Huriwa Raises Alarm Over Suppression Of press Freedom
A prominent civil rights organization- HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) has decried the rising wave of federal government’s intolerance of political pluralism, press freedom and freedom of expression and has tasked Nigerians to resist a return to full blown dictatorship through every conceivable legal mechanism.
HURIWA said Nigeria and Nigerians will be worst off should President Muhammadu Buhari be tolerated to institute incipient tyranny which is what he has since started introducing with his initial serial flouting of court orders; attacks targeting judges including the illegal deposition of the head of the judicial arm of government and his government's persistent witch hunt targeting political opposition using all security forces and especially the highly compromised Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Rights group has also accused a section of the judiciary of criminal collusion with the totalitarian presidency to undermine the enjoyments of the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms as manifested in the recent unlawful jailing of a human rights activist Mr. I.G. Awala over a spurious charge of belonging to a so called unregistered association.
HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) also blasted President Muhammadu Buhari for illegal use of security agencies and the Ministry of Federal capital Territory to go after Nigeria’s best known media mogul and Africa’s largest television- African Independent Television Chief Raymond Dokpesi over his perceived political affiliations regarded as diverging from that of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
HURIWA condemned the demolition of sections of the imposing complex housing the most reputable privately administered television in Nigeria based in Abuja-AIT by officials of the FCT and the recent illegal detention at the international Airport by Nigeria Immigration services (NIS) OF Chief Dokpesi who had just retured from overseas medical care.
HURIWA said that the arrest, continuous harassment of Chief Dokpesi was well -coordinated plots to intimidate, cow and compel him and to undermine the independence of the only surviving independent television in Nigeria because of the predisposition of the African Independent Television to allow all shades of opinions in their broadcast station.
Endorsed jointly by the National coordinator Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and National media Affairs Director Miss Zainab Yususf, HURIWA has also resolved to petition the offices of the United States president; prime minister of Britain and the European Union to call president Buhari to order so his regime stops threatening press freedom.
In a statement titled "RIGHTS TO FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION AND THE PRESS ARE NOT ONLY LEGAL BUT ALSO FUNDAMENTAL AND NOT CRIMINAL", HURIWA affirmed thus: "Nigeria is a secular state which not only does not function at the whims and caprices of some religious, political, cultural elite or oligarchy or group or institution but by the law which clearly spells out the rights and obligations of her citizen and all other within its geographical location. In this regard, the first, primary and most essential law of resort is her Constitution which is the grundnorm. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not only give life to all other laws but kills any law, belief, opinion etc which purports to negate its provision. It is apt at this juncture to quote from section 1(1) and (3) of the Constitution. Section 1(1) provides thus:
“This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on the authorities and persons throughout the Federal republic of Nigeria.”
In the same vein section 1(3) provides thus:
“If any law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.”
A discourse on the subject at hand is not only a legal issue but a constitutional provision. The Constitution recognises freedom of association. Section 40 enshrines this essential feature of the human being in the following words:
“Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.”
The only constitutionally recognisable derogation from the foregoing section is the right of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to refuse to recognise political parties which are not registered with them. One very important point must be made here then, an association must not be registered to guarantee this right except it is for the purposes of contesting an election.
On the other hand, section 39(1) provides for freedom of the press in the following words:
“Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”
Similarly Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states thus among others:
Every one has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.
HURIWA absolutely agrees with the postulation that press freedom connotes that there is no prior or subsequent restraint; freedom to gather information; the right not to be compelled to disclose the source of information; freedom of impart; the right to receive information and Freedom from unreasonable punishment for what is published.
ALL NIGERIA PEOPLES PARTY & 11 OTHERS V. INSPECTOR GENERAL OF POLICE (2006) CHR 181-199, the Court held that by the combined effect of Sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution as well as Article 11of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the right to assemble freely cannot be violated without violating the fundamental right to peaceful assembly and association.
In the case ANIGBORO V. SEA TRUCKS LTD (1995) 6 NWLR (PT.399) 35, the Court of Appeal held that it is not for the employer to choose a trade union for his employees. That the summary dismissal of the workers who remained adamant as to their choice of a trade union was violative of their right to freedom of association.
In EGRI V. UPERI (1973) 1 SC 299, the Supreme Court speculated that it may be contrary to the right to freedom of association for a court to compel a wife to return to her husband.
It is obvious that the law does not only guarantees these rights but also further that they be strictly protected because they are the core of the societal liberty and the basis for the ultimately freedom of mankind and the smooth functioning of society.
HURIWA recalled that Ibrahim Wala, popularly called I G Wala, was jailed on Wednesday by Justice Yusuf Halilu of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
He was reportedly found guilty of falsely accusing the head of a pilgrim commission of corruption and leading a protest against the official.
Justice Halilu found Mr Wala guilty on three of the four charges filed against him by the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General of the Federation.
The three charges for which he was found guilty include unlawful assembly, public incitement and criminal defamation of character.
The judge, however, dismissed the charge of criminal intimidation for lack of merit.
The activist was arraigned following a petition filed by the chairman of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Abdullahi Mukhtar.
In the petition, Mr Mukhtar alleged that Mr Wala used his Facebook page to incite the public against him and defame his integrity and that of the commission he heads.
On the charge of unlawful assembly, Mr Wala was found guilty of using his organisation, the Citizens Action To Take Back Nigeria (CATBAN), to form an unlawful assembly. The judge ruled that the organisation was unregistered.
The judge said the prosecution “has been able to establish the offence of making an unlawful assembly.”
HURIWA said the jailing of the activist is unconstitutional and must never be allowed to stand. HURIWA asked the Court of Appeal to annul this unbridled resort to tyranny by the government as represented by the anarchic verdict that is capable of destroying fundamental rights.