Alex Enumah writes that while the focus is often on the Federal Government, the worrisome and frightening culture of impunity in Nigeria may be worse in the states
When we talk of the degenerating level of the culture of impunity in the country a lot of media attention is fixated on the federal government, rather than in the states where some governors have turned themselves into demi-gods over their people.
A journey into the last six months of year 2019 would reveal no less than five states who have acted in violation of the law and in flagrant disobedience and disregard for fundamental human rights against their people. Some of the culpable states include; Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Enugu, Gombe, Lagos and Zamfara amongst others.
Among the leading cases is that of a journalist, Agba Jalingo in Cross River State, who has been in custody for nearly four months. He was arrested by the police in Lagos on August 22, over alleged disturbance of public peace.
Jalingo who is the publisher of the privately owned news website CrossRiverWatch , was however charged with disturbance of public peace and treason for his writing and social media posts about Cross River Governor Benedict Ayade, on August 30.
If found guilty, Jalingo could face up to three years in prison for the disturbance charge and life imprisonment for treason, according to the Nigerian criminal code.
Jalingo’s only sin was his publication of an article in July, 2019 where he had demanded the whereabouts of the sum of N500m approved and released by the Cross River State Government for the floating of the Cross River Microfinance bank.
According to the charge sheet, the disturbance charges stem from a July 12 CrossRiverWatch article that alleged corruption involving Ayade and the Cross River Micro Finance Bank, while the treasonable felony charge on the other hand alleged that Jalingo agitated for Ayade’s removal through “various malicious publications” on CrossRiverWatch and social media.
Also the July 12 article was said to have contained an editorial note identifying Jalingo as the Cross River state chairman of the African Action Congress (AAC). The party was founded by the convener #RevolutionNow protest and publisher of Sahara Reporters news website, Omoyele Sowore.
Sowore, who was the candidate of the AAC in the February 23 presidential election, was however arrested on August 3 for allegedly planning protests throughout Nigeria. He has been in custody of the DSS despite the order for his release having been granted bail and fulfilled the conditions attached to the bail.
Authorities also charged Jalingo with two counts of terrorism, stemming from Jalingo’s alleged plans to work with Sowore, “cult members,” and a local prince to “commit acts of terrorism” to unseat Ayade, according to the charge sheet.
Also guilty of gross abuse of the rights of its citizen is Cross River’s neigbhour, Akwa Ibom, where a banker is currently languishing in detention for allegedly insulting the governor on his Facebook page.
The banker, Michael Itok, was arraigned before a magistrate court in Uyo, by the State Security Service, SSS. He was accused of writing numerous articles against the Akwa Ibom governor, Udom Emmanuel, and other officials of the state government.
Mr Itok, 21, is a marketer with Prudential Microfinance Bank, Uyo.
The charge against the bank marketer reads, “That you, Mr Michael Itok and another now at large, sometimes in October, 2019 at 1000 Units Housing Estate, Idu Uruan, Uruan Local Government Area, within the Uyo Magisterial District did constitute yourself into a nuisance by publishing damaging and annoying articles on your Facebook page with the aim of harassing, blackmailing and bringing to disrepute His Excellency Deacon Udom Gabriel Emmanuel and other staff of the Akwa Ibom State Government House, and thereby commits and offence punishable under Section 6(1) (f) of the Akwa Ibom State Internal Security and Enforcement Law, 2009.”
According to report, an official of Prudential Microfinance Bank had said that Itok was picked up in the bank on October 8, around 7:30 a.m, by some unidentified men.
The report added that the official who claimed not to have witnessed the arrest said that she saw a note he left for her on the office desk.
“I might not be able to get his message word for word, but he said, ‘Please Madam, any day I don’t return to work or you don’t see me, know that Udom’s boys have picked me!”
From the account of the bank official, it could be deduced that Mr. Itok has been detained by the SSS for over 40 days before he was eventually arraigned.
According to the defendant’s Facebook profile, he has worked as a steward to Governor Emmanuel.
Still on Akwa Ibom is the case of a female photojournalist, Mary Ekere who was remanded in prison for taking photos while the Akwa Ibom State Waste Management Agency officials were raiding Ibom Plaza in Uyo and seizing items belonging to the traders in the area.
Ekere, who is a reporter with the Post Newspaper, was allegedly stripped naked by thugs allegedly working for the agency while taking photos of the raid.
According to reports, Ekere was beaten and dragged into a waiting vehicle and taken to the agency’s office. She was later arraigned before the Sanitation Court and remanded in prison.
However she was released after perfecting her bail in the sum of N 10, 000. Another issue of government high-handiness and gender discrimination is that of a female judge in Gombe, Justice Beatrice Iliya, who lost the seat of the state chief judge allegedly because she was a female.
Iliya, who was then the most senior judge in the state, was appointed in acting capacity and at the expiration of her three-month tenure, the government swore in Muazu Yahaya as acting chief judge of the state.
In a swift reaction, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Nigeria condemned the development, saying Iliya is a noble lady who is not due for retirement in three years.
“We therefore strongly object to the planned swearing in of a junior male judge as Chief Judge in her place for whatever reason,” FIDA had said.
Amidst the criticism, however, the Gombe state came out to deny any gender discrimination against Iliya revealing that the body National Judicial Council (NJC) had failed to recommend her for appointment as substantive Chief Judge.
Ismaila Misilli, spokesperson to Gombe State Governor, Inuwa Yahaya, had claimed that there was no constitutional provision to re-appoint a person whose term has elapsed without the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC).
“The governor only approved the appointment of the next most senior high court judge as new acting chief judge sequel to the expiration of the three months’ constitutional term for acting appointment of the former acting CJ,” he said.
“The governor has no power to extend her acting capacity period without the recommendation of the NJC. And the NJC has not made that recommendation up to the end of the three months acting period. The Constitution said emphatically that the Gov shall not re-appoint a person whose term has elapsed without the recommendation of the NJC.
“It should be noted that the governor did not receive any request from the Judicial Service Commission for the extension of the appointment of the former CJ as required by section 271 sub section 5 which states that: Except on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, an appointment pursuant to subsection (4) of this section shall cease to have effect after expiration of three months from the date of such appointment and the Governor shall not re-appoint a person whose appointment has lapsed.
“Nothing like gender bias at all in the appointment, After all when the former CJ, Justice Hakila Heman retired it was the same Governor Inuwa Yahaya that appointed Justice Beatrice Iliya as acting CJ being the next most Senior high Court Judge. And besides, appointment of a woman to the exalted position of CJ is not new to Gombe state. Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa served as CJ before her movement to the Federal judiciary.”
However, the brazen act of impunity in the state is something that must be checked if Nigeria must make any meaning development since real development starts at the grassroots.
Nigerians who spoke on the issue said government at all levels have a role to play in reversing the ugly trend.
According to the Country Director, Amnesty International, Osai Ojigho, Nigeria in recent times is recording and observing quite a level of abuses going on in the states. Speaking on the Agba Jalingo case, Ojigho said what the state government would have done was to investigate and go down to the root of the matter. “Instead Agba Jalingo is the one who is fighting for his life. He has been forced to respond to charges of treason which is very incredulous in our opinion. That is why Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience because the reason why he has been jailed is not because he has committed a crime or is suspected of committing a real crime but rather for speaking up against injustice in the society. So those charges are trumped up charges.
She called on the Cross River State government to prove that it is accountable to the people by releasing Agba Jalingo immediately and unconditionally.
The rights activist also urged Nigerians to join voices with other well-meaning groups who are calling for Jalingo’s release, adding that, “When we have a mass number of people demanding for justice whether is online or within the state itself, the state will have no choice but to consider its action and to retrace its step. It is also important for ordinary people to understand that just as it is Agba Jalingo today, tomorrow it could be somebody else they know, they don’t need to be directly affected for them to speak up or stand up for human rights or for the human rights of someone who at this point in time is unable to help himself even despite his legal team is still struggling to get attention to some of his travails in Cross River State.
Speaking on the plight of some Lagos residents who have lost their homes as a result of government’s action Ojigho however urged the new administration of Babajide Sanwo-Olu to show respect for the rule of law and obey the order of the court that directed the settlement of the displaced inhabitants of the Otodogbame riverine communities in Lagos state.
“For three years now Amnesty International and other groups have been calling on the Lagos state government to resettle the people of Otodogbame, who were forcefully evicted in 2016 and 2017 despite court order asking the government not to carry out the forced eviction. Even after the eviction happened the high court gave a ground breaking decision calling on the state to resettle and to find means through which it can alleviate the suffering of the people who were evicted from those water front communities to give way for luxury houses.
“So it is a call on the Lagos state government, this is a new government in power to open up and evaluate the decision and sit with the people of the Otodogbame community, engage with them to find a long lasting solution to the issue. Being poor is not a crime and nobody is saying you should not consider a particular location suitable for progress but you should not do that at the expense of depriving them of a roof over their heads.
On the Gombe State issue, the Amnesty International Country Director, said be that the Gombe State government would have seen the occasion as an opportunity to show that they support gender equality and to actually encourage more women to aspire for leadership position in the state.
On his part, chairman of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC) Olarenwaju Suraj, while noting that impunity in Nigeria is at its highest in the states said the governors have succeeded in diverting attention to the federal institutions.
He however urged Nigerians to hold the state governments accountable, stressing that most of the electoral offences and killings are mostly perpetrated at the state level. “As things stand now you cannot see any credible election holding in any of the states, and it cuts across all the political parties in the country. While stating that the same thing is obtained at the state houses of assembly, Suraj regretted that one cannot find any form of good governance in the states because most the state lawmakers are in the pocket of the state governors.
He said based on such setting, officials in the states get away with all manner of corruption and misuse public funds.
He said the level of impunity is so high that in one particular state “a family was arrested by the government of a state simply because the child sent an SMS to the governor requesting for the payment of the parent’s salary. In another instant students were rusticated or arrested on campus for criticizing the government and the governor of the state.
He called on the federal government to shift focus ti such states because according to him, the federal government has sole responsibility under the constitution and international agreements to promote and protect the fundamental rights of Nigerians. Suraj also advised the citizens to stand up for their rights and adopt the method of naming and shaming such state governments.