This cacophony of organized and clearly sponsored media attacks on the person of former Governor Victor Attah by supporters of the current Governor, Barrister Godswill Akpabio started when the immediate past Governor gave a professional advice to his successor on the futility of embarking on some giant building projects in Akwa Ibom state especially the proposed Tropicana project. The candid advice of Architect Attah was initially privately conveyed to Godswill Akpabio, a learned gentleman, but when the author of the correspondence did not receive a supposedly gentleman’s reply, he (Victor Attah) decided to exercise his constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression in compliance with section 39(1) of the 1999 constitution to publish his otherwise innocuous professional advise in Nigerian newspapers.
There is absolutely nothing wrong in a professional architect vast in the technicalities associated with building projects to offer his individual advice to a lawyer holding political office in trust for the people on issues concerning his field of professional calling.
Some commentators believe that prior to the ongoing public altercations between former Governor Victor Attah, the relationship between the two principal characters had been frosty because of the perception that the immediate past Governor Victor Attah did not back the emergence of the current governor.
Since the emergence of the current governor after the alleged opposition of his predecessor, there has been a silent political war going on between the two political figures and the entire Akwa Ibom is polarized along the two divergent camps. But what is really the origin of the ongoing media war of words?
Specifically, in his letter, Attah had raised an objection to the location of the Tropicana project. He said if Governor Akpabio had taken the necessary step of conducting an Environmental Impacts Assessment (EIA) study which such a large project demands, he would have come to the same conclusion that it would be wrong.
He pointed out: “A few meters down the road, on the same side of the road, is another large hotel, the 10th anniversary hotel, which we hope will be completed someday. In the opposite direction, and again only a few meters away is the very large recreational park – Union park – which harbours the Ibibio Union museum. This road, Udo Udoma Avenue, and its extension from Aka to Abak road are expected to be one of our most prestigious roads, giving character to the town. “It is along this road that plots have been made available for the federal judiciary buildings, the bank layout and financial district, the prestigious House of Assembly building, the cultural and information zones with museums and art galleries, the central library and such other prestigious developments.
The current Governor, unhappy with the position canvassed by his predecessor who kicked against some of his proposed projects, has predictably adopted a number of harsh measures to demonstrate his disdain for the right to freedom of expression.
The state government has asked the House of Assembly to set up a commission of inquiry into the Science Park, a subtle move to open a probe into the activities of Attah’s administration. Other actions already taken against Attah, include:
• The purported suspension of Obong Victor Attah, a founder and member of the Board of Trustees (BOT) from the party,
• Setting up of a commission of inquiry into the sale of Econet shares which transaction netted the state government a huge profit since 2005, and
• Publication of paid and sponsored advertorials and articles in newspapers to malign the person of former governor Obong Attah.
As a body of human rights practitioners, the Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria thinks that, in as much as we do not support some of the language used by the former governor in conveying his professional opinion, we are opposed to the reactions that have so far emanated from the current governor who, as a lawyer, should have known that democracy is built fundamentally on the constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression.
Just like Roland O. Watson, we ask; “Why do we have democracy? For whom does democracy exist?
The answer to this is, the people, the general public. It is the presence of inalienable human rights, and the fact that power lies with the people which infers that society must be democratic. However, this is not a one-day street. For democracy to succeed, and serve the people, the people in turn must fulfill a number of obligations. This distinction, that democracy serves us but we must also serve it, is easier to understand through considering dictatorship. The people in a dictatorship are subjects, not participants. They do not make decisions for themselves, instead they are told what to do. The misrule and repression of dictatorship generally compels the people to concentrate on survival. Interestingly, it is common to use group or community survival strategies. While it is in a sense forced by circumstances, they cooperate together. This is the basic obligation that the people in a democracy bear: they must be willing to cooperate”.
Rather than waste public funds that ought to be used to provide democracy dividends to the rural poor, the current administration under Barrister Godswill Akpabio should call their supporters to order and allow an atmosphere of unfettered freedom of expression and the enjoyment of other constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights to thrive in that beautiful state.
Onwubiko a former Federal Human Rights Commissioner in Nigeria heads the Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria in Abuja