BY DAN ONWUKWE
ELECTED public office holders ought to think of their place in history. It’s because history is often in the future. But it is written by the events of today.
That’s why politics matters. In that regard, in making any decision whose effects and meaning will be felt for years, or even for a short period, circumspection is absolutely necessary.
A plan must be well thought through. It must be consistent with the laws of the land. It must be in consonance with the philosophy on which the people elected the candidate. In other words, every policy, every decision made by the government in power, must be for the greater good of the society. It should not be self-serving. Restraint is also vital.
Unfortunately, when an opportunity to exercise far-reaching influence on the future life of their states and citizens comes, a lot of our elected politicians are found wanting by the kind of decisions they make.
They behave as dictators, as if the people do not matter. In fact, it hurts like pins of fire in the lips to see what some State governors are currently doing with the mandate given to them by the electorate. It hurts even deeper when these governors ought to be role models for the “Generation X” in their States.
It pains when a governor pursues trivia things with zeal, but pays scant attention to important issues for which he could be remembered for good.
Without stretching matters too far, the proposed antı-rumour bill by the Bayelsa State government is one piece of bizarre executive mishmash that ought not surface in a decent democratic society.
The Bayelsa State House of Assembly is already waiting to receive the proposed Executive bill that has the bullish imprimatur of Governor Seriake Dickson. First, let’s look at the content and uselessness of the bill.
According to the governor, the bill will provide punishment for false dissemination of information and propaganda, in has words,” either against the reputation of private individuals or about government or its officials”.
To rub in his iron major towards the passage of the bill which would be a formality once it arrives the House, the governor had this to say a few days ago: “Of course, we are aware that existing laws provide for offences such as criminal defamation of character and so on. But we are going to come up with a legislation to punish “deem say, dem say”.
According to the State government, it does not intend to make the proposed law draconian, but with it,” people will find ıt unprofitable to wake up one day and begin spreading the rumour that the State government has been sacked by a court in Port Harcourt, and in the process causing panic among the people in their numbers…”
I abjure in its entirety the provisions of this proposed bill. It is as obnoxious, if not was than the infamous Decree No.4 of the discredited Buhari/Idiagbon military regime. Did I hear somebody say that Gov Dickson is a lawyer, a former commissioner of Justice in the State, and until he was railroaded into Government House in Yenagoa, courtesy of the power of the presidency member of the House of Representatives? That’s fıne.
But so far as governor, Dickson seems more like a perfect definition of chaos than a solution provider.
Substance, not appearance defines a man. Tough-minded but with a personality that ranges from tempestuous outbursts to brinkmanship, many of the polices initiated by Dickson have become folders you cannot look through without wincing.
Some are next to hopeless. Sometimes one is compelled to ask: what will Gov Dickson look like without controversy?. He seems to revel in it. Perhaps it provides him with the oxygen of publicity to initiate more divisive bills for the House of Assembly to rubber-stamp.
Last year, he kicked up quite a huge dust when he announced the appointment of the President’s wife, Dame Patience Jonathan as a Permanent Secretary (Perm Sec)in the Bayelsa public service. Does the First Lady need that? Is that the way to repay political IOU? In government, as in the most intimate personal relationships, the glue that holds things together is trust.
The proposed anti-rumour law not only is it anti-democratic, it’s a dubious proposition that was a common feature in the rocking-horse nations like the Central African Republic and during the regimes of two late African dictators, Idi Amin of Uganda and Mobutu Sese Sekou of former Zaire. Does Dickson want to be compared with these despots?.
History teaches that anyone in power begins to run aground the very moment he or she begins to confuse his own destiny with that of others. Unknown to Dickson, being secretive generates rumours. Or is there something the governor is hiding or has up his sleeves that he believes gagging the people against the provision of Section 39 of the Constitution, will be one of the ways to cover tracks?
Those in power need reminding that perhaps a sure way that a government could avoid adverse comments and peddling of rumours by the people is through solid performance. Even with that, you cannot silence the opposition or prevent people from freely voicing their views. I want to believe Dickson does not have this self-aggrandizing tendency to bully his people or indeed Nigerians who may feel strongly about his style of governance.
His Achilles heel is more of misdirected energy and apparent lack of creative ferment and good ideas. By trying to crimınalise official information not made public by his government in these times of Freedom of Information Act, that seeks openness and transparency in governance, it will be strange and indeed against everything a responsible government should do or contemplate, let alone legislate on.
Let’s get this straight: rumours and pernicious propaganda are as old as mankind. They can be harmful if unchecked.
But they thrive where government hoards vitals information necessary for good governance. In a situation like that, nether the people nor the press has little obligation to protect the government from itself. It is therefore disingenuous to blame the people or the media for carrying information(whether true or false) about government or its officials who are paid from public treasury.
Again, I ask: does governor Dickson want to threaten people with this proposed bill? He should hear what Donald T. Regan, President Ronald Reagan’s ex- Chief of Staff said about information dissemination:”
As a practical matter it is impossible to control leakage of information in a large democratic society in which many people in the government have access to its innermost deliberations”. Unless Dickson has run out of ideas on how to move Bayelsa forward, this anti-rumour bill deserves a place in the dustbin of history.
But we know that the State legislature will help him take his own poison.