Wednesday, November 12, 2008

On November 8th, Leadership Newspaper's lead story was titled "Yar'Adua Sick Again" and it alleged that the President had missed certain events due to health matters. The newspaper also stated that doctors were flown in from Saudi Arabia on his behalf. The following day, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Olusegun Adeniyi, announced that Nigeria's President will sue Leadership Newspaper for libel. According to Adeniyi,

"In keeping with his commitment to upholding the rule of law at all times, Yar'Adua has directed his lawyers to take appropriate legal action against the Leadership newspaper...
There is no truth in the entire report ... the only reasonable conclusion is that the publishers ... ran the report ... to embarrass the President and destabilise his administration. [sic]
The truth is that the President is in good health and has been attending to all his official duties in full view of the media in the past week"
This announcement resulted in an immediate public apology from Leadership Newspaper. According to a Daily Trust report, Leadership's publishers stated,
"...portions of the lead story carried yesterday ... did not meet the standard we have set for ourselves as a newspaper. Having taken a second look ... we can understand the concerns of the Presidency and therefore sincerely apologise...

That mix-up does not suggest, however, that we have been working in alliance with any person or group or party that does not mean well for our president or our country."
Yar'Adua has every right to sue anyone who defames him or his character. Clearly, Leadership Newspaper has retracted some of its report and admitted that its article, "Yar'Adua Sick Again", was not entirely factual, thus furthering any libel case the President might have against the publication.

If this were a perfect world, however, two crucial things would have happened.
  1. As soon as he became President,Yar'Adua would have told the nation exactly what was/is/might be wrong with his health. That, coupled with Nigeria's fervor for religion, would likely have endured the public to him, forcing most to pray for him and defend him from any further discussions about his health.
  2. Upon being upfront with the people, he would have sued the first publication to then print untruths about his health instead of shutting down Channels TV and arresting bloggers like Jonathan Elendu and Emeka Asiwe (who has been missing for over 2 weeks).
Granted, hindsight is 20/20, but had these two things happened, there would be little need for the President to respond to rumors about the condition of his health this late into his presidential term, especially as there are other important matters that he must deal with such as establishing his cabinet (which was recently dissolved) and addressing the myriad of issues Nigeria faces. Of course, there will always be detractors, but by sharing a personal issue with the greater public, Nigerians would more than likely defend him and squash political opportunists who try to use his health as a divisive issue.

Additionally, I must confess that I am turned off by Adeniyi's accusation that Leadership Newspaper was attempting to "destabilise"[sic] Yar'Adua's administration. While that might be true, it sets an unhealthy precedent when a democratic government publicly makes general accusations that it in turn does not butress with further evidence. This is not the first time those close to Yar'Adua have accused others of trying to undermine the government. In fact, it seems to be a recurring refrain from those in power right now and that is dangerous in a nation that has seen many dictatorships and is struggling to gain a true democratic footing.

Finally, I must highlight one more statement shared by Adeniyi on behalf of the president.
"While Yar'Adua fully believes that a free and unfettered press is essential to the growth and entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria, he is equally of the view that the propagation of spiteful and malicious falsehood must not be allowed to become an acceptable weapon of political opposition in our country."
I completely agree with the sentiment above and thank God that courts are best equipped for dealing with defamation cases. However, I must remind the president that 2 bloggers were recently detained and accused of everything from treason to money laundering. They are yet to be charged with any crime even though their characters have now come under question and they are not free. I must also emphasize that although spiteful and malicious falsehoods can have legal consequences, the freedom of speech and expression by average Nigerians and especially bloggers and citizen journalists is a universally accepted right that should never be suppressed particularly in a democratic nation. Consequently, I repeat my call for Jonathan Elendu to be given his travel documents so he can return to his wife and child, and that Emeka Asiwe be released from SSS detention so he can as well return to his family. Or, do we want to add the following to the growing global ideas about what kind of country Nigeria is -
"It looks like Nigeria isn’t any nicer than China when it comes to dissenters and blogs."
It could be, if we aren't truly committed "to upholding the rule of law at all times."

**If, for any reason, the original Leadership story becomes unavailable, I have a copy and can make it available, when necessary.

Related Articles of Interest:
- Channels TV Shut Down By Yar'Adua
- Yar'Adua And The Continuing Heath Issue
- The Consequences of Yar'Adua's Mysterious Health
- Suppression In A Democratic Regime
- Nigerian Blogger Arrested
- Turning Away from Democracy

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Femi B said...

your blog has a push pull effect on me. The more I say i am tired of this nonsense in Nigeira, the more i want to know more and do my own part. Yardua..sick or not..who cares..just do your job and stop arresting folks. If he took his small small energy he uses to be stoping people from talking about him to doing what he is supposed to be doing...there would be praises. HOw many people complain about Fashola..even though he might have some short comings

webround said...

my understanding of why the president is claiming that "the publishers ran the report to embarass & destabilise the administration" was becos the article claimed he had missed official functions in the past 2 days, specifically the friday prayers and an event at Sheraton. However it seems the president was at those 2 "public" events thus creating the impression that the paper was "deliberately" spreading false stories.

Since the president has decided to seek legal redress, he should also seek legal redress against Elendu and co, if he believes they also published false stories...

Danny Bagucci said...

Classic hypocrisy here... Seeking legal redress for libelous reports and then keeping others in detention without (serious) charge are a cntradiction of the stated objective of "upholding the rule of law". Surely, they must feel we are simply idiots right?

Afolabi said...

I had the same reaction as you did on Yaradua's reaction to the Newspaper's story on his health. I do not know much about the legal system, but if what the newspaper have done is illegal. Then, I guess, the president has every right to sue (this even sounds good, he following due process, hopefully it is transparent).

And as he now seems to want to do things transparently, so should the cases of the bloggers be.

Beauty said...

Google news headlines with photos Babies bred for sale in Nigeria with story below is evidence President Yar'Adua has failed those babies in his role (whatever that is).

UNICEF estimates that at least 10 children are sold daily across Nigeria, where human trafficking is ranked the third most common crime after economic fraud and drug trafficking. "There is so much profit in this business. There is so much to be made in trafficking and that is why it is thriving."

In order to change Nigeria, the so called VIPs had better get off their highs and mock in with the rest of the pigs because Nigeria has become a joke too far. How bad does it have to get? Made in Nigeria has become synonymous with anythingsickincludingcrimefraudrugsetc yet a Special Adviser to the President had the time to go after trash publication! The propagation of spiteful and malicious falsehood must not be allowed to become an acceptable weapon of political opposition in our country is tripe in the face of the daily bad news out of Nigeria. Sure, sue the trash publishers, put them out of business and create more armed robbers. But how do you expect to change without information?

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala famously likens the role of the west to that of parent and Nigeria as the child. "If your child has been doing bad things, like drug or alcohol abuse, and they come to you and say, 'Mother, I want to change, please help me.' Would you say 'No. You're hopeless. You can't change?' How can people help Nigeria if it sits on information that will enable change? Information is power and if a distorted Chinese whisper form is the norm in the age of facebook, Nigeria will regress further. Media manipulation and inadequate infrastructure are huge problems for a developing country hence Trash Newspapers.

So why is it so hard to get information in Nigeria? No one person ever seems to be in overall control, or to have the whole picture. Press officers seemed to believe that Nigerians do not have a right to information or do not even know about the issues. Why is it that when there is someone willing to give an account of events, it is often to push their own agenda? The coming of former newspaper editors as press officers across the nation is the other concern as they moved into public service and changed from being the watchdogs to the dogs to be watched. Why are they helping to kept public information secret?

N.I.M.M.O said...

I saw the news item and my first reaction was: Can a sitting President sue?

If the Constitution says that an individual cannot be sued for as long as he remains in a particular office, how come that person can sue someone else?

If the issues/grounds claimed in the Immunity clause are valid, then a President cannot sue. How will he appear in court, if required to? As Citizen UMYAwn or as the President and C-in-C?

If he appears as Citizen UMYAwn, he will be sworn on oath. He is vulnerable to being asked any number and type of questions. He can be sued at that point in time. He can be served any number of summons, for any number of offenses.

A person who comes to seek justice is also liable to being sued. What is that thing they say about equity? Otherwise, the Constitution is not being fair.

N.I.M.M.O said...

@Beauty: Information is power. Thus it must be wielded with a high sense of responsibility. When you take issues out of context - misinforming people, you end up abusing that power.

'Distorted Chinese whispers' go very far, particularly when that is the intention of the 'whisperer'.

It is not hard to get information in Nigeria. There is no information that is not available. You only have to know who, when and how to ask.

If I want to know what UMYAwn had for breakfast this morning, I can get it. I only have to ask the right people (maybe his cook) and ask rightly. It doesn't have to be on the internet or in the Library of Congress.

N.I.M.M.O said...

@Beauty: This unfortunate issue of babies being 'bred' for sale has been on for some time. Some people have taken what was began as a good deed to a rouge one.

After our atrocious civil war, the Catholic church charities took in many women who had become pregnant from rape by soldiers on both sides. Some of these women were so traumatized and had gone bonkers.

They tended to them until birth largely to avoid abortions and/or injury to the women who had nobody to care for them and knowing the fate that awaited the babies when born 'without fathers' in an intolerant society.

These babies were 'given' to families who wanted them -some of them childless themselves and mostly west of the Niger. These families, who are usually Catholics, donated generously to the church.

By that gesture, the Church had solved two major problems.

It will appear that some people who had seen the good work of the Church may be trying to make a quick buck by replicating it. If you ask any of those 'doctors' and midwives, they will tell you they are doing 'GOD's work'.

In the absence of the proper social welfare infrastructure to take up the service from where the Catholic charities left it off, rouge self-help like this unfortunately becomes the norm.

N.I.M.M.O said...

@Beauty (again): I have learnt that in this life, you always get what you wish for -even if the wish is unconscious.

If you want good news, there is a lot of good news coming out of Nigeria every day. Maybe you need to call people at home more often and ask them:

'Nigeria, What's Good?'

Walahi,you'll get good news every time.

Even our sources of news also matter. If the list you have on your blog is anything to go by, I doubt if you want to get good news.

I am surprised you consider Leadership newspapers a 'Trash Newspaper'. Its one of those newspapers that rely on the so called 'New Media' to source information without the rigors of proper journalism.

As for 'press officers', you know what they say about how he who pays the piper is called a producer.

guerreiranigeriana said...

...*eyeroll*...honestly...who cares really if the newspaper misreported regarding yard-head's heath, especially when there are by far more serious issues to be addressed...and especially since this doesn't in any way make me more confident or sympathetic to yard-head...i didn't know presidents could sue...this story disturbs me tremendously!!!....

TheAfroBeat said...

I have to say that my first reaction was similar to that of Femi B - Yar'Aadua there are more important things to worry about than newspapers "attempting to destablize the Yar'Adua Administration". If only he would be speedy enough (within 3 days of the article being published, he's already up on it) with addressing the problems with NEPA, NITEL, NPA, the Niger Delta et al. But no, it's "due process" when it comes to things that do not affect the President directly. HISS.

In the meantime, hopefully when the President sues, he will have to present evidence to prove that he was indeed not sick during the period referred to by the Leadership Newspapers, and while he's at it, perhaps, just perhaps, he'll share his medical situation with the citizenry he was 'elected' to SERVE.

Thanks for sharing o. Any update on Mr Asiwe?

Nouveau Afrique said...

While its important to protect his public image, is it pragmatic for the current president of a republic to sue a media agent while still in office? I mean there is so much to be done in this country and in the continent as a whole. Its quite scary to think that this is how the "respected" president of Nigeria is choosing to spend our scarce resources, on a frivolous lawsuit. I am truly dismayed. Anyways Nigerian Curiousity, I am new on your site and I must say I am fascinated.

Doja said...

If he feels aggrieved then he should be able to seek redress in a court of law like anyone else, unfortunately most Nigerians cannot afford to fight for their rights in court.

Jinta said...

if it had been any civilised country, the president's spokesman - Adeniyi should simply have stated "no, the president is not sick", however, they cannot since they insist on hiding the president's state of health.

i wonder why he's going to the same court system that does not have the ability to prosecute ibori, donald duke, obasanjo, alams and the rest of 'them'

Jessica Taggart said...

Solomon, thank you for such an intelligible and thoughtful post. As I have recently just begun to tackle the complex history of Nigerian politics and systems of government post-independence, your blog was particularly useful in terms of more recent administrative events. I appreciated and agreed with your assertion that "Yar'Adua has every right to sue anyone who defames him or his character," especially because Leadership Newspaper has admitted that its article "was not entirely factual." I also sympathize with his attempted action to rectify the misinformation published about him, as it was relevant to his capabilities as a leader. Although the public appearances in question pale in comparison to the country's insurmountable structural issues and internal conflict, had he countered the initial suspicions surrounding his health, his honesty would have reinforced his legitimacy as president. However, in light of the two recent arrests of Jonathon Elendu and Emeka Asiwe, whose convoluted crimes remain highly debated, this law suit unfortunately further clouds his commitment to a free and unadulterated media. While the president says he "fully believes that a free and unfettered press is essential to the growth and entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria," his recent actions seem to dictate otherwise. Additionally, I have a few remaining inquiries that I would like for you to consider. Is Yar'Adua's health a potentially large issue for the country? Could the newspapers actually be attacking Yar'Adua's government purposefully to destabilize support for his regime? If so, would this be a result of internal divisions and mistrust for governance among the Nigerian population? Additionally, how do you think Yar'Adua would react to the United States media and their portrayal of politicians? Particularly with the recent US presidential elections, would he consider the coverage concerning the presidential and vice-presidential candidates to be malicious misinformation, or an expression of fundamental rights that encourage democratic elections and governance? Moreover, I would appreciate if you could elaborate on the statement you made in response to Olusegun Adeniyi's accusation of the newspaper's deliberate attempt to destabilize the current administration with the attacks on President Yar'Adua. What were some of the other occasions when Yar'Adua "accused others of trying to undermine the government?" Were they also involving the press, and what were his reactions to these other attacks? With your insight and knowledge on these matters of Nigerian governance displayed so passionately in this post, I would appreciate your response and interpretation concerning these additional concerns.

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