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WikiLeaks: Confirming what Nigerians suspected?

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To what extent the phenomenal revelations of WikiLeaks are changing the world will not be immediately known but what is certain is that they are bringing about massive changes. These changes cut across fields, from the cloak and dagger world of espionage to international relations, journalism, law and the debate over free speech. The ripples generated by Julian Assange's WikiLeaks have stirred the waters all over the globe, including Nigeria, where it seems his revelations have confirmed suspicions of corruption in the highest places. President Goodluck Jonathan, former first lady Turai Yar'adua and former attorney-General, Michael Aaondoakaa are some of the big names shown in garish lights by his revelations. But the big news is: no one, at least in Nigeria, seems entirely surprised by the disclosure.   

'The issues they exposed especially in relation to Nigeria have been in the public domain. The leaks have only given a stamp of authenticity to them and no Nigerian who has followed closely the period of uncertainty and confusion in Nigeria will be surprised at the issues raised,' activist lawyer and Director, Human Rights Monitor, Festus Okoye said.

This view is echoed by Richard Akinola of the Centre of Free Speech, Lagos. 'Wikileaks has not told us anything new concerning corruption in Nigeria. They were just saying the obvious,' he said.

Some of the revelations concerning Nigeria may be obvious but they are particularly disturbing especially when then acting president Jonathan admitted to the then US ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Sanders, that he was 'inexperienced' to run Nigeria. Of course his political opponents are bound to jump on this statement.

But beyond embarrassing Jonathan himself, observers think the admission should be taken seriously. Festus Okoye is one of them: 'I do not find the statement strange. In the first place he emerged as the Governor of Bayelsa State by accident. He also emerged as the Vice President of Nigeria by accident. Nobody mentioned his name as one of the contenders as he was not really a big player in the politics of that period. To that extent I think the statement represents the reality.  

  Damage Control
  The revelations have embarrassed governments and individuals and have left many scrambling for damage limitation. Nigeria's foreign minister, Odein Ajumogobia called the whistle-blowing antics of WikiLeaks as 'a disaster for all diplomats' and admits that 'sensibilities will be affected.'

'Because the nature of our enterprise is discretion and when discretion is breached, it does have serious concerns some of which are security in nature,'' the minister said.

He made the statement in Washington DC Thursday night at a Forum on Nigeria-US relations. Ironically, former US envoy to Nigeria, Robin Sanders moderated that event.

But the government that has been embarrassed the most by the revelations is the US Government. Uncomplimentary comments from its diplomats about world leaders have caused frictions between governments.

In an effort to soothe the pains the leaks have caused, Amb. Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa said that the leaks will not impede US partnership with Africa.

'Some of you may have probably wondered whether the WikiLeaks phenomenon of the last three and half to four weeks has distracted us or impeded our work with respect to our African partners. I'm here to tell you that   our efforts to build strong U.S. Pan African partnerships between the U.S. and individual African countries remain strong and forward moving,'' he said.

Carson addressed journalists in Abuja and assured of America's commitment to African development. 'Obama is committed to doing everything he can through the Global Health Initiative to help Africa address its medical problems, including HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and water borne diseases, such as cholera,'' he said.

But this commitment is called into question following WikiLeaks   revelation that the US government was fully aware of Pharmaceutical giants, Pfizer's unwholesome measures to force former attorney-general of Nigeria, Micheal Aaondoakaa to drop the lawsuit against the American company after dozens of Nigerian children were killed and many others permanently damaged after unsanctioned drug tests in the country.

Pfizer had in 1996 administered Trovan, a drug still under development at the time, to hundreds of children in Kano during a meningitis outbreak. Following the deaths and deformities of many of those treated with the drugs, a multibillion dollar lawsuit was instituted against the company. The lawsuit was later dropped under suspicious circumstances and Pfizer later announced a $75 million settlement. WikiLeaks revealed secret US diplomatic cables that Pfizer used blackmail to force the then attorney-general, Aaondoakaa to drop the suit. The 'Committed' US government, armed with this knowledge, did not intervene to ensure that the affected children and their families are adequately compensated.  

  Gagging the whistleblower
'In a clime where there is no access to information and the National Assembly is not willing to pass the FOI Bill, coupled with the Official Secrets Act of 1962 still in our statute books, it makes the practice of journalism more daunting. Coupled with that is the informal repression by way of death threats, assassination and kidnapping. If this kind of WikiLeaks thing has happened in Nigeria, instead of the powers that be to face reality, they may charge the journalist for Treason,' Mr. Akinola of the Centre for Free Speech, Lagos said.

Incidentally, the man behind this damning revelations is today behind bars for alleged sex offences. Julian Assange was arrested in London for having sex with two Swedish women without condom - no one is denying that it was consensual sex between adults. Under Swedish law, it is a crime to have sex without condom and it is labelled rape and sexual assault.

Ironically, when the women first complained to the authorities, Swedish prosecutors threw out the case for lack of merit but it was reopened after 'international pressure'. Some US officials have branded Assange a 'combatant terrorist' some going as far as calling for his execution for espionage.

Protests in several countries have greeted Assange's arrest, many branding his persecution a fight against freedom of speech. With Assange behind bars, the revelations have continued as well as the debate as to the true nature of WikiLeaks as it affects press freedom. Experts believe it is a challenge to journalism.

As the debates continue, one thing is certain - WikiLeaks has thrown a challenge to journalists and whistle-blowers the world over even here in Nigeria. Mr. Okoye sums it up: 'The capacity of journalists must be improved and enhanced. The legal regime that supports investigative journalism must be pursued with vigour and passed by the National Assembly.'  

Abubakar A. Ibrahim    

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