doctors now use it to summon victims before deadly shrines. Beware of those
calls from strange numbers where your answer is not replied to. Unknowingly
your political opponent or business foe may be lining you for spiritual harm.
All they need is for you to speak into the phone which has been placed on the
shrine and your identity would be taken for their diabolical purposes.

What about the internet? Now the new employed are being orientated to help the high and mighty hack into their opponents web pages or
retrieve their most personal information.. My personal experience continues
along the road of the Nigerian revolution. At times it becomes so difficult to
post an article on the web .Sometimes as I begin to type a fake browser jumps
into the scene and takes away the much I had written so that the agents of the
state would decide whether I would be allowed to go on to complete this article
or not. Sometimes they are in good mood they would allow m to post it. At other
times especially if much is at stake like the day the acting President was
empowered, they will refuse to allow me complete it or post it .Suddenly our
transformer was sabotaged plunging the area into darkness. Some unknown persons
simply walked in and remove the fuse. With my generator running, I discovered
that I could not access my box at yahoo. When I managed to get in by changing
the password, then I was informed I had been logged out of chat because I had
chosen to log in through another computer. Then everything stopped going, I couldn’t
send the article nor log out. As I wondered what to do, my GSM stopped working
and the internet chose this moment to pack up their services. At other times
the web publishers will return the articles or delay it until its timeliness
makes its publication useless. If you send to newspapers they will expect you
to send money or they would do you the favor of publishing it as fillers if
they publish it at all. Sometimes when your column is due to come out in a
newspaper, the government will buy you off with a running advert, at other
times they will sack the stubborn editor for publishing your article and if too
dangerous they will buy all the copies from the street and destroy them to
limit circulation. Even recently the websites were approached not to publish my
articles by government and some of them began to carry disclaimer on the
articles but the battle must have proven an uphill task for them because as the
son of man wrote : To stand before the truth and refute it is impossible. The
information age has wiped away the drudgery of information flow of past eras
that allowed governments to tyrannize their people by delaying or withholding
vital information from their people. Information flow is instantaneous and the
speed of publication assures it a value. Any website that delays publication
loses more than the patronage from corrupt governments. Any government that
cannot compete is forgotten in the dust bin of history and positive competition
includes wider computer education, prompt passing of the Freedom of Information
Bill as well as electoral reforms. The time when mediocre rule is over because
curtailing information at this age, even in Nigeria remains an uphill task.

Mr. Nworisara aspired to be President of Nigeria in 1992

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