Saturday, 10 August 2019

Commissioner of Police Vs Jonathan Abang Ugbal & Jeremiah Ojanga Archibong: The Dearth of Civil Society in Cross River

On the Monday 5th August 2019 the #RevolutionIsNow protest inspired by AAC presidential candidate in the 2019 general elections and political activist, Omoyele Sowore was billed to hold officially in 21 states of the Federation, Nigeria. For the records, Cross River wasn't one of the states.

On that 5th of August some journalists in Cross River capital city, Calabar associated with both mainstream and new media news platforms garnered that there would be a version of this civil action in the state: as such, they gathered at the Cultural Centre venue of the said event to report the incident.

Viral news report has it that three journalists were arrested by the Nigerian Police right at the venue of the protest which eventually did not hold, namely the trio of Nicolas Kalu of The Nation Newspaper, Jeremiah Archibong the Managing Editor of CrossRiverWatch and Jonathan Ugbal the News Editor of CrossRiverWatch.

The Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ in the state under the able leadership of Victor Dan Udu ensured that Kalu was released and so he was especially when the Commissioner of Police in the state couldn't keep him any longer —I have it on good authority that around 11PM, The Nation correspondent was set free. In fact, the trio of Kalu, Archibong and Ugbal were released but while on their way back from the police station after making a statement and awaiting a drama of receiving and making numerous calls the two staff of CrossRiverWatch were incarcerated again. They were arraigned in court on the Wednesday the 7th of August on 3 spurious charges slammed against them by the Commissioner of Police Austine Agbonlahor: unlawful assembly, disturbing the peace, conduct in public which breeches the peace.

This latest development put the membership and leadership of the Association of Cross River Online Journalists ACROJ in disarray! Other practitioners in the online sector were profoundly disturbed. This was expected anyways. But, there is a sector of society which rested on their oars, reclining in the sofas of their offices pretending they were not aware of the ugly development in the state particularly the state capital city. They are no other than the civil society popularly called Civil Society Organisations CSOs.

The civil society as distinguished from the public sector and private sector of society is defined by the World Health Organisation's (Who) website as 'the space for collective action around shared interests, purposes and values, generally distinct from government and commercial for-profit actors.' According to the website Civil society embody charities, development NGOs, community groups, women's organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, social movements, coalitions as well as advocacy groups. Civil society is considered the 'third sector' of society because of its distinctiveness with the business sector and government as they are concerned with not-for-profit issues.

The corollary would be why would the civil society be interested in the arrest of journalists in the state during a civil protest namely the #RevolutionIsNow protest? To respond to this, it would interest you to know that the social issues which the protest agitates for are such that touch on the core of the concerns of the civil society. They're five and are rendered thus: end to systemic corruption and total overhaul of the system, implementation of the N30, 000 minimum wage, release of El Zakzaky and other political prisoners, end to insecurity nationwide, immediate slash of school fees, urging the FG not to concede to the IMF/World Bank in respect of austerity measures, etc. This are concerns of public good and not selfish. And these are what some of these CSOs represent.

However, in respect of the right to freedom of information/press which journalism stands at the fore of encouraging as well as rights to freedom of association, movement etc which are fundamental human rights a reply was expected from the civil society against the CP Agbonlahor. But, Alas! None came. They all sat numb. Then why?

Does this regrettable development suggest that in these over 3 million people populated Cross River there are no pro-Democracy civil society groups? Are there no improved workers’ welfare, political rights, quality education but more importantly — human rights CSOs?

If the first leg of society namely the private sector and the second leg being the public sector in Cross River aren't promising, Whither CSOs in Cross River

Efio-Ita Nyok (Nyokism)
is a social commentator and politic blogger with Negroid Haven