Can Jonathan Sign Off As A Hero?
Social media is indeed intriguing in many ways and at the same token very exciting. The Social media is like an open school whereby the good, the bad and the ugly hibernate and cohabit with each competing school of thought battling to outdo each other in michief and virtues.
For contemporary Nigerians the social media has become one forum whereby persons of divergent opinions converge or rather congregate to market their well thought out ideologies even as others are busy dishing out their warped opinions.
It was therefore not out of place that the social media more than other mainstream and conventional media has hosted the war of words between supporters and opponents of the recent decision by the Nigerian President elect Major General Muhammadu Buhari to bar the African Independent Television (AIT) from covering his activities.
This decision which has now been reversed by the political platform of the President Elect- the All Progtessives Congress, was not unconnected to the less than professional role played by the private television house during the just cincluded presidential campaign in which some opponents of the now President elect sponsored hate messages targeted at character assasination of General Buhari.
Ironically, the outgoing ruling party-Peoples Democratic Party has joined the debate by criticising the President elect for his anti press freedom stance. Interestingly, as the press statement of the PDP hit the newsrooms the story of the prosecution of some senior editorial sraff of the Abuja based Leadership Newspapers by the current President for alleged forgery of the President's letterheaded paper emerged when the Abuja High Court took a long adjournment to continue further hearing. Whilst the PDP on one hand was critiquing the President elect for being anti media it completely forgot or pretended not to remember that this same government produced by PDP is still prosecuting journalists for simply doing their job. Why this hypocrisy?
Those who praise the current government for achieving the landmark of signing into law the Freedom of Information Act has therefore asked President Jonathan to discontinue the prosecution of Leadership Newspaper editors before the Abuja High Court so he can end up on May 29th 2015 on exit from political power as a complete hero of democracy who took salient policy decisions to deepen democracy and pluralism including the expansion of the frontiers of media rights in Africa's largest democracy.
Earlier in the day coinciding with the issuance of the PDP'S press statement lampooning the President elect for what it calls anti -media freedom stance, the absence of Justice Usman Musale of an Abuja High Court in Jabi reportedly stalled further hearing of alleged forgery of presidential
bromide levelled against two journalists of LEADERSHIP newspapers.
The Group News Editor of the newspaper, Mr. Tony Amokeodo and Senior
Correspondent, Mr. Chibuzor Ukaibe, pleaded not guilty to the charge
when it was read to them during their arraignment.
In the suit, the federal government had accused the journalists and
the newspaper of alleged involvement in forging a presidential
At the last adjourned date of the matter, the court rejected a
letter-head paper emanating from the Chief of Staff to President
The trial was supposed to continue on Monday but parties in the matter
were told that the judge travelled outside the country. The court had rejected the letter-head paper which the prosecution claimed was from the Office of the Chief of Staff to PresidentJonathan.
Lawyer to the federal government, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), had intended to prove that the bromide as published by the LEADERSHIP newspaper was forged and therefore did not emanate from the president.
The first prosecution witness from federal government, Mr. Ibrahim
Bako, had testified that while investigating the forgery allegation,
he approached the Presidency and was given a blank letter head paper
from the Office of the President by one Abiye White, an assistant
The police officer said he discovered in the course of the
investigation that the bromide and the Coat of Arms did not tally with
the document he got from the Presidency.
Awomolo, had also sought to tender a Certified True Copy of the letter
head paper which the witness claimed was obtained from the Office of
But the lawyer to the journalists, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), objected to
the admissibility of the document.
According to him, what Awomolo sought to tender was just a blank
letter head paper, which did not emanate from the Office of the
President, but from the office of the Chief of Staff to the President.
He said: “What the prosecution sought to tender is a blank sheet of
paper from the office of the Chief of Staff to the President. Since
the witness has said that he got a CTC from the office of the Chief of
Staff, he cannot tender it.
“He cannot seek to tender a letter head paper from the office of the
Chief of Staff because there is dichotomy between the President and
the chief of Staff.
“The document in dispute is from the office of the President and not
from the office of the chief of Staff. I urge the court to reject it
in the interest of justice.”
But Awomolo in his reply, disagreed with Falana, saying that his
objection was misconceived and a misunderstanding of the law.
He said the document came from the officer who had custody of them,
stressing that, “It is wrong to expect that the President will certify
documents by himself.”
The judge however ruled against the argument of Awomolo and accepted
the submission of Falana.
Justice Musale consequently rejected the document as exhibit in the case.
The case has been adjourned to June 8, 2015.
The long adjournment is somewhat a huge victory to media freedom because surely the incoming administration wouldn't associate itself with this case that has been termed persecution of a section of the media because clearly the next adjourned date will come up almost two weeks after President Jonathan has exited. So why can't the current President instruct his lawyers to discontinue this needless case now before May 29th 2015 when the current outgoing President will step aside to give way for the assumption of office of the President elect who incidentally is a close ally of the publisher of Leadership Newspaper Mr Sam Nda Isaih who himself have had brushes with the security operatives in the recent past over his published harsh criticisms of the Jonathan's administration?
As someone who has authored over 18 dozen articles on issues around governance under this current government may I appeal to President Jonathan to instruct the Federal Attorney General to discontinue this matter now against Leadership Newspaper to save his legacy of having done so much to liberalise press freedoms in the last five years. Let the current government take this heroic decision and enter the history book as a hero if for no other way but for advancing press freedoms.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of Human rights Writers association of Nigeria and blogs @ www.huriwa.blogspot.com, www.rightsassociationngr.com, www.huriwa.org.