The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has said that the recent proscription order against Boko Haram and Ansaru, desirable as it may be in tackling the terrorist organisations, violates the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by stifling the press and tampering with the fundamental human rights of Nigerians.
In a statement issued in Ila-Orangun on Sunday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said the Order also makes it easy for an increasingly intolerant government to clamp down on the opposition, which its sees more as an irritant than an indispensable part of democracy. It therefore called on media professional bodies to challenge the Order in court to save journalists from long jail terms simply for carrying out their constitutional duties.
In the alternative, the ACN called on the federal government to clarify the knotty and vague areas of the open-ended Order, that may end up punishing journalists and infringing on the civil liberties of the citizens more than it will curtail the activities of the sects.
“Against the background of insinuations in government circles, let us be clear that we do not condone the activities of these sects that have killed and maimed innocent Nigerians and turned a section of the country into a battle field. Terrorism in all its ramifications is condemnable, and no responsible government will allow any group, no matter its name, grievances or ideology, to carry out terrorist acts unchecked.
“But we believe that whatever action government takes – even in an emergency – must pass the Constitutional test, especially since the relevant sections of the Constitution have not been suspended,” the party said.
It said the offensive section of the Order is Section 5 (1), which prescribes a term of imprisonment of not less than 20 years ”for any person who knowingly, in any manner, directly or indirectly, solicits or renders support for the commission of an act of terrorism or to a terrorist group”.
ACN said “support”, as defined by the Order, includes ”incitement to commit a terrorist act through the Internet, or any electronic means OR THROUGH THE USE OF PRINTED MATERIALS OR THROUGH THE DISSEMINATION OF TERRORIST INFORMATION (emphasis ours).
”Is this subsection not in conflict with Chapter II Section 22 of the Nigeria constitution which says ‘The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media, shall AT ALL TIMES BE FREE (emphasis ours) to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people?’
”By stifling the press, is the Order not abridging a part of the fundamental human rights guaranteed every citizen under Chapter Four of the Nigerian Constitution in Section 39 (1), which states thus: ‘Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information WITHOUT INTERFERENCE?’ (emphasis ours). Can journalists escape being sentenced to 20-year jail terms for publishing statements issued by the sects? Can they freely report on videos periodically posted on YouTube by Boko Haram leader Shekau? Can the media freely report the kind of massacre that took place in Baga in April without being held liable for ‘supporting’ terrorism? Can radio and television stations organize talk shows on terrorism without the discussants being held liable for ‘supporting’ terrorism?
”Can the opposition criticise the government’s strategies against the terrorist sects, through its regular intervention, without being perceived as offering support to the sects? Does this Order cover the satellite broadcast channels that can be accessed in many homes across the country? Who determines when this Order has been breached? These are some of the questions that arise under the proscription Order,” the party said.
It said the Nigerian government must take a cue from what obtains in other countries, especially in the US, which are also battling terrorism, adding that the media in those countries have continued to report freely on the activities of the global terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda, despite the horrendous attacks it has carried out in the US and Europe, among others.
“In a statement we issued on May 5th, we said inter alia: ‘The Jonathan Administration is steadily descending into despotism with a brazen assault on the freedom of expression and the press, the use of national institutions against perceived enemies and a growing inclination to denigrate opposition leaders. The Jonathan Administration is anchored on a Transformation Agenda. But the only transformation that we can see is the one from a democratically-elected President to an Emperor, a despot…If the President is not prevailed upon to change course, Nigeria may be in for another season of anomie, reminiscent of the days of the maximum ruler who took the country to the brink before his sudden demise.’
”We hate to say this has turned out to be prescient, in view of the dangerous provisions of the Boko Haram and Ansaru’s proscription Order. The Order’s assault on the press freedom and the Constitutionally-guaranteed rights of ordinary Nigerians is unprecedented in the country’s history. We therefore call on the federal government to take a second look at this Order, with a view to resolving any conflict it may have with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the ACN said.