Embarrassed governor and Citizen Bakari

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 25 Jan 2009

IN June 1984, the former British Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, got a raw deal from some of her subjects. She was on a visit to Wales. As she was addressing a Conservative Party rally, someone threw an egg, which hit her and splattered over her face and dress.

More eggs and other items such as tomato, a packet of butter and ice cream also flew towards the then Prime Minister. But a detective reportedly rushed towards her with an umbrella to protect her. No arrests were made even as Thatcher left the place calmly in a limousine.

The Iron Lady was even lucky that it was a fragile object like an egg that hit her. Recently in Iraq, the immediate past president of the United States, George Bush, escaped unhurt when an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at him. The man threw the first one. Bush ducked. He threw the second one, which the erstwhile president also ducked from before security operatives apprehended the missile thrower.

In many countries of the world, citizens ventilate their feelings about their leaders in different ways. Some indulge in protests. Some are good in petition writing. Some take up arms against the government of the day.

In Nigeria, many of these forms of protests are not in short supply. You can beat a Nigerian silly, but you cannot stop him from crying. And this is why the press and some individuals sometimes run into trouble with the powers that be.

This is what one Shuaibu Bakari, a 25-year-old man from Taraba State, is suffering at the moment. According to The Guardian of Wednesday, January 21, 2009, Bakari was remanded in prison custody last Tuesday for embarrassing Taraba State Governor, Danbaba Suntai, at a public function.

The man had earlier been detained on December 16, 2008 for publicly challenging the governor while he (the governor) was inaugurating some projects the Jalingo Council chairman reportedly executed. The prosecution accused him of breaching Section 114 of the Penal Code.

But what exactly did Bakari do? He threw neither eggs nor shoes. He reportedly shouted in Hausa language, Karye ne, karye ne (It‘s not true, it‘s not true). In other words, the man had the audacity to challenge the veracity of His Excellency‘s claims as regards some projects purportedly executed by his administration.

The trial judge even reportedly rejected the plea for bail by the accused, saying he might breach Section 341 (2) of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Without prejudice to whatever judgement the court may deliver later in this case, it is important to commend the governor, at least for taking the legal option. Some other people may have done something worse.

For instance, for writing what the erstwhile governor of old Rivers State, Alfred Diete-Spiff, considered a blasphemy, Minere Amakiri (a correspondent with the Observer Newspaper then) suffered terrible torture in the cell. Agents of Diete-Spiff flogged him mercilessly and shaved him with broken bottles.

Similarly, the Muhammadu Buhari regime jailed two frontline journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, for publishing a list of ambassadorial nominees. Their crime was that they published it before the government made a pronouncement on it. Other top journalists like Dele Giwa and Bagauda Kaltho paid the supreme sacrifice for pursuing truth in their magazines.

Many other Nigerians had suffered different deprivations for peacefully challenging the authorities. Even some of the leaders who take the legal option do not have patience to allow the rule of law to take its full course.

For instance, Section 35 (4) of the 1999 Constitution stipulates that any person arrested or detained for committing a criminal offence, shall be brought before a court of law within a reasonable time. Subsection 5 of the same section explains that a reasonable time means ”in the case of an arrest or detention in any place where there is a court of competent jurisdiction within a radius of forty kilometres, a period of one day…”

The question is, was Bakari arraigned within one or two days after his arrest and detention? Governor Suntai and his agents can explain better. But it is time our public officers learnt to put criticisms in their strides. It is time they learnt to make friends rather than enemies of the people they govern. It is time they emulated leaders of civilised societies who do not surround themselves with much air of importance.

Anybody who watched the inauguration of President Barack Obama of the US can’t but be marvelled at the level of interaction between leaders and their followers in that country. Tight security notwithstanding, Obama mingled with his people, shaking hands with some and kissing some others. Some even cornered Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, to take photographs with her.

Nigerian leaders should know that their citizens are not happy with them. This is largely because truth is on sale here. Some promise fresh fish and pounded yam during campaigns, but give scorpion and stones when they assume power. Some claim to have built gas turbines, roads, state-of-the-art hospitals, and well-equipped schools.

On closer scrutiny, however, citizens may discover that such gas turbines are no better than a dilapidated transformer next door; that the hospitals are equipped with wall geckos; and that school buildings are made of mud bricks, but plastered with cement. And for any N1m project executed, some of the governors mount N5m billboards or self-portraits at strategic places to advertise their “feat.”

Our public officers should come down from their high horse and identify with their people. They should know that it is better for their citizens to express themselves than to bottle up their anger. A bottled-up anger has a more catastrophic effect. Rather than swearing to an oath of secrecy, let us swear to an oath of openness. Rather than upholding the tenets of the Official Secret Act, let us observe more of the Freedom of Information Act.

It is only those who have skeletons in their cupboards that fret when criticisms come their way. Governor Suntai may have been insulted. He has a right to be angry. But one major way to shame his detractors is not to detain them, but to embark on the massive development and empowerment of his people. Let him wear Thatcher‘s dress and ask himself, “What if Bakari had thrown eggs at me?”



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