The substance and manner of protests against the arrest of journalists involved in this ‘Obasanjo letter’ story is beginning to make it look like some people are out to intimidate the police, in a bid to stop them uncovering the truth.
Genesis of the whole saga was a story by Bayo Onanuga’s more credible PM News that former President Olusegun Obasanjo allegedly wrote a letter to President Goodluck Jonathan, therein suggesting replacement of certain public officers considered incompetent, all of them Northerners as it happens.
The publishers of the scoop, or a plant depending on your orientation, say the letter is inappropriate because of three interpretations that they (the critics) choose to give to it. All three interpretations which are either partisan, not supported by facts on the ground, inconsistent with Obasanjo's well-known antecedents, or downright unreasonable.
Firstly, they say the letter proves that President Jonathan is manifestly under the undue influence and direction of Olusegun Obasanjo. Secondly, they claim the letter shows Obasanjo’s hatred for northern Nigerians. Thirdly, they say Obasanjo has no business writing such a letter. I will come back to the merit of the accusations later.
In the event, Obasanjo denied writing such a letter, even threatening legal action. While General Obasanjo, not unlike most politicians, might have a credibility deficiency, he deserves a mandatory benefit of the doubt. In other words, the onus is on his accusers to prove existence and authorship of the letter.
Subsequently, The Nation, one of the other newspapers that carried the story, published what they say is a photocopy of the original letter, maintaining they stand by their original story. Not surprisingly, Obasanjo’s supporters claim and many other people say they suspect it is a forgery.
Both parties cannot be right. Someone must be lying but, as is usually the case in Nigeria, the public is left to guess the truth. Well, not this time, it seems.
Since a crime of forgery has now allegedly been committed, a police investigation presents the best prospect, probably for the first but definitely in a long time, to unearth the truth for the Nigerian public.
Our police may not get it right all the time, not to put a finer point on it, but they too deserve a fair chance to do their duties. There are two likely scenarios for police involvement. One is that someone forged a document and signature, in the name of a former head of state. The other is that a criminal breach of trust occurred in the presidency, whereby someone leaked confidential information and stole what may be classified material. In both cases, it is normal for police to investigate, arrest suspects, and search compromised premises.
Rather than welcome the opportunity that a third party will vindicate their position, journalists chose to go to town with the cry of persecution, joined, before long, by politicians and their spokespersons. Using colourful language like fascism, crude, racism, and what not, they accused the government of tyranny. Not be outdone, the erstwhile respectable Guild of Editors waded in to condemn the arrests, saying the journalists were only ‘carrying out their professional duties’.
Pray, what is crude in arresting someone suspected of forging the signature of a former head of state? Where is the harassment in searching the offices of a company accused of harbouring forged documents? When did it become anybody’s professional duty to forge documents to discredit another individual, never mind a former President?
For all we know, Obasanjo might be the one telling lies but the way things are, a reasonable person is more likely to conclude that his enemies are the ones afraid of the truth, and there are good reasons for that.
Obasanjo may not be everybody’s favourite politician, not even among his Yoruba people, and definitely not mine, but he is not guilty of every misdeed known to man, as his detractors are wont to make us believe.
If there is one thing in his favour, it is that Olusegun Obasanjo is ethnically blind. The few Yoruba that he appointed to important offices, and even fewer federal projects that he situated in the South-west if he did at all, during his presidency, were more or solely for his personal benefit. That characteristic is the reason the North’s Generals and their backers considered him a safe pair of hands in which to entrust what they thought would be a tokenist pause in 1999, when they presented the Yoruba nation with what in reality was a Hobson’s choice.
Moreover, Obasanjo’s presidential cabinet remains the most ethnically balanced in real power terms, in Nigeria’s history, ever.
Also, as far as influences go, if Obasanjo was as close and dominant as they claim, would he have needed to write such a formal, leakage prone letter, to get the ear of the President?
As for the third criticism, to say that any Nigerian let alone a former head of state, has no right to offer advice to the country’s President, shows how their hatred of Obasanjo has blinded his enemies.
If the police hold suspects beyond time allowed by law, before they charge the suspects to court, such suspects have a right to and there is legal route for, redress. That applies to everyone and not journalists alone. On the other hand, when journalists are suspected of forgery, they should expect to be arrested. They should expect their homes and offices would be searched.
Their defence should be to prove that the document is true and genuine. Anything else is asking to be treated as above the law, and that is dangerous.