By going to court, Ganduje and others like him make it seem as though they are following due process. But it’s all pretence What they are in fact engaged in is called Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation; SLAPP for short. It’s an euphemism for an abuse of the law, to shut down vital public interest oversight and public access to information.
Despite persistent calls by authentic advocates of good governance for a conducive atmosphere for a thriving democracy and freedom in Nigeria, the reactionary wing of the ruling class and its agents are not giving any chance for that to happen. The more they are caught red-handed — with self-incriminating evidence — and exposed in the very act of a crime, the more they grow in the audacity to deflect blame and seek revenge.
Abdullahi Ganduje, the 72-year-old governor of Kano State, occupies the top rung of state officials who seem hellbent on punishing journalists for doing nothing other than acting in accordance with the demands of their profession. We should recall that sometime in October 2018, Jaafar Jaafar, a journalist and the publisher of Daily Nigerian newspaper, published a roughly two-minute video showing Ganduje hastily shoving bales of dollars said to total $230,000 into his kaftan, as part of a $5 millon bribe deal offered by contractors. That was one rare piece of investigative work with a telling impact.
The scandalous video reverberated across the country, inciting intensely cynical comments about the ruling All Progressives Congress government and its much-hyped fight against corruption. Deeply flustered by the revelation, Ganduje tapped Muhammad Garba, the State’s Commissioner for Information, to deny the genuineness of the video. Garba then released a statement saying there was no “iota of truth” in the entire package, while he described the video as “cloned.” He said the governor would go to court to seek redress for the defamation caused him by the said video.
As the pall of embarrassment generated by the video thickened and widened, the Presidency’s reaction was to promise a thorough investigation of the matter, after President Muhammadu Buhari reportedly saw the video. Of course, everyone knows that Ganduje is a favoured ally of the President. And as all persons lucky enough to be in Buhari’s good books or who enjoy the privileges of access to the exclusive corridor of influence are treated, the outcome of that promised investigation was easily predictable.
Suffice to say, however, at the time of the writing of this piece, not a single presidential panel is known to have been set up to investigate the video, much less the release of any report in that regard. Nor has there been any official statement from the Presidency beyond the claim to investigate the matter. In fact, Buhari, in one instance, was to say that he marvelled at the technology behind the production of the video. So much for his vaunted fight against corruption.
Since publishing the video, Jafaar has not known peace. He has being subjected to threat upon threat, and intimidation, from known and unknown quarters – all piling up to make life difficult for him. Ganduje went to court as he vowed, but as was later evident, it was not to ask for justice but to conscript and deploy the court in intimidating and hushing up Jaafar…
But the Kano State House Assembly took a step that could be described as meaningful, even if conspicuously half-hearted, in view of the well-known servile attitude of lawmakers to governors in this clime. The Assembly set up a seven-man committee to unravel the validity of the video and invited Jaafar Jaafar to testify before it, which he did and he stood his ground on the authenticity of the video. That was a golden opportunity for Ganduje to also show up at the hearing, and counter the journalist with his own facts. He was nowhere in sight. And as expected, the committee has submitted no known report till date.
Since publishing the video, Jafaar has not known peace. He has being subjected to threat upon threat, and intimidation, from known and unknown quarters – all piling up to make life difficult for him. Ganduje went to court as he vowed, but as was later evident, it was not to ask for justice but to conscript and deploy the court in intimidating and hushing up Jaafar, potential journalists like him, and citizens who are active in exposing wrongdoing and demanding accountability from leaders.
By going to court, Ganduje and others like him make it seem as though they are following due process. But it’s all pretence What they are in fact engaged in is called Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation; SLAPP for short. It’s an euphemism for an abuse of the law, to shut down vital public interest oversight and public access to information. Often, these powerful wrongdoers, who have been found out by the press and exposed in public, know that they have no case, yet they have continued to hire big lawyers and go to court ostensibly for redress, in most cases fishing around for pliant judges who will do their bidding, which is nothing but to exact revenge through the imposition of heavy fines and the consequent muzzling of the press.
That’s exactly what Ganduje is doing to Jaafar, who has since fled the country following mounting threats to his life. Barely a month after the publication of the video, the governor sued him and Daily Nigerian for defamation at the Kano High Court and demanded N3 billion in damages. Somehow, there was no progress on the matter but suddenly, in June this year, the governor withdrew the matter from court with no reasons. Daily Trust reported that the court had fined him N800,000 for the action.
…Ganduje will do well to free Jaafar and his family from the prolonged trauma to which they have been subjected for about three years now. The fresh court case that the governor has instituted in Abuja is totally unnecessary and should be withdrawn immediately so that the journalist can return to practise the profession that has been the only source of livelihood for him and his family.
Many people thought that with the withdrawal of the matter from court, some relief had come to Jaafar. They were wrong. Ganduje travelled all the way from Kano to Abuja to turn the screw harder at an FCT High Court, this time asking for N5 billion as damages for an alleged defamation. No citizen deserves this kind of orchestrated persecution, least of all a journalist who was simply doing his work.
Thankfully, Amnesty International (AI) and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), as they would always do in matters like this, have called on Ganduje and the Nigerian government to ensure that neither Jaafar nor his family suffers any retaliation because of his journalism. If there is anything the journalist deserves, it is commendation for performing his constitutional obligation of holding power to account, as enjoined by his profession, and for his patriotic act of embracing the Federal Government’s call for citizens to help fight corruption by reporting corrupt practices and other kinds of wrongdoing, whenever they see one.
To that extent, Ganduje will do well to free Jaafar and his family from the prolonged trauma to which they have been subjected for about three years now. The fresh court case that the governor has instituted in Abuja is totally unnecessary and should be withdrawn immediately so that the journalist can return to practise the profession that has been the only source of livelihood for him and his family.
This is also the time to appeal to lawyers to always support freedom of the press, as enshrined in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution. Everything should not be about money. Lawyers should show an acute sense of discrimination in the briefs they collect. Journalists are not criminals; therefore, they should be supported to do their work in an atmosphere of freedom. Lawyers should learn to say NO to briefs seeking to intimidate journalists and wittingly gag the press or aiming to further harass or threaten citizens (whistleblowers), among whom you would count Jaafar, who has demonstrated the courage to publicise a crime.
Godwin Onyeacholem coordinates the whistleblowing project, Corruption Anonymous, at the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL).
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