By Kayode Ketefe
It is no longer news that the chairman of the National Population Commission Festus Odimegwu, has resigned. But the manner of his resignation, when put in context, casts ominous clouds over Nigerian democracy. It would be recalled that Odimegwu recently ran into trouble for daring to discredit all the past censuses.
In the now famous utterance which some people consider to be “too volatile” the NPC boss boldly stated that the 2006 census figures were mostly cooked up and that ”Nigeria has not had a credible census since 1866”. Many vested interests were so enraged by this perceived “faux pas” that they started mounting pressure on the Federal Government to sack Odimegwu.
He was promptly queried by the presidency for ‘reckless’ utterances! But Odimegwu was vindicated sooner than later when the National Census Tribunal sitting in Abuja nullified the results of the 2006 National Census in 14 local governments in Lagos State on the grounds that the counting was illegal and not accurate. The Tribunal ordered fresh counts in all the affected 14 LGAs. On October 17, 2013, he resigned.
The office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation promptly announced that Odimegwu resignation had been accepted.
Insinuations are strong that Odimegwu was pressurised to resign to appease some vested interests that were outraged by the truth he disclosed. If that is so, then there is a big question mark on the commitment of our rulers to respect the constitutional rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression. This is certainly a big minus to our much-vaunted entrenchment of the culture of liberal democracy.
Now, to the second incident on my thesis. Sequel to the much publicised scandalous acquisition of two armoured cars valued at N225 million for the Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah, by the cash-strapped Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCA, it was reported that the FG was planning to hit back at the squealers. The news was the lead story in the last Tuesday edition of National Mirror.
According to the story, some suspected workers in the NCAA faced imminent sack or redeployment to the remote parts of the country for their perceived role in the leaking of the car acquisition story. The contemplated measure was apparently to serve as deterrent to others who might be inclined to divulge unsavourry information on important government officer!
The Director-General, NCAA, Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, was also said to have earlier threatened that the management would unravel those behind the leakage of the information on the grounds that the documents containing the information were obtained illegally from the agency. Akinkuotu was quoted as saying “I am not saying that this particular information should not be put in the public domain.
But how it was obtained is the concern. If somebody breaks into an office and makes copies of official documents, then the break-in has become criminal. “So we are in the process of trying to find the source of this leakage and I am very concerned about it. I am not saying that they broke into our office, but they obtained the information illegally.”
The information, which the NCAA’s boss was saying was obtained illegally here, is of utmost public interest. If a self-confessed cash-strapped organisation like this agency is making extravagant expenditure of the magnitude being spoken of here on a vain, outlandish acquisition meant for private use of a public figure, the public ought to know.
The question of whether or not the vital information-containing documents were procured illegally should be left for the interpretation of the court of law. But I sincerely believe that the imperative of social weal and national survival preponderates over the right to privacy of any organisation or individual.
This writer also knows that many so-called illegally obtained documents/objects are invariably admitted as exhibits in court.
Objection to their admissibility has always been turned down by the court on the grounds that it is the relevance of documents/objects to the proceedings before the court that determines their admissibility and not the method of their procurement.
Both the Odimegwu and Oduah episodes only go to show that Nigeria does not only need to show more respect for the constitutional rights of freedom of expression of the people, the country is also in urgent need to enact Whistle blower Protection Law. There are many people in possession of vital information on acts of omissions or commissions of public or private citizens that are detrimental to public interest.
This kind of law would help to uncover many ills as many potential whistle blowers would be emboldened to talk if they are guaranteed statutory protection. I call on the FG to drop any idea of witch hunting on the Oduahgate scandal as this would only considerably discredit the present government in the eyes of local and international community on its much-vaunted war against corruption.
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