© 2018 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
The truth is no defence
By Owei LAKEMFA
WHEN I read the Interim Investigation Report of Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, NPM, mni to acting president Yemi Osinbajo on the August 7 invasion of the National Assembly by the Department of State Services (DSS) I concluded it was a fake document.
My assumption flowed not just from the fact that it contained nothing substantial or new from what the public already knew, but the 5-page Report was riddled, thankfully not with bullets, but with grammatical and spelling errors.
The opening sentence alone contained three errors including one which read that: “a team of cracked operatives” carried out the investigation. If indeed the investigators were “cracked”, fractured, broken, splintered, irrational or eccentric, then nobody should place any value on the report. The IGP’s report claimed that the invasion was intended to: “incite and weep (not whip) up sentiment” He wrote that the Director General of the secret service, Lawal Daura said he acted: “on a claimed of intelligence report” I don’t know what this means, perhaps the Acting President who is an erudite Professor of Law would have understood such police jargon. The IGP report said Daura, who invaded the National Assembly with operatives in “hood and marks” (he meant masks) is: “placed on house arrest” Perhaps he was placed on the roof of the house.
My assumption that the police with many brilliant propagandists could not have authored such a report not to talk about ‘transmitting this transmission’ to the Presidency, soon vanished when the Police did not disown the report. But for the fact that the report quickly found its way into the public space, it would have been possible for Professor Osinbajo as a lecturer, to make corrections in a red or green pen and return it for the IGP to effect the corrections. It might also have been possible for the Presidency to advice the IGP to hire a letter writer as was done in colonial times when very few were literate.
Understandably, the police leadership was furious about the reported leakage and sent out ‘cracked’ detectives to investigate. They sniffed their way to the ‘Premium Times’ run by a team of crack journalists and rounded up its Editor-in-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, Education Correspondent, Adebimpe Adedigba and Security Correspondent, Samuel Ogundipe. After harassing the first two, they let them go while retaining their trophy, Ogundipe.
Incidentally, the day the Police swooped on‘Premium Times’ was the same day its notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was reformed and given a brand new name; the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS). So one of the first duties of the FSARS was the raid on the media. It was a curious way of announcing that although SARS has changed its name, all its former documents, operational mode and tradition, remain valid. Perhaps another reason for using the anti-robbery squad might be the belief that the leakage of the IGP’s report was not only a theft but one that must have been procured with arms.
Expectedly, the ‘Premium Times’ cried blue murder, especially when what it published was the truth. But that is the problem; it is the truth that hurts, not really the falsehood. One can easily debunk falsehood, but it is very difficult to deny the truth.
When Samuel Ogundipe refused to divulge the source of his information or how the report leaked, a furious police force while denying him access to his lawyers, employers, professional colleagues and family, secretly arraigned him before a magistrate court in Kubwa, Abuja.
The media and human rights organisations are already up in arms against the clampdown on the ‘Premium Times’ citing constitutional and United Nations provisions on freedom of expression as well as the Freedom of Information Act. Rather than such protests, the media needs orientation on the truth. For instance, the media must learn that if the truth portrays government in bad light, then it becomes a lie, and that press freedom does not mean it should publish the truth especially if it is not in the interest of the government. This is the lesson President Donald Trump is teaching Americans. This is also the main lesson of Decree Four of 1984 which punished both false and true reports.
The media has a ready resource person for the orientation course in the person of the Nigeria Police Force PublicRelations Officer, Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Jimoh Moshood. When the day after the raid on the ‘Premium Times’ (which attracted national and international outcry) he was asked on international television his reaction to the raid, he claimed ignorance! That is the game; deny! deny!! deny!!!
My colleagues in the media must realise that religious injunctions like “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” are in the celestial realm; in the carnal world of Nigeria, if you know the truth, you keep quiet especially if it will displease or embarrass a public official. The truth is not sacrosanct and cannot be a defence. Former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill said: “In wartime, the truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies”
It was this tactic of lies that was used against Jones Abiri, the journalist abducted by the DSS in July 2016. When it was revealed that a journalist was being held for two years without trial or access to his family, lawyers, colleagues or doctors, the secret service claimed Abiri is not a journalist but a ‘militant’ terrorist! Such official lies seemed the only way to stop the journalist from publishing the uncomfortable truth about the Niger Delta. It was not until another public outcry before Abiri was finally taken to court and released on bail last Wednesday, August 15.
The reality is that the truth can be subversive while lies can be lethal weapons. That is what our political leaders are teaching us in the scorched earth battles between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In their battles such as the ones over the leadership of the twin houses of the National Assembly, the first casualty, is the truth.
This will be more pronounced as the 2019 general elections draw nearer. Even if as citizens, we demand that those who seek our votes should embrace the truth, we know that would be asking for the impossible. First, most of them will make promises which they do not intend to keep. Even if they publish these in their programmes and manifestoes, they do not expect us to take them on face value. Conclusively, for the sake of public morality, I do not think it is decent to ask them to tell the naked truth; the truth must always be clothed in garbs of lies.
Owei Lakemfa, former secretary general of African workers is a human rights activist, journalist and author.