Written By Dr. Inyang Oduok
Recent media report has it that “Akwa Ibom State Legislature is proposing to pass a law banning local print media in the state.” Saddled with so many flaws and confronted with so many criticisms, the lame duck and talkative Akwa state legislature is allegedly proposing a legislative enactment to ban local newspapers that have been assisting in publishing important news items from Cyberspace that are of paramount importance to our citizens.
These local newspapers have recently served as conduits in publishing articles from different forums, including, Naija, IbibioNation and Ibom forums that have lobbed a few barbs at Akpabio administration. Some of the most potent ones we are made to understand have been articles addressing Amakpe refineries’ problems and Amakpe’s recent press release. Therefore, the intent of the legislature in proposing the ban legislation appears directed against press freedom and the civil liberties of our people. In the writer’s view, there is no constitutional authority for such enactment.
THE POINT OF LAW:
There are certain activities that a constitutional commitment to the protection of civil liberties of our citizens puts beyond the laws corrective reach such as a publication by print media of matters affecting the overall interest of our people. The exception is rooted in the constitutional guarantees of free expression and free press.
Articles and activities in forums can be published by local media as products of free constitutionally protected expression and activities legitimately within the scope of constitutional and statutory provision. Put precisely, there are certain rights which government cannot abolish by legislative act. “These are rights which are so deeply rooted in the nature and essential characteristics of human beings that their abrogation by the state through capricious laws however slight would destroy the nature of man as a spiritual being.” It is these laws, if indeed they be laws, which attracted the strictures of legal scholars such as Fuller who opines that “there are certain varieties of inequities and oppression in law making that are not exercise of oppression in the name of law but are in fact the very negation of law itself.”
Writing less than a year after the final collapse of the Third Reich and the defeat of the Axis powers in Europe, Professor A. H. Campbell made the following observations.
“ We as citizens of a country whose internal polity has developed over a period of centuries without violent revolution and lawyers who have been trained in an old, well established system of laws such as in the laws of Scotland or the laws of England are apt to take this spirit for granted. But the conditions familiar to us are not reproduced everywhere, Revolutions change not only the outward forms of institutions but men’s way of thought. During the last quarter of a century, we have seen in other countries the rise and in some cases the fall of new and revolutionary types of governments based on political doctrines different from our own. And carrying with them conceptions of law and its functions in the community, which are strange to us.”
We have seen from the foregoing authorities that the analysis of the nature and objective of law ought to provide for exclusion of unjust and immoral potentialities in the character of laws. A state cannot pass repugnant laws- laws that oppress people in politics, free speech, or the press.
The right to free expression and publication is meaningless unless the speaker is allowed the freedom either to impart or withhold information or the publisher is allowed to choose the contents of his publication without unnecessary interference by the state through repugnant legislative enactments.
The state has no legitimate interest in preventing the fundamental right of the print media to expound political truth or choose for print media the contents of its publications – what should or should not be published.
Internet has opened the gates of information to average citizen thereby weakening the hold that state run media and propaganda machines held on public opinion and intellectual thoughts. Finding that forces of internet and social networking cannot be contained even by reclusive governments, the Akwa Ibom State Legislature is now resorting to bottling intellectual discourse and information that has fed and is still feeding the citizens of our state by enabling them discover new facts and political truth and to call our leaders to account.
We are witnessing brave citizens of all ages coming together to effect a non-violent expression of their viewpoints and constructive criticism of their political leaderships. Their bravery and determination is profoundly instructive and shows that we can advance the role of responsible leadership in our states and country by creating a healthy model of democratic reform or transformation to counter the message from organizations in other states that violence and terrorism are acceptable or even required forces to shape up ossified regimes or authoritarian governments.
Besides, the use of technology in political transformation is not new. The fax machine for example, played substantial role in 1989 in spreading information among soviet block countries resulting in the fall of the Soviet Union. Organizers of the 1979 Iranian revolution relied to some extent on the smuggled inspirational speeches from opposition leaders on exile.
AMAKPE REFINERY ISSUE AS A CATALYST THAT SPURRED THE INTENDED LEGISLATION:
Governor Godswill Akpabio’s mistreatment of Chief Usua Amanam and Mrs. Nsidibe Ikpe and his contemptuous treatment of the parade of dignitaries that traveled all over the globe to his state for the laying of the foundation of Amakpe refineries has, like it or not, created a sore point with Eket public. His willful blindness to the injuries and injustices he has caused Akwaibomites with regards to Amakpe Refineries is most lethal and unpardonable. We are the only state in the nation in which oil is extracted in our shores while the refinery is built in another state. Top tiers in Mobil oil industry sparsely include people from our state but persons from certain ethic groups that have been taking advantage of our people for decades.
UNITED, WE CAN ALL CHANGE THE OLD POLITICAL ORDER.
We have a right to change the old political order says Jean-Jacques Rousseau -the social contract theorists if it fails to carry out our mandate. Nieburian teaches us that we cannot establish justice in a sinful world.
People, this is not about politics or ideology but about our dignity, regime injustice to our people and control over our natural resources and our destiny. It is about federal government injustice and state astonishing ignorance where oil is extracted in our shores and our sons and daughters cannot build a refinery to refine our crude oil while our people continue to suffer the effects of oil spills, environmental pollution, fishing industry destroyed, drinking water polluted, and other hazards that is causing constant health problems to our people because of oil leaks from broken pipes used in conveying crude oil to Kaduna in Northern Nigeria into our water.
How can Kaduna refinery be a success story when our people were robbed of the right to build a refinery in our state in favor of building one in Kaduna? How can it operate successfully when rusted pipelines constantly burst preventing oil production for months if not even longer than that?
We must close ranks, put a stop to the debate that some of us are saboteurs, puppets, weak, coward, indolent and in-effective. It is part of our oil revenue that sustains the economy of the country and the state yet our people live in abject poverty. Outsiders work at Mobil oil Company making good income, buying our land from our impoverish people. We have become strangers in our homes.
In a country with fragile judicial institution, the prospect of using the courts to accomplish justice is too remote. We must start mobilizing for peaceful demonstration all over the state.
We have had enough of political rhetorics laced with put-downs from a messenger immune from error, insulting and politically inept habit.
We determine our destiny, not an irrational Akwa Ibom legislature, not even ego-bloated Akpabio.
Failure of Amakpe refinery is not an option. Akpabio administration is depriving Amakpe refinery of the opportunity to complete the project and start operation for the teaming youths who yawn without food to eat. All forums are advocacy group for their people, including Akwa Ibom people, market women, youths, labor movements, drivers, carpenters, farmers –all AkwaIbomites should know that we are in this cause together. Our mooted response has hit a rough spot and its now time for action. We must determine to bring to an end once and for all, decades of injustices that have been perpetrated against our people by lethal government.
All hands are on the deck. Notes, letters, e-mails, articles and other communications are pushing fundamentals like Amakpe issues and years of oil spills that have caused devastating impact on our people’s lives to the forefront.
Finally, to the print media that publishes these articles and the journalists that fight our causes, you have the thanks of a grateful state and its people. You should never succumb to infringement of your fundamental right of freedom to speak and publish. You have the full backing of our people.
Dr.Oduok writes Atlanta, Georgia.