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...MY THOUGHTS
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.
- 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.
- 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).
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 -
**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