Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

What The Papers Say

Shagari, Ekwueme and Jakande

The Guardian

Last month, fame came to the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons when it gained some high wattage personnel: the cream of government functionaries, now numbering 81, from the last civilian mal-administration. Their distinguished presence is to assist the military 'rescue team' determine where public funds went in the past four years, and there they will stay until they co-operate in the exercise, and the government is satisfied with the role they played. Among the top-calibre prisoners has been Mr. Alex Ekwueme, vice president to Mr. Shehu Shagari until the small hours of 31st December 1983. Although a number of people have been allowed home from the place, the ex-vice president has remained. Understandably, perhaps: with the position he occupied he must have a lot to speak about. More than anyone else, obviously, except the ex-president himself.

That, however, is the point at which more questions than answers crop up. Mr. Shehu Shagari, under whom Ekwueme functioned, is not in Kirikiri - or in any prison whatever - although you would have expected that aside from anything else they would be together a lot of the time resolving the same questions. Shagari, it turns out, is only under house arrest and unlike Ekwueme, mosquitoes, or mosquito nets, constitute the least of his worries. The reason for this, it is said, is that nothing incriminating has been traced to the ex-president.

It is not easy to say what this means, and for the moment, we will not examine the matter, or even the means of investigation. But two curious parallels will be drawn. The first is that it is impossible, indeed meaningless, to talk of Shagari and Ekwueme in terms of the Second Republic - as distinct and separate. Not only were they peas from the same political pod, together they created and sustained the moral and administrative atmosphere for whatever happened in the past four years.

Moreover, Mr. Shagari himself did reaffirm on one occasion his complete control of affairs of government. Speaking to Peter Enahoro in an interview with Africa Now magazine in November 1982, the former president said: "It is not true that the vice-president is very powerful, because I cannot see anything that he does all by himself without my approval. Nothing at all. Of course he assists me but I take all the decisions." To bless the one, and absolve the other so early and so decisively, is a spurious and gratuitous judgement.

The second parallel is even more disturbing. So far, according to Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon, ex-Lagos State Governor Mr. Lateef Jakande has responded to the FMG's litmus test in a manner identical to Mr. Shagari's: nothing incriminating has been found on him. But there the similarity drops. Jakande has been kept in Kirikiri and not, like Shagari, sent out to enjoy the more hospitable climes of a house arrest.

Simply stated, the FMG cannot have this argument both ways. If Ekwueme and Shagari together presided over a government, why is the former in, the other out? If nothing incriminating has so far been traced to Jakande any more than to Shagari, why is he in and Shagari out?

There is more than meets the eye here, and if the government wishes to continue to enjoy the credibility and respect that has greeted it this far, it must not lay itself so wide open to the charge of double-standards.

Gen. Buhari and press freedom

Daily Sketch

NIGERIA generally has a tradition of a free press. Apart from the Adewusi period when the press came under repeated assault for the most asinine of reasons, the press, since independence, has largely enjoyed an uncluttered horizon in performing its important duties.

The free climate under which the Nigerian press operates has been noticed, and praised by press freedom watchdogs like the International Press Institute (IPI). Every year, the IPI publishes a list of countries where journalists have had their professional freedom short-circuited, or brutalized for their writings. Nigeria has never featured on this black list of press freedom-violating countries.

We want Nigeria to continue with this salutary tradition of a free press. A free press does the image of any nation a lot of good. This is why we would like the Head of State, Major-General Mohammadu Buhari to reconsider his plans to 'tamper' with the sections of the suspended 1979 Constitution that confer certain privileges on the press. Tampering with these sections would be dangerous for many obvious reasons.

It is important for any government that wants to succeed to listen to opinions that may not necessarily agree with its own. It is by lending an ear that the government can get to know what the governed are thinking, and what they expect from their government. It is only the press that can adequately form this bridge between the people and the government.

The press, though governments may not know this, performs a security function. There could be, for example, simmering discontent with an explosive potential in a far flung part of the country. Local government officials may want to play down the explosive nature of the situation, or may not even inform the central authority at all. It is only the press, when it is unfettered, that will tell it as it is.

When the press is controlled, a climate of rumours takes over. Rumours, as everyone knows, have a way of creating difficulties for everyone, the rulers and the ruled alike. People will believe what they hear from an unreliable grapevine while pooh-poohing the official view. No government can be run successfully on rumours.

We share General Guhari's disappointment with some members of the press who have made some costly mistakes in the past. But these people have not been unrepentant. They have quickly accepted their errors and made the necessary atonement.

It is our view that no journalist in his right mind would cold-bloodedly set out to destabilise his country. Errors and lapses occur in this profession like in any other.

Only a few papers were involved in the embarrassing lapses of the past. The rest have conducted their business along normal lines. It would, therefore, be wrong to punish the whole press for the atoned sins of a few. We urge General Buhari not to make any far-reaching decision in the heat of the moment.

talking drums 1984-02-27 ghana's aimless revolution - pro buhari demonstration in London