Posted by News Express | 28 May 2013 | 5,323 times

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Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko is the National Coordinator, Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). In this interview, he speaks on issues connected with the ongoing move to grant amnesty to terrorists and other relevant issues of national importance. Excerpts:

Question: As a human rights advocate, what is your view on the recent detention of some journalists in police custody in connection with a story that was unpleasant to the Presidency?

Onwubiko: The recent clampdown on media freedom by the government is reprehensible and condemnable. The arrest and detention of four journalists from LEADERSHIP newspaper and the repeat arrest of two other journalists that happened recently is reminiscent of a return to dictatorship and tyranny in Nigeria. It is imperative that Nigerians collectively condemn this atrocious behavior of government and it is important that Nigerians should stand up and say no to a return of regime of dictatorship. We should not just fold our hands and expect journalists to be the only professional group to defend their interest because an injustice to one is an injustice to all. More so, journalists in Nigeria are instrumental to the enthronement and emergence of the current democratic dispensation. So any attack on the freedom of the press or journalists by government officials using the instrumentality of the armed security, the police particularly or the SSS, is an attack on the conscience of the nation and should be seen as such. So the people of Nigeria must stand up and condemn this atrocity. Although the government has released the detained journalists and withdrawn the outrageous charges against them, we must not rest on our oars but we must remain vigilant to ensure that press freedom and freedom of expression is guaranteed and protected jealously. 

Do you think their arrest is an infringement to the freedom of the press?

It is a total infringement. It is an attack. It is not just an infringement – infringement is an understatement – it is a holistic attack. It is a very fundamental attack on media freedom and it is also a breach of the Constitution of Nigeria. The journalists in Nigeria have a constitutional mandate to inform, educate and entertain Nigerians and to serve as the watchdog and vanguard of the society. This is In line with Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.

As a human rights writer, what is your advice to journalists?

What we should advise is that the media houses endeavour to continuously give their workers tools to work with. First and foremost, journalists in Nigeria must consistently be given capacity building. There has to be a deliberate effort by the media houses to retrain and keep training their media workers. It is important that journalists who are the major educators, people that inform Nigerians about happenings around us, are adequately tutored to give Nigerians the most qualitative information available and there has to be a functional insurance policy for journalists. The recent arrest on some journalists, that is the arrest of four LEADERSHIP newspaper reporters and also other manifestations of attacks against the press freedom like the prosecution of some journalists in Kano for airing a programme that was critical of the polio vaccination – even though the killing of the nine polio workers was totally outrageous, totally condemnable and reprehensible – for the rest of the journalists for doing their work, it is also unacceptable. There are several other manifestations of attacks on the press; it shows that the work of journalism in Nigeria has become increasingly difficult and increasingly risky.

What is your comment on the recent move by the Federal Government to grant amnesty to Boko Haram and the presidential order for the release of some detainees linked with terrorism?

Granting amnesty to Boko Haram is unconstitutional. It is illegal. It is only a country like Nigeria where we are operating as if we are living in a banana republic. As if we are living in a country where there is a total anarchy, that government officials will begin to talk about amnesty to be granted to armed terrorists who have on their hands the blood of the innocent children; women and the aged killed in churches and randomly and people that have armed themselves and are unleashing regime of violence on ordinary Nigerians in churches and places of worship even against some moderate Muslims. And here we have a President telling the world that he wants to grant amnesty to terrorists. It is quite unfortunate. It has shown that the President has lost control of the situation. It is not done anywhere in any civilised society that the government will be the one to be begging terrorists saying desperately please come let us give you amnesty.

Why do we have a constitution? We all know that Nigeria is a country being governed by laws. If they say they want to grant amnesty to Boko Haram, it is as good as saying let us close all the prisons, let all prisons in Nigeria be closed down. Let them tell all those armed operatives to ensure that there is respect to the rule of law while the government must guarantee protection of lives and property of citizens. 

The order for release of terrorists from detention without prosecution amounts to a travesty of justice and also amounts to dancing on the graves of the innocent Nigerians gruesomely killed by these hoodlums. It is as if government is telling armed murderers to just go home and relax and allow Nigeria to become a big animal farm. It is unfortunate. Amnesty is unconstitutional and illegal. Amnesty to violent terrorists with blood on their hands shows that government has lost touch with reality. Amnesty to genocide suspects shows that the present government does not care, is not sensitive to the plight of thousands of victims of this terrorist attacks that happened over the last two or three years. It is unfortunate to begin to talk about amnesty when these armed bandits are killing people consistently and government did not even do anything to protect our international borders. These same armed terrorists are infiltrating our borders, bringing in sophisticated weapons, bombs and all the rest of them and government is talking about amnesty. Let the President resign if he does not have the solution to the insecurity we have in Nigeria. The President should resign honourably or he should be forced out of the office through constitutional means.

What is your view on recent move by MEND to fight for the Christians in Nigeria?

MEND or whatever name they want to identify themselves with is not the army of Christians. It is only God who fights for the Christians. Boko Haram even though they are Islamic fundamentalists, they are not fighting for all Muslims in Nigeria. There are many good Muslims in Nigeria who are opposed to the atrocities that are being committed by the Boko Haram terrorists allegedly in the name of their religion which is universally known as a religion of peace. So it is wrong-headed to jump into conclusion that Boko Haram is fighting for Muslims in Nigeria whereas MEND is now getting ready to fight for Christians. MEND is not a Christian militia; we don’t have any Christian army in Nigeria. It is even wrong for people to hide under Christianity to want to unleash their own brand of terrorism. MEND is a terrorist group, Boko Haram is a terrorist group; both of them are all terrorist groups that must be demobilised. They are not fighting for any religious interest. Nigeria is not at war over religion. What is at play right now is that we have a government. And the government of Nigeria must stand up and work for Nigeria to protect the lives and property of Nigerians.  That is the primary duty of the government according to the constitution of federal republic of Nigeria. Nigeria is a country that is governed by law. It is not an animal farm where everything goes.

What do you think is the cause?

What we have in Nigeria is a question of breakdown of law and order, it is a question of lack of political will on the part of political elite headed by the President of this country who was elected only about two years ago by Nigerians collectively to defend the territory and the integrity of Nigerians. He is the commander in Chief of the armed forces of Nigeria. He is not commander in chief of Christians.

What do you think that the federal government should do to ensure that insecurity is reduced to the barest minimum?

The reason why we continue to have terrorism in Nigeria is because there is impunity. Impunity means lawlessness. It means you can just do anything and get away with it once you have people on top. That is impunity and it is antithetical to democracy. Impunity is the cause of Boko Haram attacks. It is the reason why we have people who call themselves MEND threatening to attack Muslims and you have a group who call themselves Boko Haram heaping threats through Youtube and other internet facilities, threatening to attack Christians, government and other institutions and have actually carried out this genocidal killings undetected. When you have a country where there is no due process of the law, then that country is a failed state. The only way we can rescue Nigeria from a failed nation is that whosoever commits an offence against the state will and should be arrested, and taken to court, prosecuted, if found guilty in line with the constitution of Nigeria in Section 6 which gives the court of competent jurisdiction the jurisdiction to handle any criminal matter to those Nigerians who are caught. Those Nigerians who are in conflict with the law must face the consequences of the law. There should not be politics about negotiating with outlaws as being contemplated by the Jonathan-led government. Whether you are a Christian or Muslim as long as you are a Nigerian citizen you must comply with the constitution of Nigeria.

Source: News Express

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