Osun Defender will continue to run the profiles of the people perceived to be in the running to succeed Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola as the governor of the State of Osun. This is being done as a public service. None of them has formally declared their intention to run, nevertheless, there is a widely held perception that they are in the race.
With events rapidly unfolding, the critical issue is what to expect? Aregbesola has shown that adequate preparation is vital. His thoroughly articulated Six-point Integral Action Plan provided the roadmap for what has been generally acknowledged as a stellar performance in office. It cannot but be a source of unease that as of now, we are not seeing a similar well constructed programme of social and economic reconstruction and rejuvenation to take the diligent application of the Aregbesola years to the next level. This is disturbing.
For kudos must be given to Ogbeni Aregbesola for decisively altering the territory of the debate as well as the perception of the efficacy of government intervention programmes. This is reflected in the fact that it will be political suicide to now go against Aregbesola’s social intervention programmes.
There will of course be issues as to the dotting of I’s and crossings of T’s, nevertheless, no one is openly going to come out and commit to the wholesale dismantling of the free school meals programme and so forth.
The fiscal landscape of Nigeria will continue to be difficult in the foreseeable future. This is understandable for we are in a period of transition from an ancient regime which virtually bankrupted the nation. In addition, our defective quasi-federalism will continue to act as a brake on the nation’s federating units. What this means is that anyone taking over at the state level must, to quote the motto of the Boys Scouts – “Be prepared”.
We therefore urge the aspirants to provide clearly-articulated, rigorously costed programmes for the public to peruse. On our part, we believe, indeed we insist that a continuation of the programmes of the Aregbesola administration is in the best interest of the state of Osun. The state having made so much sacrifices cannot afford to go back to a dismal past of underachievement. The Aregbesola template must be built upon. We will be delighted to publish any well costed programme presented to us by any aspirant of whatever political colouration.
Nothing better illustrates the pathetic base politics of Osun PDP than the fatuous claim by Senator Iyiola Omisore that the United Nations Educational and Scientific Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) gave Osun State government over 70 per cent of the amount spent to reconstruct the Olaiya-Ita Olokan Road – the road that leads to the sacred Osun Groove. In an apparent bid to disprove the statement made by the governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, while inaugurating the 2.8 kilometre road on Tuesday, March 6, said that the state got the money to construct the road from the Omoluabi Infrastructure Conservation Fund with the approval of the state House of Assembly, he claimed that the global body largely provided the funds.
His words: “It is an open secret and matter in the domain of the public that the Osun State government had assessed counterpart funds from UNESCO, which is in excess of over 70 per cent following the designation of the Osun Osogbo Groove by the world body as one of the World Heritage sites for local and international tourists.
“This is not new and practical efforts, which climaxed in the attraction of such funds to Osun, began during the regime of the Peoples Democratic Party. But, it is a statement of fact that Aregbesola received counterpart funds from UNESCO”.
Coming from an individual, albeit a serial loser, who once aspired to govern the State of Osun, such fiction in the name of politicking obviously takes him and his party to a new low. The truth however is that UNESCO provided no such funds to the state government. UNESCO in a statement issued by its Communication Consultant (Regional Office) Olusola Macaulay was emphatic: “UNESCO did not contribute any fund to the construction of the road that leads to Osun Grove. And there was no time the Osun State government or its agencies approached UNESCO to support the project or contribute anything to it. We didn’t pay 70 per cent or any other fraction to the project, as being peddled. As I speak to you, we have no project we are undertaking in Osun State.”
It is bad enough that Omisore will drag the respectable international body into his kind of politics. Sadder still is that UNESCO’s swift rebuttal of the barefaced lie has changed nothing as far as Omisore and his PDP are concerned. No apologies to the Rauf Aregbesola administration that he so callously maligned; none to the good people of Osun that he irresponsibly tried to mislead; and certainly no word of contrition for the lies spewed forth about the global body. Rather, he has since moved on ostensibly convinced that lies, big or small, do not matter.
Well, Osun people have a rare chance to prove that true-telling does matter. It is in fact the hallmarks of an Omoluabi. Now, they know better than to entrust their destinies to the hands of those who choose to call darkness light; characters who put out falsehood as truth. Time to get ready for the soulless fellows as they will soon come begging for their votes. Time to show them the true masters.
We commend the government of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola for the payment of full salaries for the month of December. This forward thrust has resulted in a positive change of mood in the state. The multiplier effect as people have started receiving text alerts from the state treasury has been pronounced.
The government is also to be commended for standing by the various agreements reached with the Unions.
This is a fundamental testimony of the efficacy of the social contract which fundamentally binds the government with the populace and civil society.
In view of Nigeria’s lopsided quasi-federalism, the state government of Osun has had to carry out a delicate balancing act. The contractual obligations to its workforce has to be acknowledged, but at the same time the physical and social infrastructures have to be built to protect and enhance sustainability in development.
In this way, the government is protecting the future of another generation. It is a delicate balancing act. The figures are revealing. Out of total expenditures between 2010 and 2017, N60 billion representing 23% went on infrastructure and N200 billion representing 77% went on salaries and pensions.
Ogbeni Aregbesola must be commended for his ingenuity in balancing competing needs. He has very sensibly acted not as a politician with an eye on the next election, but as a statesman in the interests of generations yet unborn.
The verdict of history on his tenure will be very positive.
As the administration winds down with elections slated for September 22, 2018 we should be of good cheer. The decisive gains in infrastructure must be protected. The state of Osun is at ease with itself and is one of the most peaceful in the country.
The state is also the second highest in terms of the human development index. Starting from an excruciatingly low base, Aregbesola has incontrovertibly declared a dividend of democracy in a very difficult economic climate.
History therefore beckons on Aregbesola to use his acknowledged political skills and managerial sagacity in order to ensure continuity. The government to be elected on the 22nd of September must be committed to carrying the progressive agenda to the next level.
The people of Osun deserve this and every single individual must assist in order to ensure that there is no backsliding to a discredited old ways.
Drug abuse has become rampant in our society nowadays whereby many use drugs without specific prescription from medical practitioner. Drug abuse can as well be a kind of misuse of drugs or misinterpretation of the directive given by the physician, as some decide to use their own discretion instead of following the given instruction.
Many even walk into a chemist of their choices and get whatever drugs they want without prescription. Findings have also revealed that some people do inject themselves with stimulants for different reasons which eventually cause a lot of damages on their body unknowingly.
Many takes drug to energize themselves to work effectively especially those who get themselves injected with various stimulants. Drug in real sense causes a lot of damages on humans body when use inappropriately, therefore it is necessary for people to seek medical advice and stop taking drugs without prescription.
Moreover, the government should take proper action on this matter so as to stop the misuse of drugs in our society either by closing down some unauthorized pharmacies and bring an end to importation of drugs that are not good for our health into this country.
Moreso, pharmacies and chemist owners needs to stop selling un-prescribed drugs to the people and also seek to know the status of their ailment before prescribing drugs to them.
Notwithstanding, individual should as well see it as a responsibility or necessity to seek a medical advice before asking for any drugs.
In certain schools of political thought, from time to time, the elite classes drop crumbs of hope to pacify the masses. These crumbs are dropped to propagate the belief that a shift is underway that will eventually lead to real political change. The passing of the Not Too Young to Run Bill, is one of those crumbs.
Passed by the Senate last month, the Bill will lower the age of qualification for political aspirants running for presidency, governorship and other political offices. For the office of the Presidency, the age of qualification has been reduced from 40 to 30, Governorship from 35 to 30, Senate from 35 to 30, House of Representatives from 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly from 30 to 25. The Bill will also allow for independent candidates to run for office, sidestepping the need for political parties.
Though the Bill still has some hoops to go through before taking effect, the move by the Senate has been lauded by many as a sign of change, even a positive ‘call to arms’ for the youth, showing that the upper echelons seek to promote equality and level the playing field by encouraging young people to take a more active role in society.
Following in the footsteps of Nigeria’s example, the UN’s Envoy on Youth has partnered with other agencies in a bid to take the Not Too Young To Run movement worldwide. And in theory it makes sense. According to the UN, there are more young people in the world now, than ever before, and approximately 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 . In Nigeria, over 60% of the population is under the age of 25. The median age of the country is 18, placing it in the top 20 youngest countries in the world. If population estimates are to be believed, this is a trend that is likely to continue.
But these numbers aren’t reflected in the country’s politics, with Nigeria’s leadership much older than the population. The current president is 74, the vice president is 60 and the senate president is 54. Of the 105 listed Senators on the NASS website, none are in their 30s, the youngest is 43. After a reportedly strong youth turnout in the 2015 election, it would seem obvious that the passing of this Bill, would only strengthen the youth, but will it?
Youth participation in politics on every level is important and should be encouraged, but just like old age is not necessarily an indicator of wisdom, youth alone is not an indicator of the potential for good governance. There is a need for the country’s leadership to reflect its populace, but just as an older politician can be out of touch, corrupt and inept, so can a young one. Nevertheless, anything that will increase the impact of the youth in politics is surely worthwhile, unfortunately, the bill in and of itself will likely do very little to change the current order and politics will still remain very much in the grip of the elite.
A 2015 research paper into the cost of politics by Adebowale Olorunmola shows the exorbitant costs that come with wanting to serve the nation. To run for office, the current president paid a whopping N27.5 million (N2.5 million for expression of interest and N20 million for a nomination fee) the opposition candidate would have paid N22 million. In a country where the minimum wage is N18,000 a month and 70% of the population live below the poverty line, it’s difficult to see how the office of the president is a realistic ambition for the average citizen, talk less of a young person.
Governorship fees are just as outrageous, totalling N5,500, 500 for the APC and N11,000,000 for the opposition. The “cheapest” option is a run at the House of Representatives which under the APC costs N2, 200,000 and under the opposition N2,400,000. Calls to increase the minimum wage have fallen on deaf ears and the youth unemployment rate is at an abysmal high, so how can we honestly suggest that the playing field has shifted even remotely?
High fees aside, we cannot ignore the grip of corruption and godfatherism on virtually every level of Nigeria’s politics. “Godfathers are mostly instrumental to the emergence of virtually every successful candidate from whichever state they control,” reads Olorunmola’s report. “The godfathers are typically above the law and able to mobilize support, money and violence for candidates.”
With such a firm grip on power that shows no sign of diminishing, how then does lowering the voting age factor into making politics more fair, or political office any easier to attain? It doesn’t.
If youth participation in politics was really important, then as well as reducing the age of qualification, why aren’t fees being drastically reduced to represent the wage structure of the country? Why aren’t there more avenues for young people to learn what good governance entails through internships and fellowships?
Reducing the age qualification without tackling any of these other major barriers to office is just another crumb from the elite to help uphold the belief that change is afoot, when it’s really just another smokescreen.
If we had expected the National Assembly to utilise the ongoing constitutional amendment to douse separatist agitations across the federation, their volte-face on the bill which sought to alter the Second Schedule, Part I & II to move certain items to the Concurrent Legislative List to give more legislative powers to states has shown how far the national legislature is from the people. In an exercise that will go on record as a terrible misrepresentation of the people’s will, the Senate shut down the bill on Wednesday and the House of Representatives follow suit a day after. By that, what could have been a pragmatic response to the current chant for restructuring of the unwieldy and unworkable federation was cynically aborted by the so-called representatives of the people.
We consider such abortion tragic. Tragic because much as we do not pretend that the restructuring as being canvassed by some agitators is the magical silver bullet to cure the country of its many ills, it seems the best shot at getting the country out of its current despondency and the continuing withering of the nation’s institutions. Today, we find the correlates in the total collapse of the physical and social infrastructure across the federation, the unparalleled crime wave, the unprecedented youth unemployment and general alienation of the citizenry among other ills that has continually been retrogressing the nation.
On what grounds do our so-called distinguished parliamentarians stand on to justify the retention of the status quo – if we may ask? Are they happy that states which ought to be centres of economic activities are no more than leeches on an equally unproductive but mindlessly extractive federal government? What is there to celebrate in the so-called federation in which the central government holds the levers of economic power, even when it has no clues on how to exploit and mazimise its vast treasures let alone getting same to work for the benefits of its people?
Another is the centralised police that have become a bye-word in corruption and inefficiency –even at time criminal gangs of different hues and sophistication are off the leash? Is it a case of our lawmakers being blinded by the perks they currently enjoy in Abuja to the point that they can no longer see what the rest of us see and live with on daily basis?
Why do we need to get the power devolved to states at this time? First, the current fiscal arrangement under which the country’s entire revenue is first taken into a central pool and later shared is anomalous; over time, the practice has lulled most states into false sense of financial security as oil freely flowed. Today, the new reality imposed by falling oil prices has rendered the practice unsustainable.
Second, most states are known to be sitting literally on gold mines; unfortunately, the minerals and everything beneath the soil remains the exclusive preserve of the federal government. With the responsibility devolved to the states, the potentials of the states can thus be unleashed not just to enable them contribute to the overall national wealth, but also to create mass employment.
As for the security, we do think that the country has long passed the point where anyone would justify the retention of the current security architecture. Whether it is tagged state police or neighbourhood watch, there is evidently a growing consensus that the country currently requires a new framework of multi-level policing.
If truly, real sovereignty belongs to the people, the least we expect from both Houses of parliament is to revisit the issue as some of their leaders have promised to do – in September. It seems the wisest thing to do in the circumstance.
The murder, some days ago, of a member of the Oyo state House of Assembly, Gideon Aremu, who represented Oorelope Constituency, was quite sad and shocking. For a young man like that with a promising future to be cut down at his prime – just like that – is really saddening. We ask; what could he have done to deserve being sent to a journey of no return?
Umpteen times this newspaper and others in the country have editorially condemned assassination as a means of settling scores. It’s most barbaric and wicked. We still believe – as we have always maintained – that no grievance; political or otherwise, is beyond negotiation. Every issue under the sky no matter how volatile can be settled through communication and negotiation. To resort to taking life that one cannot give is highly criminal and ungodly. For we believe that it’s only God Almighty that has the sole right to take life since He alone is the sole giver of it.
The killing of this young lawmaker has again sent another wrong signal to us as a people and most especially to the political class to which the slain legislator belonged. While we cannot say with certitude here that the killing of the young lawmaker was politically motivated, it may not at the same time be totally out of place to read political meaning to it since he was a politician and also given the fact that politically motivated killings have always found abode in our land.
At a time that we could say that we are having some respite in respect of assassination of politicians the killing of this young legislator is sending another wrong signal. This leaves a sour taste in the mouth and it saddens the mind greatly. For whatever reason we don’t need unnecessary waste of life like this especially as they involve young and dynamic elements with the potentials of providing good leadership to our country in the nearest future. It’s most criminal and highly condemnable.
No doubt the future of our country is in the hands of young and dynamic people who are also politically upwardly mobile as they are capable of injecting new and progressive ideas into our politics which will lead to effecting positive changes as against archaic and antediluvian ideas that have occupied our political landscape over the years. But when members of this class of political animals are being mercilessly sent to early graves then the rest will be scared away from joining politics thereby being denied the right to make meaningful contributions to fatherland through this platform. And this is why we find the murder of this young legislator highly condemnable. It’s most unwelcome, counter-productive and totally anti-human.
We like to conclude this piece by calling on the security agents to fish out the killers of this young lawmaker. The case must not be allowed to be swept under the carpet like series of similar ones in the past that we have failed to unravel the mysteries surrounding such wicked assassinations. The Police and other security agents must not fail in their duty this time around. They must ensure that they achieve result by bringing his killers to justice. May God help them – Amen.
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, in his speech to the Nigerian Legislative Council, had this to say: “we shall demand our rights when the time is ripe. We do want independence and we shall fight for it if necessary, but I should like to make it clear to you that if the British quit Nigeria now at this stage, the Northern people would continue their interrupted conquest to the sea.”
Nnamidi Azikiwe, as President of the Igbo State Union, said “it would appear that the gods of Africa has specially created the Igbo nation to lead the children of Africa from the bondage of the ages”, while another prominent Igbo, Charles Daddy Onyeama was the same time saying that “the domination of Nigeria, indeed Africa, by the Ibo race was a question of time”.
Oloye Obafemi Awolowo, on his part, had this to say: “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no Nigerian in the same sense as there are English, Welsh or French. The word Nigeria is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria from those who do not.”
These statements, made around the same time, 1947-1949, in the heat of the push towards independence formed the foundational and continuous story of Nigeria where some parts would be thinking of reserving for themselves the right of a conquest, either by sheer force of arms or by a supposed divine mandate.
These historical trajectories had been at the expense of the Yoruba, who appeared to be the target of these adventures especially with the alliance between the aspiring domineers, such that the breakdown of the alliance in 1966 and its attendant Fun of violence against each other did not prevent further cementing of the alliance in peacetime. Having gone through fifty years of this alliance in one form or the other, everyone now realizes that the resultant political space is unsustainable.
Nowhere was this manifested more than our most recent past with the economic meltdown in the states and in the federal government itself; institutions that had been surviving solely on “allocations” from the federal government even as some claims were made as to increases in what is called internally generated revenue. The cost of running these bureaucracies at the state and central levels go over seventy percent of the total income of the entire country thus leaving no room for any capital for any form of development.
Yet, for the Yoruba Nation, our post-colonial experience showed that such a bureaucracy is antithetical to development as all it took us was in being rooted in a socio-cultural ethos based on the need to situate the Yoruba anti-colonial experience within the ambit of the development of “man”, which was why Federalism took root in Yorubaland and had since been the bedrock of our praxis.
This is borne from an appreciation by Oloye Obafemi Awolowo, not only because he was the major proponent of Constitutional re-engineering of Africa based on the recognition of the African to influence the trajectory of the world based on his inherent ability as a human being to determine his relationship within as well as without, which all boils down to the meaning of a Constitution as the formal establishment of a social, economic and political relationship between different people.
In his Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lecture delivered in 1976, he had this to say about Constitutions:
“Constitution-making has, since independence, become a past-time in all parts of Africa. As soon as a new set of people accede to power, they find some pretext for introducing a new Constitution. Be that as it may, the point I wish to make here is that none of the Constitutions operating in Africa today are likely to endure beyond the tenure of those who make them and hand them down to the people, because they are fundamentally unsuitable in character for a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual or multi-national State.
“I have made a long and careful study of the problems involved in Constitution-making and, as a result, I have certain definite principles. Time does not permit me, in this lecture, to set out the theoretical and empirical bases for the principles which I am going to state presently. But if I may say so, without appearing immodest, I would refer those who are interested to two of my books entitled “thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution and the People’s republic which contain a full exposition of the said principles.
“Of all the 189 countries in the world, twenty have Federal Constitutions and the remaining 169 have Unitary Constitutions. The twenty Federal States have a population of 2400million, that is approximately two-thirds of the entire population of the world and as far as is known, in spite of occasional social upheavals in some of them, the character of their Constitutions, together with the basic provisions thereof, has endured because it is suitable for their respective peculiar conditions.
“I will now state the principles which I have evolved and relate each of them, as appropriate, to the twenty Federal countries and to other multi-lingual States with Unitary Constitutions. They are as follows:
(1) If a country is unilingual and uni-national, the Constitution must be unitary. Examples are: France, Italy, Portugal, Poland and Greece, among others, which are unilingual and have always had Unitary Constitutions.
(2) If a country is uni-lingual or bi-lingual or multi-lingual and also consists of communities, which, though belonging to the same nation or linguistic group, have, over a period of years, developed some important cultural divergences as well as autonomous geographical separateness, the Constitution must be Federal, and the constituent States must be organized on the dual basis of Language and geographical separateness. Examples are: USA, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Indonesia, the Federation of South Arabia, Australia, Austria, the two Germanys and Switzerland.
(3) If a country is bi-lingual or multi-lingual, the Constitution must be Federal, and the constituent States must be organized on a linguistic basis. Examples are: Canada, Mexico, Burma, China, India, Malaysia, Czechoslovakia, the USSR and Yugoslavia.
(4) Any experiment with a Unitary Constitution in a bi-lingual or multi-lingual country must fail, in the long run. Examples are the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Belgium, Spain, Sri Lanka and Cyprus, all of which have, for some time, been experiencing incessant turmoil and violence because, though they are either bi-lingual or multi-lingual, yet they stubbornly insist on operating a Unitary Constitution.
If the vast majority of mankind, among them the USA, the USSR, China—the three super powers-and India—the harbinger of freedom from colonial rule—if all these countries, for what I sincerely think are very sound reasons, consider a certain form of Constitution suitable for some specified set of circumstances and adopt such a form of Constitution, African leaders would do well to learn from them and not follow the erring ways of Britain, Spain and others who have refused to learn, and are right now suffering the agonies of their errors. But before proceeding to learn, African leaders should endeavor to appreciate the true meanings of terms like Clan, Tribe and Ethnic or Linguistic or National Group, and the difference between tribalism and ethnicism. For it is not in a chemical laboratory alone that wrong labelling could lead to serious disaster and death. It could do so too in politics. The only difference is that in the former case, disaster is instant, whilst in the latter, it tends to be insidious and delayed.
If our leaders and all of us observe the principles enunciated above, it will be the easiest thing for us to fashion, for Africa’s multi-lingual States, a Constitution which will endure in its character and eliminate ab initio, the tendency to future secessionist agitation, because it preserves the pre-colonial co-eval status of each of the constituent ethnic or linguistic units, and allays the fears of minority groups.”
The above would be the further concretization of his 1945 statement which manifested in the quest for Federalism to which it appears everyone has now subscribed, one way or the other, even as secessionist tendencies also thrive. This is exactly the reason why Nigeria is presently in a position to set an example for the rest of Africa in a fundamental manner and the Yoruba have a lot of responsibility in this regard.
Such responsibility hangs on, among others, creating a pathway for its realization. Nigeria has had so many conferences whose reports have not seen the light of day such that aspiring or advocating for another will be a waste of time as well as an unnecessary ritual. Yet, the only way the aspirations of a people can be decided is through such a Conference or Convention, but now anchored on a Referendum among the various peoples simply because of the multi-lingual, multi-cultural composition of Nigeria itself.
This is all the more urgent considering the 2015 election experience and whose replication in 2019 is just around the corner. The economic meltdown and the corruption associated with it alongside the attempts at truncating the legal means of tackling corruption will leave no room for any form of radical transformation of the economy that will be needed to check the economic drift, hence the necessity to arrest this situation from its foundation—the political structure. The Yoruba Nation can begin this process by calling on the Attorney General of the Federation to hearken to this necessity based on his own convictions on Constitutional imperatives.
The siege of Knightsbridge is both an emblem of gross injustice and a gruelling farce. For three years, a police cordon around the Ecuadorean embassy in London has served no purpose other than to flaunt the power of the state. It has cost £12 million. The quarry is an Australian charged with no crime, a refugee whose only security is the room given him by a brave South American country. His “crime” is to have initiated a wave of truth-telling in an era of lies, cynicism and war.
The persecution of Julian Assange is about to flare again as it enters a dangerous stage. From August 20, three quarters of the Swedish prosecutor’s case against Assange regarding sexual misconduct in 2010 will disappear as the statute of limitations expires. At the same time Washington’s obsession with Assange and WikiLeaks has intensified. Indeed, it is vindictive American power that offers the greatest threat – as Chelsea Manning and those still held in Guantanamo can attest.
The Americans are pursuing Assange because WikiLeaks exposed their epic crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale killing of tens of thousands of civilians, which they covered up, and their contempt for sovereignty and international law, as demonstrated vividly in their leaked diplomatic cables. WikiLeaks continues to expose criminal activity by the US, having just published top secret US intercepts – US spies’ reports detailing private phone calls of the presidents of France and Germany, and other senior officials, relating to internal European political and economic affairs.
None of this is illegal under the US Constitution. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama, a professor of constitutional law, lauded whistleblowers as “part of a healthy democracy [and they] must be protected from reprisal”. In 2012, the campaign to re-elect President Barack Obama boasted on its website that he had prosecuted more whistleblowers in his first term than all other US presidents combined. Before Chelsea Manning had even received a trial, Obama had pronounced the whistleblower guilty. He was subsequently sentenced to 35 years in prison, having been tortured during his long pre-trial detention.
Few doubt that should the US get their hands on Assange, a similar fate awaits him. Threats of the capture and assassination of Assange became the currency of the political extremes in the US following Vice-President Joe Biden’s preposterous slur that the WikiLeaks founder was a “cyber-terrorist”. Those doubting the degree of ruthlessness Assange can expect should remember the forcing down of the Bolivian president’s plane in 2013 – wrongly believed to be carrying Edward Snowden.
According to documents released by Snowden, Assange is on a “Manhunt target list”. Washington’s bid to get him, say Australian diplomatic cables, is “unprecedented in scale and nature”. In Alexandria, Virginia, a secret grand jury has spent five years attempting to contrive a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted. This is not easy. The First Amendment to the US Constitution protects publishers, journalists and whistleblowers.
Faced with this constitutional hurdle, the US Justice Department has contrived charges of “espionage”, “conspiracy to commit espionage”, “conversion” (theft of government property), “computer fraud and abuse” (computer hacking) and general “conspiracy”. The Espionage Act has life in prison and death penalty provisions.
Assange’s ability to defend himself in this Kafkaesque world has been handicapped by the US declaring his case a state secret. In March, a federal court in Washington blocked the release of all information about the “national security” investigation against WikiLeaks, because it was “active and ongoing” and would harm the “pending prosecution” of Assange. The judge, Barbara J. Rosthstein, said it was necessary to show “appropriate deference to the executive in matters of national security”. Such is the “justice” of a kangaroo court.
The supporting act in this grim farce is Sweden, played by the Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny. Until recently, Ny refused to comply with a routine European procedure routine that required her to travel to London to question Assange and so advance the case. For four and a half years, Ny has never properly explained why she has refused to come to London, just as the Swedish authorities have never explained why they refuse to give Assange a guarantee that they will not extradite him on to the US under a secret arrangement agreed between Stockholm and Washington. In December 2010, The Independent revealed that the two governments had discussed his onward extradition to the US.
Contrary to its 1960s reputation as a liberal bastion, Sweden has drawn so close to Washington that it has allowed secret CIA “renditions” – including the illegal deportation of refugees. The rendition and subsequent torture of two Egyptian political refugees in 2001 was condemned by the UN Committee against Torture, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch; the complicity and duplicity of the Swedish state are documented in successful civil litigation and in WikiLeaks cables. In the summer of 2010, Assange had flown to Sweden to talk about WikiLeaks revelations of the war in Afghanistan – in which Sweden had forces under US command.
“Documents released by WikiLeaks since Assange moved to England,” wrote Al Burke, editor of the online Nordic News Network, an authority on the multiple twists and dangers facing Assange, “clearly indicate that Sweden has consistently submitted to pressure from the United States in matters relating to civil rights. There is every reason for concern that if Assange were to be taken into custody by Swedish authorities, he could be turned over to the United States without due consideration of his legal rights.”
Why hasn’t the Swedish prosecutor resolved the Assange case? Many in the legal community in Sweden believe her behaviour inexplicable. Once implacably hostile to Assange, the Swedish press has published headlines such as: “Go to London, for God’s sake.”
Why hasn’t she? More to the point, why won’t she allow the Swedish court access to hundreds of SMS messages that the police extracted from the phone of one of the two women involved in the misconduct allegations? Why won’t she hand them over to Assange’s Swedish lawyers? She says she is not legally required to do so until a formal charge is laid and she has questioned him. Then, why doesn’t she question him? And if she did question him, the conditions she would demand of him and his lawyers – that they could not challenge her – would make injustice a near certainty.
On a point of law, the Swedish Supreme Court has decided Ny can continue to obstruct on the vital issue of the SMS messages. This will now go to the European Court of Human Rights. What Ny fears is that the SMS messages will destroy her case against Assange. One of the messages makes clear that one of the women did not want any charges brought against Assange, “but the police were keen on getting a hold on him”. She was “shocked” when they arrested him because she only “wanted him to take [an HIV] test”. She “did not want to accuse JA of anything” and “it was the police who made up the charges”. (In a witness statement, she is quoted as saying that she had been “railroaded by police and others around her”.)
Neither woman claimed she had been raped. Indeed, both have denied they were raped and one of them has since tweeted, “I have not been raped.” That they were manipulated by police and their wishes ignored is evident – whatever their lawyers might say now. Certainly, they are victims of a saga which blights the reputation of Sweden itself.
For Assange, his only trial has been trial by media. On August 20, 2010, the Swedish police opened a “rape investigation” and immediately – and unlawfully – told the Stockholm tabloids that there was a warrant for Assange’s arrest for the “rape of two women”. This was the news that went round the world.
In Washington, a smiling US Defence Secretary Robert Gates told reporters that the arrest “sounds like good news to me”. Twitter accounts associated with the Pentagon described Assange as a “rapist” and a “fugitive”.
Less than 24 hours later, the Stockholm Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne, took over the investigation. She wasted no time in cancelling the arrest warrant, saying, “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” Four days later, she dismissed the rape investigation altogether, saying, “There is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever.” The file was closed.
Enter Claes Borgstrom, a high profile politician in the Social Democratic Party then standing as a candidate in Sweden’s imminent general election. Within days of the chief prosecutor’s dismissal of the case, Borgstrom, a lawyer, announced to the media that he was representing the two women and had sought a different prosecutor in the city of Gothenberg. This was Marianne Ny, whom Borgstrom knew well, personally and politically.
On 30 August, Assange attended a police station in Stockholm voluntarily and answered all the questions put to him. He understood that was the end of the matter. Two days later, Ny announced she was re-opening the case. Borgstrom was asked by a Swedish reporter why the case was proceeding when it had already been dismissed, citing one of the women as saying she had not been raped. He replied, “Ah, but she is not a lawyer.” Assange’s Australian barrister, James Catlin, responded, “This is a laughing stock… it’s as if they make it up as they go along.”
On the day Marianne Ny reactivated the case, the head of Sweden’s military intelligence service – which has the acronym MUST — publicly denounced WikiLeaks in an article entitled “WikiLeaks [is] a threat to our soldiers.” Assange was warned that the Swedish intelligence service, SAPO, had been told by its US counterparts that US-Sweden intelligence-sharing arrangements would be “cut off” if Sweden sheltered him.
For five weeks, Assange waited in Sweden for the new investigation to take its course. The Guardian was then on the brink of publishing the Iraq “War Logs”, based on WikiLeaks’ disclosures, which Assange was to oversee. His lawyer in Stockholm asked Ny if she had any objection to his leaving the country. She said he was free to leave.
Inexplicably, as soon as he left Sweden – at the height of media and public interest in the WikiLeaks disclosures – Ny issued a European Arrest Warrant and an Interpol “red alert” normally used for terrorists and dangerous criminals. Put out in five languages around the world, it ensured a media frenzy.
Assange attended a police station in London, was arrested and spent ten days in Wandsworth Prison, in solitary confinement. Released on £340,000 bail, he was electronically tagged, required to report to police daily and placed under virtual house arrest while his case began its long journey to the Supreme Court. He still had not been charged with any offence. His lawyers repeated his offer to be questioned by Ny in London, pointing out that she had given him permission to leave Sweden. They suggested a special facility at Scotland Yard commonly used for that purpose. She refused.
Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape wrote: “The allegations against [Assange] are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder and destruction… The authorities care so little about violence against women that they manipulate rape allegations at will. [Assange] has made it clear he is available for questioning by the Swedish authorities, in Britain or via Skype. Why are they refusing this essential step in their investigation? What are they afraid of?”
This question remained unanswered as Ny deployed the European Arrest Warrant, a draconian and now discredited product of the “war on terror” supposedly designed to catch terrorists and organised criminals. The EAW had abolished the obligation on a petitioning state to provide any evidence of a crime. More than a thousand EAWs are issued each month; only a few have anything to do with potential “terror” charges. Most are issued for trivial offences, such as overdue bank charges and fines. Many of those extradited face months in prison without charge. There have been a number of shocking miscarriages of justice, of which British judges have been highly critical.
The Assange case finally reached the UK Supreme Court in May 2012. In a judgement that upheld the EAW – whose rigid demands had left the courts almost no room for manoeuvre – the judges found that European prosecutors could issue extradition warrants in the UK without any judicial oversight, even though Parliament intended otherwise. They made clear that Parliament had been “misled” by the Blair government. The court was split, 5-2, and consequently found against Assange.
However, the Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, made one mistake. He applied the Vienna Convention on treaty interpretation, allowing for state practice to override the letter of the law. As Assange’s barrister, Dinah Rose QC, pointed out, this did not apply to the EAW.
The Supreme Court only recognised this crucial error when it dealt with another appeal against the EAW in November 2013. The Assange decision had been wrong, but it was too late to go back. With extradition imminent, the Swedish prosecutor told Assange’s lawyers that Assange, once in Sweden, would be immediately placed in one of Sweden’s infamous remand prisons.
Assange’s choice was stark: extradition to a country that had refused to say whether or not it would send him on to the US, or to seek what seemed his last opportunity for refuge and safety. Supported by most of Latin America, the courageous government of Ecuador granted him refugee status on the basis of documented evidence and legal advice that he faced the prospect of cruel and unusual punishment in the US; that this threat violated his basic human rights; and that his own government in Australia had abandoned him and colluded with Washington. The Labor government of prime minister Julia Gillard had even threatened to take away his passport.
Gareth Peirce, the renowned human rights lawyer who represents Assange in London, wrote to the then Australian foreign minister, Kevin Rudd: “Given the extent of the public discussion, frequently on the basis of entirely false assumptions… it is very hard to attempt to preserve for him any presumption of innocence. Mr. Assange has now hanging over him not one but two Damocles swords, of potential extradition to two different jurisdictions in turn for two different alleged crimes, neither of which are crimes in his own country, and that his personal safety has become at risk in circumstances that are highly politically charged.”
It was not until she contacted the Australian High Commission in London that Peirce received a response, which answered none of the pressing points she raised. In a meeting I attended with her, the Australian Consul-General, Ken Pascoe, made the astonishing claim that he knew “only what I read in the newspapers” about the details of the case.
Meanwhile, the prospect of a grotesque miscarriage of justice was drowned in a vituperative campaign against the WikiLeaks founder. Deeply personal, petty, vicious and inhuman attacks were aimed at a man not charged with any crime yet subjected to treatment not even meted out to a defendant facing extradition on a charge of murdering his wife. That the US threat to Assange was a threat to all journalists, to freedom of speech, was lost in the sordid and the ambitious.
Books were published, movie deals struck and media careers launched or kick-started on the back of WikiLeaks and an assumption that attacking Assange was fair game and he was too poor to sue. People have made money, often big money, while WikiLeaks has struggled to survive. The editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, called the WikiLeaks disclosures, which his newspaper published, “one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the last 30 years”. It became part of his marketing plan to raise the newspaper’s cover price.
With not a penny going to Assange or to WikiLeaks, a hyped Guardian book led to a lucrative Hollywood movie. The book’s authors, Luke Harding and David Leigh, gratuitously described Assange as a “damaged personality” and “callous”. They also revealed the secret password he had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing the US embassy cables. With Assange now trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy, Harding, standing among the police outside, gloated on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh”.
The injustice meted out to Assange is one of the reasons Parliament reformed the Extradition Act to prevent the misuse of the EAW. The draconian catch-all used against him could not happen now; charges would have to be brought and “questioning” would be insufficient grounds for extradition. “His case has been won lock, stock and barrel,” Gareth Peirce told me, “these changes in the law mean that the UK now recognises as correct everything that was argued in his case. Yet he does not benefit.” In other words, the change in the UK law in 2014 mean that Assange would have won his case and he would not have been forced to take refuge.
Ecuador’s decision to protect Assange in 2012 bloomed into a major international affair. Even though the granting of asylum is a humanitarian act, and the power to do so is enjoyed by all states under international law, both Sweden and the United Kingdom refused to recognize the legitimacy of Ecuador’s decision. Ignoring international law, the Cameron government refused to grant Assange safe passage to Ecuador. Instead, Ecuador’s embassy was placed under siege and its government abused with a series of ultimatums. When William Hague’s Foreign Office threatened to violate the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, warning that it would remove the diplomatic inviolability of the embassy and send the police in to get Assange, outrage across the world forced the government to back down. During one night, police appeared at the windows of the embassy in an obvious attempt to intimidate Assange and his protectors.
Since then, Julian Assange has been confined to a small room under Ecuador’s protection, without sunlight or space to exercise, surrounded by police under orders to arrest him on sight. For three years, Ecuador has made clear to the Swedish prosecutor that Assange is available to be questioned in the London embassy, and for three years she has remained intransigent. In the same period Sweden has questioned forty-four people in the UK in connection with police investigations. Her role, and that of the Swedish state, is demonstrably political; and for Ny, facing retirement in two years, she must “win”.
In despair, Assange has challenged the arrest warrant in the Swedish courts. His lawyers have cited rulings by the European Court of Human Rights that he has been under arbitrary, indefinite detention and that he had been a virtual prisoner for longer than any actual prison sentence he might face. The Court of Appeal judge agreed with Assange’s lawyers: the prosecutor had indeed breached her duty by keeping the case suspended for years. Another judge issued a rebuke to the prosecutor. And yet she defied the court.
Last December, Assange took his case to the Swedish Supreme Court, which ordered Marianne Ny’s boss – the Prosecutor General of Sweden Anders Perklev – to explain. The next day, Ny announced, without explanation, that she had changed her mind and would now question Assange in London.
In his submission to the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General made some important concessions: he argued that the coercion of Assange had been “intrusive” and that that the period in the embassy has been a “great strain” on him. He even conceded that if the matter had ever come to prosecution, trial, conviction and serving a sentence in Sweden, Julian Assange would have left Sweden long ago.
In a split decision, one Supreme Court judge argued that the arrest warrant should have been revoked. The majority of the judges ruled that, since the prosecutor had now said she would go to London, Assange’s arguments had become “moot”. But the Court ruled that it would have found against the prosecutor if she had not suddenly changed her mind. Justice by caprice. Writing in the Swedish press, a former Swedish prosecutor, Rolf Hillegren, accused Ny of losing all impartiality. He described her personal investment in the case as”abnormal” and demanded that she be replaced.
Having said she would go to London in June, Ny did not go, but sent a deputy, knowing that the questioning would not be legal under these circumstances, especially as Sweden had not bothered to get Ecuador’s approval for the meeting. At the same time, her office tipped off the Swedish tabloid newspaper Expressen, which sent its London correspondent to wait outside Ecuador’s embassy for “news”. The news was that Ny was cancelling the appointment and blaming Ecuador for the confusion and by implication an “uncooperative” Assange – when the opposite was true.
As the statute of limitations date approaches – 20 August 2015 – another chapter in this hideous story will doubtless unfold, with Marianne Ny pulling yet another rabbit out of her hat and the commissars and prosecutors in Washington the beneficiaries. Perhaps none of this is surprising. In 2008, a war on WikiLeaks and on Julian Assange was foretold in a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch”. It described a detailed plan to destroy the feeling of “trust” which is WikiLeaks’ “centre of gravity”. This would be achieved with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”. Silencing and criminalising such a rare source of truth-telling was the aim, smear the method. While this scandal continues the very notion of justice is diminished, along with the reputation of Sweden, and the shadow of America’s menace touches us all.
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In spite of incessant calls from different quarters for the protection of the right of members of the fourth estate of the realm – to freely practice their profession – without any harassment or intimidation from any quarter, journalists have frequently become endangered species in the hands of the society of which they are its watchdog. This calls for serious concern.
There is no disputing the fact that a free press is the cornerstone of any democracy. But when journalists are being denied the right to practice their profession as they should; more so under a democratic government, then democracy is seriously under threat. This is why we are again disturbed about the maltreatments that were meted to two journalists recently by the protesting civil servants in the state of Osun. We found the development quite appalling!
Some weeks ago two pressmen; MITV correspondent, Abass Okandeji and his counterpart of ONTV were mercilessly battered in the course of carrying out their legitimate duties by these civil servants as if they were criminals. We see this ugly development as very barbaric, unruly and a complete disregard for the freedom of the press. More nauseating is the fact that the attack on these journalists came from the enlightened members of the public whose cause the press has always defended.
Irrespective of what the grievances of those civil servants might have been it was quite inappropriate and disrespectful of them to have descended on the innocent pressmen whose job is to cover and report happenings in the society. And those protesting civil servants know themselves that journalists have the rights to cover whatever activities going on under the sky and report same to the public without let or hindrance. So the civil servants were not illiterates and therefore they could not be said to be ignorant of the roles of pressmen in the society. Even the illiterates who lack the ability to read and right can no longer be said to be ignorant of the roles of pressmen in modern time as they do listen to radio and television – even if they can’t read newspapers – and they know that all the information they get from these sources are being provided by pressmen/women.
Thus it was an absolute act of wickedness on the part of those protesting civil servants to visit attack on those journalists. For the purpose of further enlightenment let it be reiterated here again that any denial of press freedom is a denial of the right of the public to be informed. An attack on any journalist therefore is an attack on the entire society. This must be the reason why Christopher Dodd, once correctly quipped that; “When the public’s right to know is threatened, and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are threatened”. We absolutely agree with this opinion and it’s on this score that we condemn in its entirety the attack on those journalists.
Conclusively we like to call on the Nigerian Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to look into this case and bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice. This is not a case that should be allowed to be swept under the carpet. The perpetrators must be prosecuted. Whether anyone likes it or not press freedom is a necessity. It’s a sine qua non for the growth of our democracy. We can only disregard it at our own peril. Like Albert Camus observed; “A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but most certainly, without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad”.
To date, addressing the National Question in Nigeria has been based on the assumption that the logic behind the demand for its resolution will be based on “reason” hence the expectation that such “reason” will prevail. So far, “reason” has not prevailed, which is why, in spite of all sorts of talk shops that have been held, the conveners always end up converting it to their own stated or unstated purposes. The talk shops thus served as necessary political diversions without touching upon the crisis created by the National Question. Yet, it is apparent that every Ethno-Nationality in Nigeria has its own grouse with the post colonial Nation State even as the question would be asked whether such a grouse would constitute the main contradiction for the Ethno-Nationality. For the Yoruba, there is an underground move to redefine this contradiction as being of an anti-North, anti-Fulani character without contextualizing it within the alienation engendered by the post colonial Nigerian State affecting all of Nigerian Nationalities.
As long as the fundamental contradiction is defined in this Ethno-National manner, so long will its manifestation become an inter-Ethnic agitation, leaving the post colonial Nation State the arbiter, when actually this Nation State is the problem. It also becomes impossible to migrate the resolution from the altar of “reason” to that of practical politics, for the “reason” of the Ethno-National opponent will become continuously questioned. Yet, the political is the only platform through which a resolution can be found and without which the extant state of affairs will allow the continuous isolation of the quest for Restructuring from the political field thus limiting its effectiveness and possibility of engaging the post colonial Nation State, the necessary precondition for its resolution, will become non-existent.
While there may be many reasons/factors responsible for this state of affairs, with the extant attitudinal disposition of the politicians and associated privileges being made out as immediate causes, the remote and more important reason is the failure of an overall strategy which can be described as nothing short of a dis-organized retreat from a position of strength; such strength being found in the weak underbelly of the post colonial Nation State, at this time characterized by near economic collapse and uncertainties, political immorality and opportunism established by the national legislature, aided by a willing Judiciary and the security mechanism of the Nation State, especially embroiled in an anti-terrorism campaign, all emanating from the structural imbalance that had been at the core of the problem since the deconstruction of the Federal and Regional System in 1966 all based on a false assumption of the 1999 Constitution as being of “We, The People”.
This existing state of affairs necessarily creates room for great disappointment and, for many, outright disillusionment; indicative of a lack of a not well thought out overall strategy. And, quite clearly, if a strategy is not well thought out, it implies that its intellectual back-up is weak!
Thus, the Restructuring process, having been made to fail on this point and with an intellectual base unable to create the political and programmatic space for itself sufficient enough to meaningfully influence the political choices that needed to be made, became a ball tossed to and fro when it is known that if a desirable degree of influence had existed, there would definitely have not only been a better articulation of the political choices available to us as a people but also a definitive movement towards the resolution of the contradictions presented by the National Question.
This situation reflects a failure to fully appreciate the enormity of the obstacles attendant to the quest for Restructuring revolving around the robust determination to at best panel beat the Nigerian Nation state into a supra-national state under the banner of “unity” without a determination as to who and what is to be united. Supra-national here is in the sense that all ethno-national centers of power would have to be neutralized as a necessary pre-condition and replaced with the “Nigerian idea”, largely espoused by the military, whose praxis is found in its occupationist origin, from being a colonialist enabler to becoming transformed into its full embodiment by coming up with all sorts of political and economic templates that had no bearing on making the peoples the Subject of the Restructuring but would rather make them an Object which is also the colonial foundational aim. Nowhere is this manifested more than the Babangida regime’s hearty welcome and celebration of the “brain drain” era as being beneficial for bringing in foreign exchange through remittances from those who left the country. This is coupled with its “pan-Nigeriansm” which is totally oblivious to the social and cultural make-up of the country since, according to this mindset, such had become mute, as it were, within its own formation. Yet, the only way for this ambition to be pursued was partly through the creation of alternative and/or new political power bases through the instrumentality of presidential patronage; a system perfectly compatible with its own existence.
The effect of this was more pernicious in Yorubaland where the attempt was towards the achievement of the sort of neutralization program that was embarked upon by the Babangida-Abacha-Diya trio; where, specifically, the attempt was based on tinkering with the 1999 Abubakar Constitution (i.e. with no fundamental changes) via first, Obasanjo’s All-Parties Technical Review Committee followed by the 2005 Political Conference and its political fall out where the AD, creditably the “Yoruba Party” of choice at the time, was all but wiped out were it not for the lone resistance mounted by Lagos State AD, later transformed into AC, ACN and now APC.
What would have happened to Yorubaland could only be imagined had Lagos also succumbed, for not only would Yorubaland lay prostrate for the PDP to play around with as it pleases, the idea of Restructuring would have become extinct. Going by what eventually happened to the Obasanjo “tendency”, the prime mover of this attempt, disguised as necessary for its own survival within the PDP, it was itself emasculated by the Jonathan “tendency” whose regime attempted to substitute itself for the leadership of Yorubaland. We need no soothsayer to tell us that Yorubaland would have become completely neutralized and turned into a plaything of other regional power centers, especially when it is historically noted that the control of Yorubaland by either or both of the North and East appears as the motivating factor for the “pan-Nigerianist” project .
This is even more so when Jonathan’s Yoruba enablers completely and totally jettisoned the Yoruba Agenda in favor of whatever it was Jonathan’s Conference would come up with, even before the Conference formally commenced sitting, simply following on its 2003 capitulation.
Using “public sittings” as a form of legitimacy, both the 2005 and Jonathan’s Conferences were able to create a false image of a democratic and localized participation without a formal input by the people, which can only be exercised through a Referendum by the people themselves.
“ooduapathfinder” is mindful of what “public debates” have done to our body politic in legitimizing doubtful socio-political legacies – IMF debates, Political Bureau, Niki Tobi’s Constitutional review, Abubakar, Obasanjo and Jonathan’s consultations. In each of these instances, it was a case of working to the answer, where, at the end, a pre-determined position emerges which will vitiate the struggle for ethno-national autonomy.
Where then do we go from here? “ooduapathfinder” posits that with the Lagos resistance having, to a very large extent, solved the teething political problems, it is time to move to the next level, whereby the consolidation of our historical, political experience will become formalized in its being made the heart of our praxis as a logical consequence of the Lagos resistance which was not a function of simple political survivalism but a historical necessity whose time has now fully come.