By Sylvester Udemezue
Give others freedom to be themselves; appreciate the differences between their ways and yours, and you’d be wiser and greater. To suppress free speech is tantamount to committing a double wrong: it violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker. No man can put a chain about the ankle of his own fellow man without in the end finding the other end of the chain fastened about and around his own neck.
The Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and Other Matters (Lagos EndSARS Panel) set up by the Lagos State government submitted its report to Bababjide Sanwo-Olu, the state governor on November 15, 2021. Shortly thereafter, a document began circulating online purporting to be the report of the Panel. However, no member of the Panel has denied that the document circulating online is the report of the Lagos EndSARS Panel, neither has any official of the Panel disclaimed the reported document. It is therefore respectfully submitted that members of the Nigerian public are entiteld to believe that the document circulating in the social media and which remains uncontroverted, is the panel’s report. Meanwhile, while receiving the report, the Lagos State Governor had constituted a 4-man Committee, headed by the Lagos Stte Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Onigbanjo, SAN, to look through the report and come up with a White Paper thereon. The Governor promised that the Committee would bring forward a White Paper “within the next two weeks, to be considered by the Lagos State Executive Council, pledging that the reports and recommendations will be made public and submitted to the National Economic Council (NEC) for discussion”.
Meanwhile, while both the United Nations, United States and countless other organisations and individuals, welcomed the report as submitted, urging government to implement the stated recommendations, the Nigerian Federal Government deprecated its findings and recommendationsl. Nigerian Government’s position was made knwon at a Press Conference called by Nigeria’s Information Minister, Mr Lai Mohammed who described the report as “a triumph of fake news, tales by moonlight riddled with so many errors, inconsistencies, discrepancies, speculations, innuendos, omissions, and conclusions that are not supported by evidence” adding that “there’s absolutely nothing in the report that is circulating to make us change our minds that there was a massacre in Lekki on October 20, 2020”. So many other individuals and organisations, including even members of the Panel, have reacted to and have been commenting publicly on the submitted report. One of such is the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) which “demanded that criminal prosecution be instituted against individuals found to have committed the massacre that happened on October 20, 2020 at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos”. However, in a swift reaction, a public statement credited to the Chairman of NBA SPIDEL, (Dr. Monday Ubani) described Lai Mohammed’s press conference as “shameful”, premature. Published under the title, “It’s Shameful For Lai Mohammed To Call Press Conference On Lagos EndSars Panel — NBA-SPIDEL Chair, Ubani”, the public statement by Mr Ubani insists that “it is very shameful for Lai Mohammed to call a press conference over a report that the Lagos State government has not done any white paper on”.
The present commentary (by me) is not about the veracity or otherwise of EndSARS panel report or of any of the public comments/opinions being offered by various individuals and groups on what they believe to be the merits or demerits, genuinenes or otherwise of the report. The present commentary is aimed at shedding light on the implications of the right to freedom of speech as it relates to and applies to the present situation. In this commentary, I propose to argue that it amounts to a gross violation of Mr. Lai Mohammed’s fundamental right to free speech, for Mr Ubani’s to have categorised Mr. Lai Mohammed’s public outburst as “shameful” and insisted that Mr. Mohammed should have waited for the publication of a White Paper before making any comment or before passing any opinion on the Panel Report. It is submitted right away that Mr. Ubani’s condemnation of Mr. Lai Mohammed on account only of the latter’s right to speak, violates what I have chosen to describe as Eight Basic Rules of Enduring Human Coexistence, namely: (a) Rule of Equality which requires that equals be treated equally and forbids use of different strokes in similar situations; (b) Rule of Common Sense which requires that those who live in a glass house should not throw stones; (c) Rule of Fallibility of Mankind which forbids that pot should call kettle “black”; (d) Rule of Law (expressed in Latin as Quod Approbo Non Reprobo) which forbids any one approbating and reprobating at the same time, in the same matter; (e) Rule of Accommodation whose core precept is “live and let live”; (f) Rule of Divinity (founded on the Bible book of Matthew 7: 5) which commands thus: “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”; (g) Rule Against Ad Hominem which preaches that one should in argument, focus on ideas and issues instead of persons or personalities; and finally (h) the Golden Rule which demands that one should do unto others as one would like to be done by. My reasons are set out below, with the greatest respect to my learned friend and indafitagable Chairman of NBA SPIDEL, Dr Ubani:
All Lai Mohammed has done was to offer his opinion on the Lagos State EndSARS Panel report. Mr. Lai Mohammed is a citizen of Nigeria and like all other citizens, is entitled to make public comments (one way or another) on any matter in the public domain. The report of the Lagos State EndSARS Panel is already in the public domain and, as I have already said, any and all citizens are fully justified in discussing the report. Both those who praise the report and those who disapprove same are entitled to their opinions, however wrong, right or even bizarre such opinions may be.
Mr. Monday Ubani had himself publicly praised the Lagos State EndSARS Panel, its report and its members. In the same statement he issued in condemnation of Mr Lai Mohammed, Mr. Ubani said, “the report is a true reflection of what happened at the Lekki Tollgate…The report …has indicted the Lagos State government and the federal government security agencies for killing Nigerians at the Lekki Tollgate. Whatever narrative that they want to come up with, is immaterial because the narrative that Nigerians believe is that people died at the Lekki Tollgate, and whatever happens they cannot change that….No matter the whitewashing and intimidation they can never kill the truth. The truth is that people died at the Lekki Tollgate and the panel has said so”. Now, is it fair for the same person to have turned around to call Lai Mohammed “shameful” for making comments (albeit negative) on the same report? If Mr. Ubani believed that Mr. Lai Mohammed’s Press Conference was premature and therefore shameful, then what makes Mr. Ubani think that his own (Ubani’s) public statement praising the report is not premature and therefore “shameful”? If Mr. Ubani has right to make positive comments on the report, who tells Mr. Ubani that some other Nigerian citizens are not entitled to make comments (even if negative) on the same report? Or, is Mr. Ubani saying that all comments on the said report must necessarily be positive? By the way, assuming Mr. Lai Mohammed’s Press Conference had commended or praised the Panel report (as had done the various other comments on the report), would Mr. Ubani have attacked Lai Mohammed?
The only difference between Mr. Lai Mohammed’s Press Conference and Mr. Monday Ubani’s public statement on the panel report, is the CONTENT; while Mr. Lai Mohammed says that “there were no killings at Lekki Toll Gate on 20 October 2020”, Mr. Monday Ubani insists that “There Were Killings At Lekki Tollgate And Same Has Been Confirmed By The EndSars Panel”. Each and both are entitled to hold their respective views; whether any particular view is wrong or right is a difference question altogether. The Nigerian Constitution protects the right to hold any and all opinions; there’s equal protection for both the right to hold a right opinion and the right to hold a wrong opinion.
Even if one thinks his opinion is inaccurate, wrong or unsuported by evidence, it is not right to describe same as premature. Recall that Mr. Lai Mohammed had in 2020 said that there were no killings at Lekki Toll Gate on 20 October 2020. However, contrary to Lai Mohammed’s opinion, the Lagos State EndSARS Panel report has now found and recommended that there were killings at Lekki Toll Gate on that same day. Meanwhile, Mr. Ubani was aware that since the release of the panel report, millions of Nigerians had taken to the social media to tag Lai Mohammed “a liar”. I think all Mr. Lai Mohammed had done in his Press Conference was to come out to restate his earlier stand, that the report of killing was “false”. Whether Lai Mohammed’s account is wrong or not, we cannot deny that Lai Mohammed possesses full constitutional rights to air his opinion on any matter, more especially in a matter such as this one, in connection with which his name was/is being mentioned with unprecedented public opprobrium, up and down, left, right and centre. And if Lai Mohammed’s opinion is “premature”, then Monday Ubani’s public statement agreeing with the same report is equally “premature”. Hence, it is like the pot calling the kettle black (or like one who lives in a glass house throwing stones) for Mr Ubani who has been freely commenting on the report without waiting for issuance of a white paper, to turn around and begin to condemn another citizen for doing exactly what he (Ubani) himself had been doing. Meanwhile, in my humble opinion, neither of Ubani’s of Lai’s opinions is premature; all Nigerians are entitled to publicly make comments on anything in the public space. A Panel report awaiting white paper is not immune from public analysis; the report of a Panel of Enquiry is just a report of a government department. If people are free to freely and publicly analyse proceedings, conducts and judgments of courts of law, why should anyone think that the public should not be and feel free to do same in respect of reports of government departments, such as a report of a judicial panel of enquiry? Mr. Boms Worgu once drew attention to a statement credited to Ronald Dworkin, who in his 1998 book titled, Law Empire had declared that “no department of State is more important than our courts”. Meanwhile, the following should serve as a piece of counsel to all regarding tolerance of difference of opinion:
“… one does not win any argument by intimidation and coercion. Nothing is achieved by shouting down one’s opponent, except making one’s position worse; the opponent’s views remain his views, still unchanged, and would continue to reside within him. If you really wish him to change his views about things and begin to see things your own way, you ought to achieve this only by advancing credible, strongerand more convincing argument based on valid, verifiable and logical premises. In this way, if he agrees with you, you have won him; he is then on your side…. When we reject people only because they’re different, or because they think differently, we deny them the respect they deserve as human beings and at the same time make a statement about our own ugly character in the process. We all need not hold the same or similar opinions on all issues…. “Give others freedom to be themselves; appreciate the differences between their ways and yours, and you’d be wiser and greater” (Jennifer Chen). To suppress free speech is tantamount to committing a double wrong: it violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker. No man can put a chain about the ankle of his own fellow man without in the end finding the other end of the chain fastened about and around his own neck (Frederick Douglass)”.
Describing the Press Conference by Lai Mohammed “shameful” is a resort to the fallacy of ad hominem. As I said ealier, argumentum ad hominem (argument to the person) is “an informal logical fallacy that occurs when someone attempts to refute an argument by attacking the claim-maker, rather than engaging in an argument or factual refutation of the claim,by attacking the source of the claim rather than attacking the claim or attempting to counter arguments. Although ad hominem is not exactly the same with an insult, both are examples of weakness in arguments and must be avoided. Neither of them helps nor wins any argument. If one hopes to win supporters to one’s side in an argument or debate, one ought reasonably and objectively to dwell on relevant issues of substance and not on irrelevant issues of personalities and characters, except one has motives other than those related to logical deduction and respectful legal reasoning”. The term ‘ad hominem argument’ is primarily used to refer to a fallacious personal attack against the source of an argument. Ad Hominem tactics are fallacious for a number of reasons, including the following:
Ad hominem attack is irrelevant to the discussion. Example, calling Lai Mohammed’s public opinon “shameful” has nothing to do with the veracity or otherwise of Lai Mohammed’s opinion itself; the better and wiser option should have been for Mr. Ubani to have advanced more superior argument, supported by credible evidence, to dispell or displace Mr. Lai Mohammed’s argument that the EndSARS Panel report is “unreliable”. By abandoning/leaving the merit of the ongoing public debate on the submitted report and instead resorting to attacking Lai Mohammed’s personality or his right to freely offer his own opinion (or the opinion of the government he serves), Mr. Ubani has committed the fallacy of ad hominem.
Ad hominem attack is sometimes used as a diversion tactic, either to unjustifiably shift the burden of proof to someone else in the discussion or to change the topic. Ppeople could utilize the ad hominem fallacy because they want to appeal to people’s emotions by diverting the topic of discussion — diverting attention from the IDEA to the PERSON.
Ad hominem attack proceeds from the faulty expectation or premise (in the mind of the attacker) that an attack against the source of an argument necessarily constitutes a successful refutation of that argument.
More often than not, people resort to ad hominem in discussions because they cannot muster an effective refutation of their opponent’s argument based upon logic and facts; and then, being either overcome with emotion as they cleave to their refuted argument, or being untutored in the fact that personal attacks during a logical argument diminish the standing of their own position, they turn against their opponent in personal and logically irrelevant ways. However, I do not think this point applies to the present discussion, because even Lai Mohammed may not have any logical premises for his claims that EndSARS Panel report is fake, unreliable. However, I bring this point here to show that it is one of the reasons that may inform a resort to ad hominem, even if it is not relevant to the present scenario.
Describing Lai Mohammed’s statement as “shameful” as Mr Ubani has done, is gross violative of much of what both the NBA and the NBA-SPIDEL stand for or represent. The mission statement of SPIDEL has it that SPIDEL is “NBA’s commitment to promoting the role and application of law to economic development and growth of public interest Law in Nigeria”. Besides, a major objective of NBA-SPIDEL is to promote “development and practice of public interest law and litigation and ensure access to effective remedies for victims of violations of the law and abuse of power”. On its part, NBA has as one of its principal aims/objectives, the “promotion and protection of the principles of the rule of law and respect for the enforcement of fundamental rights, human rights, and people’s rights”. The implication of the aforesaid is that at all times and in all cases, each and both the NBA and the NBA-SPIDEL must engage and be seen to enegage in promotion and preservation of rule of law and human rights, not in violation of diminishing of same. A major aspect of promotion of human right and rule of law in Nigeria is to show respect to other people’s right to freedom of speech and expression. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, protects and preserves the inalienable right of all Nigerians and all persons to “freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” Further, according to United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. On its part, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right requires that “every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law”. Does Mr Ubani’s diatribes against Lai Mohammed not amount to an attempt on the part of former to inhibit or interdict the latter’s freedom of speech and public expression?
The implication of all these is that no person should be subjected to torture, victimisation, ridicule or other form of victimization, suppression or oppression on grounds only of his/her expression of his right to freedom of speech. Indeed, in a democracy, the right to freedom of speech is paramount; this perhaps is what had informed the famous adeclaration by Voltaire: “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it”. Oscar Wilde put it this way: “I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.” The English physicist, Professor Edward Cox, even took it to the extreme, just to illustrate why is freedom of speech an important part of a democracy. Hear him: “The problem with today’s world is that everyone believes they have the right to express their opinion and have others listen to it.The correct statement of individual rights is that everyone has the right to an opinion, but crucially, that opinion can be roundly ignored and even made fun of, particularly if it is demonstrably nonsense!” In his famous work titled Silent Dogood, William Franklin wrote, “who ever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech”. However, the truth is that if the right to freedom or freeness of speech is taken away in a democracy, then dumb and silent we may be led to the slaughter. Free societies are societies in which the right to dissent is protected. Everything boils down to the words of the renown US journalist and writer, Don Lemon, which I recommend to guide us: “if I have my opinion about something, you have your opinion about something, we don’t have to fight over it. And we can have a conversation. We can also disagree without being disagreeable, and we can just disagree, which is fine. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like you, or you don’t like me. We just disagree.”
Watch out for Part 2: “Everything Made Public May be Publicly Analysed by the Public”.
Sylvester Udemezue (udems)