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A minister and a minstrel

Published by The Nation on Mon, 01 Jun 2020

Femi MacaulayIt is a collision between political power and poetic power. The poet seeks to speak truth to power; and the politician seeks to silence the voice of truth.This is the picture, more than three weeks after the police arrested Rotimi Jolayemi, a journalist and oral poet, also known as Oba Akewi, on May 5, and detained him in AbujaMinister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed should feel embarrassed that his name has been linked with the absurd arrest and detention of Jolayemi.Mohammed should also feel embarrassed that the police had arrested and detained Jolayemis wife and siblings in order to force the journalist to give himself up.His wife, Dorcas, and his brothersJohn Jolayemi and Joseph Jolayemiwere all detained in Kwara State, and were kept in detention for eight days, nine days and two days respectively as hostages, while the journalist was being sought, according to a statement by the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR).According to Jolayemis wife, They said they wanted to arrest my husband and he fled to Maro in Kwara State. They said I was the one who advised him to run away and switch off his phone. They played a recording of my phone conversation with my husband.Apparently, they had bugged my phone and that of my husband. I admitted that, indeed, I told my husband to run away, but it wasnt a crime because I didnt harbour him. I only asked him not to come home, which is what a typical wife would do.I heard the police wanted to arrest him and I didnt know the reason why they wanted to arrest him. I told him to run away because I wanted him to be safe. They said for that, I would pay for it. I was brought before their boss and the man insulted me, calling me a stupid woman.He said I shouldnt have advised my husband to run away. The man said I would pay for it and they took my statement. I was there from April 29 to May 6.She added: While I was in detention, they played a recording of the poem that was recited by my husband. They asked if I could confirm if the voice belonged to my husband and I said it was his voice.They said how could my husband be insulting Lai Mohammed, a minister. They said it was Lai Mohammed that ordered them to arrest him.After Jolayemi surrendered to the police in Ilorin, Kwara State, it took the police more than two weeks to come up with a charge against him. The charge read: That you, Jolayemi Oba Akewi, male, aged 43, on or about the 14th day of April 2020 at Osolo Compound Ekan Nla, Kwara State, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court did send audio message through your Android phone device to a groupWhatsAppplatform known as Ekan Sons and Daughters and which went viral immediately after it was posted for the purpose of causing annoyance, insult, hatred and ill will toward the current Minister of Information and Culture, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 24(1)(b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention etc) Act 2015.The audio message in question was critical oral poetry by Jolayemi, who is also Vice-Chairman, Freelance and Independent Broadcasters Association of Nigeria, Osun State chapter. So, Jolayemi will face trial for his poetic criticism. It is not clear if he is also being accused of making his poetry go viral.The ministers spokesman, Segun Adeyemi, has said his boss should not be blamed for Jolayemis trouble with the police.Who complained to the police' Why did the police desperately arrest and detain the journalists wife and siblings' That was unjust, unreasonable and unlawful. TheCDHR said Jolayemi was being illegally detained at the Federal Investigation Bureau of the Nigeria Police Force, Abuja. Why'It may well be that the minister is not responsible for the actions of the police. But he should feel concerned that such actions were carried out concerning a matter that concerns him.Jolayemis wife also said his family had tried to get Mohammed to drop the case. According to my brothers-in-law, she said, they sent representatives to plead with Lai Mohammed to drop the case.They said the Oba of Ilala in Kwara State and some other traditional rulers had gone to the minister to plead with him, but he has refused to respond.Some even went to the ministers hometown in Oro to plead with elders in his community, but there has been no positive response. These efforts to placate Mohammed suggest that the journalists family is certain about his role in the affair.What prompted Jolayemi to compose the Yoruba oral poem in question' It is a scathing work full of unprintable lines. The poet also punched Minister of Humanitarian Affairs,Disaster Management and Social Development Sadiya Umar Farouk. Jolayemis work is not a panegyric.It is confrontational and provocative. The poet was probably unprepared for the police, which is why he went into hiding initially. Did he expect Mohammed to laugh off the poems content'However, the poems content does not justify the poets arrest and detention. It also does not justify the arrest and detention of his wife and siblings.People in power need to learn how to live with criticism, even the foul type. The reckless reaction, allegedly by Mohammed, has only helped to further draw public attention to the poems content.Jolayemi has been accused of committing an offence contrary to Section 24(1) (b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention etc) Act 2015. Section 24(1) of the Act made it an offence for any person to knowingly or intentionally send a message or other matter by means of computer systems of network that (b) he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent.The sentence on conviction for such an offence is a fine of up to N7, 000,000 or imprisonment for up to three years or both.In this case, the prosecution will have to prove that the poets criticism is based on falsehood. But is it
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