Has Government A Right To Lie?

Feature Article Has Government A Right To Lie?

An immediate observable unintended consequence of the just concluded World Economic Forum for Africa (WEFA) was the unprecedented scale of interest of the global media to Nigeria's hitherto local affairs.

A major area of focus of the international media was the kidnap by armed Islamic insurgents of some two hundred plus school girls from the government girls High School in Chibok, a hitherto unknown media territory in Borno State. Borno state is the epicenter of the ongoing campaign of violent terrorism by the armed rebels known as Boko Haram.

The act of violent kidnap of innocent school girls is widely viewed by members of the international community as not just a declaration of war against civilization but is clearly a crime against humanity.

The United Nations has already stated that the abduction and sexual slavery of these school girls amounted to a crime against humanity.

Locally, the vocal group known as Christian Association of Nigeria has reacted to the internet video circulated by the armed Islamic insurgents in which most of the girls were shown renouncing their Christian religion to embrace the religion of the sectarian violent leader. To this group of Christian leaders as well as other leading Islamic Scholars, what these insurgents have done constitute a war crime.

Legally speaking, crime against humanity is a term used in the Rome Treaty that brought into being the international criminal court [ICC] and it is defined to include the following atrocious acts if committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.

These criminal acts include extermination, enslavement, torture and enforced disappearance of persons.

For a lot of observers, the crime of mass kidnap of these school girls constituted a crime against humanity because it intrinsically involved the enforced disappearance of these innocent civilians by a group already categorized both locally and internationally as a terror organization. The United States department considers Boko Haram as a foreign terror organization [FTO].

The writers of www.duhaime.orgdefined enforced disappearance of persons to mean 'the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time.'

Nigeria is a signatory to the Rome Treaty which occasioned the coming into existence of The Hague; Netherland's based International Criminal Court.

In the light of these grave crimes perpetrated by the armed insurgents, the focus of the World media has remained with Nigeria but the military authority which has come under closer scrutiny for alleged operational inefficiency and corruption is worried about this global wide media attention. Even some high profile cabinet officials of government have failed to provide quality body of information on request by media teams from Europe and the United States of America.

On their own part, the hierarchy of the Nigerian military has issued instruction restricting media coverage of the epicenter of the attacks by these armed insurgents and according to a press statement, the Nigerian military can only allow authorized media coverage by the global and local press.

This instruction on limited media coverage of operational areas whereby the Nigerian military are said to be waging anti-terror war has been called an attempt at censorship of the media which contradicts section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution.

The Defence Headquarters said it has noted the presence of a large number of tourists, journalists and adventurers of diverse interests moving about in areas where security operations are currently ongoing especially in Adamawa and Borno States without the necessary security cover or clearance, a trend which constitutes not only an unnecessary risk to the persons especially the foreigners involved but is also an undue obstruction to operations.

In a statement signed by the Director Defence Information, Major General Chris Olukolade, DHQ stated 'Much as the military has nothing to hide and believes in the freedom of movement in the country, the need for all persons to recognize the status of certain places as operational areas is hereby reiterated. Anyone violating the existing procedures for coverage or movement in the mission area does so at his or her own peril as the security forces should not be held responsible for any unsavory outcome of such movement.'

'Necessary arrangement will continue to be made for the protection of persons and visitors whose movement is dully vetted and in line with development in the security situation on ground in particular mission area.'

'The general public is hereby informed that obstructive, suspicious or risky movement of visitors will not be condoned in any mission and operational area in the country', the statement concluded.

But questions are being asked if any government whose territory is being attacked by insurgents has any legitimate right to feed the populace with lies.

Dan F. Hahn in his book titled 'Political Communication: rhetoric; government; and citizens':, seems in one breath to have provided ambiguous response to the above interrogatory but almost immediately thereafter responded strongly that Government has no legitimate justification to lie to her citizens.

The author wrote thus; 'Surveillance is the consort of secrecy. By secrecy the government keeps information it does not want others to have; by surveillance the government gathers information others do not want it to have. Ultimately, of course, government information-gathered surreptitiously and kept secret-leads to policies. And these policies themselves are often secret, so that citizens have no entry at all to what the government is doing, supposedly in their name and for their benefit, no opportunity to voice their opinions or to enter the ongoing conversation.'

But the author also stated thus; 'Societal conversation itself is damaged by government lies, just as our private conversations are damaged by lies. Of course, most people expect government lies, hence are not particularly upset when they encounter them'.

From the above logical presentation of the author of the aforementioned text, what has emerged based on the peculiar local situation in Nigeria is that government has the legitimate right to keep operational secrets of the military away from the prying eyes of the media but it has no right to refuse to allow the media both from local organizations and global media outlets to monitor how the war on terror is proceeding and to criticize the counter terror war if and when it deviates to war in error.

A good example was the shameful revelation that the military commanders in Borno State capital got four hours notice of an impending attack of the armed insurgents targeting the Chibok's girls' secondary school, but did nothing to stop it.

The international media with specific reference to the Atlanta, United States-based cable News Network [CNN] sent her crew of reporters few days after the kidnap of the school girls, and local people including anonymous military sources informed them that the military commanders in Borno state capital were pre-informed of an imminent attack of the girls school in Chibok by the armed insurgents but for four hours, the military failed to stop it.

Amnesty international (AI) a United Kingdom-based non-governmental body did a comprehensive report and issued a media statement making the same claim but the Nigerian military authority denied it.

Most Nigerians believe the version told them by the global media than the claim of the spokesman of the Nigerian military who has once deceived the World into believing that majority of the kidnapped Chibok School girls were already rescued few hours after this dastardly kidnap incident. But when overwhelming contrary opinion emanated from the parents of the missing girls, the military spokesman accepted that his earlier claims were based on false intelligence.

It is therefore in the self enlightened interest of the Nigerian government that credible media reportage of the counter terrorism war is encouraged while the military hierarchy endeavors to professionally identify the saboteurs within their rank that always leaks operational secrets to the armed Islamic insurgents.

Those who leak operational military information to the insurgents should be treated as enemies of Nigeria and must be severely punished in accordance with extant military law in Nigeria.

On the other hand, the Nigerian government should cultivate greater transparent media coverage of the anti-terror war but at the same time keeps all information that may endanger the lives of the troops within the secret confines of the highest governmental levels bearing in mind that even the government is said to have being infiltrated by the armed insurgents.

While the media is termed a constructive friend of Nigeria in our ongoing counter terrorism offensives, media owners must provide the necessary enabling environment like life insurance policies for their workers and all information received from official government circles without independent verification must be carried with a caveat so consumers of media information are aware that information reaching them were never independently verified and authenticated.

Emmanuel Onwubiko; Head; Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria; blogs;

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