The unfortunate verbal and lyrical sparring of two friends in the public domain has caused consternation and elicited a lively debate. Eedris Abdulkareem of Nigeria Jagajaga and Festus Keyamo, Minister of State, Labour of the Federal Republic, brought themselves out through barbs shared in song and on Twitter.
It is best to state upfront that both men are wrong. They dragged themselves in the mud like pigs. Two wrongs do not a right make. My first response noted that they were both cheap stakes. Who has not sought help before? But why focus on someone as the poster boy of bad government because he shunned your requests? They are both cheap. Worse is the man with the titular office with a call to civil and ethical behaviour.
Eedris made his friend Keyamo the poster boy of his bad lyrics against the government in his Jagajaga Reloaded song. He did not mention any other minister. Indeed, in the original to which then President Olusegun Obasanjo objected, he did not mention anyone. Obasanjo as President rightly saw himself as the target of the song.
Festus Keyamo in response to the name-and-shame dug into his archives of correspondences with singer Eedris. The messages speak to a relationship predating his appointment as a minister. Mr Eedris sought the assistance of his friend, but Keyamo shunned him.
Keyamo then claims the attack on him stems from his action in denying his friend his monetary requests. He submits that activists who criticise public officers but seek private favours from them are hypocrites.
Many issues come up with this matter. They include friendship, ethics and the code of friendship, the laws of defamation and privacy. And there is cybercrime since Twitter has reacted negatively to the tweets as offensive.
One of the key rules of friendship is loyalty. Loyalty was the cord of the friendship between David and Jonathan in the Bible. Friends do not stab each other in the back. Real friends stay loyal even after cooling off.
Friends respect their persons and not any titles they hold subsequently. Integrity is a component of that code. Friends keep their words. Moreover, friends do not speak evil about their friends; they defend their friends in their absence.
Friends have differences, mark you. They do not have to share the same taste in wine, music, and wampum. They respect their boundaries.
What happens when one friend excoriates the other in public because he holds a public office? Tough question. The odds weigh against the public officer, unfortunately. He has the call to rise to a higher standard of conduct. It is unacceptable for a person in an elevated perch to jump into the gutter to spar with his friend or teach him a lesson. Noblesse oblige- to whom much is given so much is expected.
The 1999 Constitution in Section 11, Chapter 4, sub-section 37 guarantees the privacy of individuals thus: “37. The privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected.”
Privacy means that no one is allowed to disclose confidential matters without cause.
The germane area here is the one concerning the “Disclosure of embarrassing private facts, such as medical or sexual records or old indiscretions”.
In the instant case, we have the public disclosure of private facts. It is a tricky area as the lawyers have hedged it with so many provisos. Persons can argue it both ways.
Here is the guidance of the Freedom Forum Institute: “Generally, the material published must be private information that “is not of legitimate concern to the public.” Its disclosure must also be “highly offensive to a reasonable person.” Material private enough to trigger this tort claim could include disclosure of sexual orientation, medical history, or other personal, private facets of a person’s life. The pressing question in public disclosure of private-facts cases is whether the information is newsworthy or of legitimate concern to the public. Newsworthiness is evaluated by an examination of several factors, including the social value of the disclosed material, the depth of intrusion into personal life, and the extent to which the person is already in public view. Even Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren, authors of a famous 1890 law review article, “The Right to Privacy,” wrote: “The right to privacy does not prohibit any publication of matter which is of public or general interest.”
Does the private correspondence between Eedris and Festus that Minister Keyamo published qualify as being of “public or general interest”?
Minister Keyamo skirts around the Cybercrimes Act, 2015 with his Twitter effusions. In Part Three, Section 24, the inelegant Cybercrimes Act steps into the territory of libel, otherwise captured in extant laws. It criminalises “message or other matter” sent using computer systems or network by anyone with the motive of “causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, destruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill-will or needless anxiety to another.”
Then the matter of ethics. Friendship follows deontological ethics or dos and don’ts. They are injunctions captured in the Christian one, for example, of doing unto others as you would want them to do to you.
The two combatants acted in manners that disrespect the ethics of friendship. However, their actions provide an opportunity for reflection and learning. E fit be you! What would you do if you were involved and in the heat of passion and anger? What informs your response to stimuli? Passion or principle?
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