On his divine promotion to the rank of octogenarians, Aremo Segun Osoba deserves our heart-heart congratulations and every best wish for the years ahead. For he continues to be a jolly good fellow, respectable and respected for his integrity and dignified presence. Osoba exemplifies some of the best traditions of pressmanship and statesmanship, that this country has experienced.
Straddling the world of pressmanship or journalism and statesmanship is indeed a rare privilege that a few before him, all pioneers of our nationalist struggle, were privileged to experience. I am sure that Aremo would be the first to admit the indispensability of the trail they blazed for the success of determined efforts like his. As we celebrate his achieving the enviable status of an elder statesman, it is worth exploring again the requirements for the successful interaction between pressmanship and statesmanship.
Interestingly, the mystery of life is sometimes displayed in spectacular ways for our edification provided we pay careful attention. This is my metaphysical interpretation of why, twice this past week, the loaded phrase, “pulse of the nation” came up in national discourse in quite unrelated circumstances.
First, in a moment of anguish over his disappointment on the Supreme Court decision in the Osun State governorship election petition, PDP presidential candidate Alhaji Atiku Abubakar pleaded with the judiciary to feel the pulse of the nation as they do their work of dispensing justice. It was an odd plea, which not only second-guessed the highest court, but also solicited a criterion of justice that is detrimental to justice. Second, in his congratulatory message on Aremo Osoba’s birthday, former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) appreciatively revealed to the nation how the celebrant helped his administration to understand the pulse of the nation as they contemplated policies and actions.
One of the two usages was right, the other wrong. The job of a reporter is to expose the state of the nation without fear or favor. Politicians and administrators may, of course, foolishly decide not to be bothered or they may wisely be guided by the counsel of the Fourth Estate of the Realm. They may characterize the reports they hate as fake news and recoil to their cocoons where falsehood abides. Or they may wisely separate the wheat of good reporting from the chaff of political babble. However, elected officials feeling the pulse of the nation as presented by journalists guided by the ethics of the profession is a veritable means to good statesmanship.
Now, of course, IBB’s revelation is interesting for what it fails to admit. How trusting was he of good journalistic reporting? How did it guide him in the runup to the adoption of IMF’s SAP? And most significantly, how did media reporting and editorials influence his political agenda between 1986 and 1993? And how was his position swayed by reporting on the runup to the annulment of the presidential election of June 1993?
Turning to the other usage which demands that, in rendering their verdicts on electoral disputes, judges feel the pulse of the nation, we might ask, how appropriate is it in the context? Does the judiciary have a legal or moral responsibility to feel the pulse of the nation when contemplating such a judicial decision?
This is obviously a situation in which reality sometimes negates the ideal. Judges are supposed to base their judgement on the facts of the case and the law. By a deduction from the law and the facts, they are to make judicial decisions, not minding where the chips fall. So why demand that judges feel the pulse of the nation as if they are to be influenced by the trending opinion? Sounding unconstitutional and immoral, the demand reflects a state of mind that has dominated republican systems of government for far too long. It is certainly not limited to our clime as we find similar reasonings and actions even in developed climes. There are two categories.
First, judges and justices are members of dynamic societies. Social change affects their thinking and their decisions on crucial matters of law. While precedents are supposedly sacred and inviolable, occasions sometimes arise when they are overridden. Thirty years ago, anti-sodomy laws were well-established across the United States. Over the years, however, the society has moved on from criminalizing sexual relationships between consenting adults. The justices fell in line and same-sex marriage is now legal, affirming social influence on judicial decision.
Second, in political systems where judges are appointed by politicians based on their ideological orientations, the reality of political influence on judicial decisions cannot be ruled out. Indeed, it is one of the dark spots on the judiciary because it leaves it vulnerable to accusations of political bias. This is why there is so much political turmoil in judicial nominations in the United States.
In the Nigerian system, a non-political body, National Judicial Council, is responsible for the screening and recommendation of judges for nomination by the President to the Senate for confirmation. This, in addition to an independent power of the purse, is as close to judicial independence as it can be, reducing the chance of political pressure or ideological bias in judicial decision making.
Despite the above references to external influences on the judiciary, there are special areas where judicial decisions must be completely above board and free from any external influence. Such is the case with judicial decisions of election disputes. Since such disputes are almost always about who wins or loses an election, requiring judges to feel the pulse of the nation begs an important question: which nation? Where there is a contention between political parties with membership across the nation, which party is more representative and therefore more deserving of consideration in the pulse-feeling activity of the courts?
Sadly, we had an ignoble past in these matters when the courts had done precisely what Turaki Adamawa is apparently urging them to revisit. Recall the Treasonable Felony case against Chief Awolowo and others, and the metaphor of tied hands. Or, more poignantly, the 1979 presidential election Supreme Court judgement and the insistence that it must not be used as a precedent for future decisions. Those were moments we would rather forget.
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For the confluence of pressmanship and statesmanship to have a positive impact on national progress, two related requirements are essential. First is ethical pressmanship, imbued with a desire for truth and justice towards national greatness. Second is a responsible leadership, committed to the pursuit of national greatness. Armed with progressive national policies, such a leadership will take advantage of the work of the free press, in the understanding that leadership is not infallible. In turn, benefiting from such a respectful relationship, the press becomes more and more responsible, a win-win outcome for the nation.
In the fiery days of anti-colonial struggles, such a respectful relationship was out of the question because there was no common cause between the national press with a focus on independence and the colonial state, with a determination for continuous domination. Notwithstanding General Babangida’s spin, military rule was only slightly different. Being indigenous dictators did not really endear the military to the people, and the press, as people’s eyes and ears, knew this. Thus, many journalists also suffered the consequences of their defiance of military regimes over the years. A democracy should be different and the freedom of the press to investigate and report on the truth regarding the state of the nation should be of tremendous value to the statesman in the pursuit of the good of the nation.
As his memoir, Battlelines: Adventures in Journalism and Politics, demonstrates, for more than fifty years, Aremo Osoba straddles both worlds of pressmanship and statesmanship. In both, he excels in his stand for truth and justice. When the world of politics tested his resolve for justice, he responded as any respectable human being would. But, then, as a gentleman, knowing that in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies, he accepted the counsel of reconciliation and he reconsidered at the right time. And he had the last laugh!
Happy 80th Birthday, Aremo. Igba odun, odun kan.