This guest post by Karl Ken Harris is aimed at highlighting the key component of democracy which the incumbent government has allowed to flourish.
Scientists have reported that humans don’t use up to 10% of their cerebral capacity. Despite this uniform ratio, there is another fact that prompted a scholar to say: If you think we think alike, think again. The divergence in thoughts therefore explains the diverse expressions witnessed in human society. Talking about expressions, writing this piece makes me feel like royalty. I am free! Why? I feel so because I remember a famous quote attributed to the Late Gen. Idi Amin of Uganda. It reads “there is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech”. This isn’t the case in Nigeria where I am guaranteed the right to expression within the bounds of the law as enshrined in S.39 CFRN, 2011 as Amended and the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
Freedom of information is an expansion on freedom of expression, a right guaranteed in international law. It is an intrinsic part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression, as enshrined in Resolution 59 of the UN General Assembly adopted in 1946, as well as by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which states that the fundamental right of freedom of expression encompasses the freedom “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. Freedom of information and freedom of speech are fundamental to the sustenance of democracy in any modern civilization.
For the first time in our attempt to develop our nascent democracy, we have true freedom of information and people are able to speak freely as long as it is not geared towards the promotion of chaos in society. It is however ironic that Nigerians seem unhappy with the fact that we now have this most important tool with which we can develop our democracy. According to the United States Supreme Court, NLRB v. Robbins Tire Co., 437 U.S. 214, 2422, 1978, “the basic purpose of Freedom of Information Act is to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed.” The case of Open America V. Watergate Special Prosecution Force remains a locus classicus of the application of the FOIA in America. The use of the Freedom of information Act by the Electronic Privacy Information Centre to force disclose of agency records that impact critical privacy interests is proof of the potency of the legislation .
James Madison, an American president once said “a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives”. Freedom of information is the cornerstone of government transparency. The aim of the law in America is further underscored by the speech of President Lyndon B. Johnson, while signing the FOIA into law in 1966.He said: “a democracy works best when the people have access to all the information knowledge of which will not be detrimental to national security”. Curtains of secrecy around decisions should be a mirage. Please excuse my repeated reference to the United States; it is hinged on the fact we are quick to compare every scene in Nigeria to the American script.
It is amusing that many Nigerians are upset that the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan is not doing enough propaganda to promote her achievements. It feels like we actually like to be lied to about facts already known. This further reveals why we never know when there is a manipulation or fraud in the system because there is continuous propaganda to cover the truth.
What I see is that this administration is more concerned with doing what is good, which you can see, rather than spend valuable resources telling lies about areas where they have failed and claim they have succeeded as the case of many previous governments. This administration is not the first to suffer for adopting this route to greater nationhood. We are witnesses to many good leaders the world over who spend time to do the work and less on propaganda, and the result is always akin. Would we rather have our government spend time and resources to drive propaganda? Are we asserting that we do not like democracy? Perhaps we are not ready for democracy. If democracy is to thrive then we have a duty to protect it and be properly informed.
It gives me great joy that nobody can stop Nigerians now and take us to the days when we were denied our rights to free speech and access to public information. This is the beginning of true democracy and sooner or later we will eliminate all the manipulations and true leaders will emerge.
We may not like Mr. President but he has set the standard for good governance and sustainable democracy considering the fact that since 1993, previous administrations refused to allow the law see the light of day. Thank heavens that this government gave it the required support and eventually signed it into law on May 28, 2011. Any leader anticipating to take the reins of government should be aware that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has now provided all Nigerians the tools and resources to question and insist on government accountability and has also deepened the rule of law to protect their rights from now on.
Nigeria will never return to the days leaders were arbitrary under the cloak of state protection. Obviously, it is hard to demonstrate the true value of democracy where states manipulate the rule of law and freedom of speech.
The options are very clear, Dictatorship or Democracy? You cannot pretend about it or sit on the limbo. Remember that information is the currency of democracy and the freedom of a nation cannot be upheld by laws alone, but also by the light of the nation and knowledge of their use.
– KARL KEN HARRIS
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