Image: The author, Paul John
I once wrote an article when Dr Angela Uwakwem, the embattled medical director of the Federal Medical center Owerri, was temporarily removed to give way for independent investigators to properly investigate the allegations levelled against her. Then, I told the world that she was being persecuted for her persistence that the right things should be done. Following the article, I received a lot of threatening calls and text messages.
Today by reinstating this woman of Valour after thorough independent investigation was carried out, I am now vindicated for standing by her when almost everybody was against her. I believe in the principle of Audi alterem partem as it is enshrined in section 36 of our constitution, which gives every Nigerian the inalienable right to fair hearing. Subsection 5 of the same section of our constitution goes on to state that, ‘every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty’, but in her own case her detractors used their online kangaroo court to convict her as charged.
Meanwhile, in Nigeria today once somebody is accused of a crime, many media houses will carry the news as if the person is already convicted, without attendant ignominy. Latin maxim says that vox populum, vox dei [the voice of the people is the voice of God]; but at times I have learnt from experience that the voice of the people may not be the voice of God rather it may be the voice of devious elements who incited the gullible masses . This is why the voices of Boko Haram, ISIS, etc. can never be said to be the voice of God.
When a former governor of the Delta state was being hounded by the officials of EFCC, history had it that many of the youths in his town protected him; in fact they went to the extent of organising local vigilante for him because to them, they once benefitted from his ‘benevolence’ but at the end of the day the long claws of the law caught him in a foreign land. I have equally learnt that some unscrupulous elements make use of the masses to achieve their wants. They do so by inciting the masses and with the public outcry from the incited and biased masses these dubious elements will achieve their wants.
That brings us to this courageous woman who is not daunted by the challenges before her. She has excelled in a male dominated area. How many women do we have in Nigeria heading tertiary hospitals? This woman can be likened to the biblical Deborah who courageously led the Israelites to different conquests in her days .Why are people against her and her style of leadership? The same reason Buhari and Murtala Mohammed military regimes were truncated is still the same reason why many people do not want her to occupy that post. Go round to ask workers in the hospital why they don’t want her, their major reason will be that she is highhanded.
Now, ask them what they meant by being highhanded, it will surprise you that they are misconstruing being disciplined with highhanded. To them, she punishes every worker at the slightest mistake but when you ask them how they think sanity and discipline will return to our civil service without punishing offending workers, they will keep quiet.
They hate her for what she stands for. They hate her anti-corruption leadership style. When she was temporarily removed to give way for an independent panel to investigate the allegations levelled against her, many media houses carried a lot of lopsided reports against her and many workers popped champagne because with her removal, time for employment racketeering had returned and every worker could combine his/her work in the hospital with other time-consuming businesses outside the hospital. Is it not preposterous that Nigerians want change but no one wants to change one’s attitude?
My worry is that now that the independent panel of enquiry has exonerated her of any crime, what happens to those that published all the malicious and unsubstantiated articles against her? Does one’s freedom of expression imply publishing malicious articles against people or does Press freedom mean publishing unsubstantiated reports against people?
I think time has come to invoke section 24(1) (b) of the Cybercrime Prevention Act, Laws of Federal Republic of Nigeria 2015 where all online publishers (including all users of social media) of malicious, false and unconfirmed reports against a person are dealt with. I am happy that Nigeria is waking up to this responsibility as recently a Federal High court sitting in Lagos remanded a blogger for publishing a malicious article against the Managing Director of United Bank for Africa.
This is very important because some ‘infant’ media houses seem to believe that the only way they will increase their readership is by carrying controversial and unsubstantiated reports. Now she has been exonerated of all allegations levelled against her, what happens to those that penned down the allegations to ruin her reputation? What of the media houses that published all the malicious articles against her? This is because one’s freedom of expression does not include raising a false alarm in a crowded theatre because the imbroglio that will follow may cause people being trampled.
I am using this medium to specially thank the federal government led independent team that investigated her and finally cleared her of all the malicious allegations levelled against her. By reinstating her, a precedent has been set in the anti-corruption crusade of this present administration. Gone are the days when unscrupulous elements would incite the masses in order to create an unrest/instability in an organisation which would then justify the removal of a disciplined and uncompromising leader.
However, while we fight corruption, we should remember that some people were born into corruption the same way fish is born inside water hence any change that will stop corruption in the country is like removing the fish from its natural habitat. One SSCE supervisor once narrated his story of how, not only the students and the school staff but also the host community nearly killed him for insisting that the examination he came to supervise must be malpractice free.
The current ICPC boss once granted an interview where he revealed how he met his own children he had earlier dropped off for an examination, sitting outside the examination hall because his children refused to join others in the examination hall to cheat.
The truth is that if corruption is totally eradicated in Nigeria, some people will naturally die because to them eliminating corruption is akin to disconnecting the life-support machine to a critical patient in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU). How do you want them to ride posh cars? The drama that occurred between her removal and reinstatement will serve as a deterrent to unscrupulous workers who believe that all malicious allegations against a leader will not be critically investigated.
Meanwhile ,her detractors also accused her of nepotism, financial misappropriation , and , maladministration the same way every successful lady or man in Nigeria is mischievously accused of prostitution or armed robbery/internet fraud respectively .Do I blame her detractors for being confused and surprised at her uncommon courage ? Why are her detractors afraid of taking her to the law-court if they have any substantial evidence against her?
An Igbo adage says that a child that outshines other children in fetching firewood is erroneously accused of fetching his own firewood from an evil forest. I want the whole world to know that this woman of substance is being persecuted for her uprightness and uncompromising nature.
I want to use this medium to advise her not to forgive those that published malicious reports against her. If these unscrupulous elements are allowed to go scot-free, they are indirectly encouraged to continue this dastardly act. I want her detractors to be taught a lesson because Ola Rotimi, in his play, The Gods Are Not To Blame, said that when a frog in the front falls into a pit, others take caution. Yesterday it was her and tomorrow, it may be any of us.
Those that may have collected money from Job seekers believing that madam was out forever can now find an alternative way of repaying the money or face the consequences. I advise those agitating since the news of her reinstatement hit the airwaves to sheath their sword or face the consequences. My happiness is that this has set a precedent to not only our civil servants but also our politicians in the larger society who incite the masses to cause unrest in a state or in any other geographical enclave in order to remove a democratically-elected (or appointed) leader under the so-called state of emergency.
All I have to say is, welcome ma. While continuing your good work in an uncompromising way, let your lawyers take up civil suits against those that published malicious articles against you at least for posterity sake.
Dr Paul John, Port Harcourt; email@example.com, 08083658038