Governor Yahaya Bello on Monday announced a N500, 000 reward for any resident who provides authorities in Kogi State with “useful information” that leads to arrest and successful prosecution of those who spread rumours to cause public disorder.
A statement from the governor’s office said the decision became necessary because a recent surge in dissemination of inaccurate information had assumed a worrisome dimension.
The statement, signed by Chief Press Secretary, Petra Onyegbule, said Mr. Bello wants to “ensure the reduction of crime and criminality in the state and to also curb the attitude of some politically sponsored persons who spread false information against the government with a view to causing disquiet and rancour amongst the citizenry.”
The government encouraged citizens to come forward with information about anyone who deliberately orchestrates circulation of unfounded claims with a view to causing untold damage to lives and properties.
Successful prosecution of such individuals will guarantee N500, 000 to the whistleblower, Mr. Bello said.
But some critics said Mr. Bello was trying to stifle free speech through the back door.
“This policy may be attractive, but it will not work and it could lead to endless litigation over freedom of speech,” a member of Kogi State Elders’ Council in Lokoja told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Monday afternoon.
The critic, who pleaded anonymity because of his closeness to Mr. Bello, said the announcement marks the latest indication yet that Mr. Bello did not stack his cabinet with individuals who understand public policy and governance.
“The governor had so far refused to yield to calls for him to appoint knowledgeable individuals to his cabinet,” the source said. “That’s why he’s making all these blunders which are unnecessary, to be honest.”
But Mr. Bello rejected the claim that his policy will violate the Constitution.
Gbenga Olorunpomi, a media adviser to the governor, said the state had become too fragile of late.
“Without any doubt, the people of Kogi State know that the governor encourages free speech. In fact, he recently held a meeting some labour union leaders in Lokoja during which they freely expressed themselves,” Mr. Olorunpomi told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Monday afternoon. “No one disturbed them from speaking despite how offensive some of their comments were towards the governor.”
“It’s a very fragile situation in the state right now,” Mr. Olorunpomi said. “The state has borders with at least nine states and we’ve been experiencing a lot of cross-border crimes and many are linked to false information.”
“You’re free to express yourself, but don’t put people’s lives in danger because of that. And we will only pay out the N500, 000 after successful arrest and prosecution of suspects based on the information provided by a good citizen.”
Mr. Olorunpomi said the identities of whistleblowers will be kept strictly confidential.