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Fresh concern over safety of journalists in Nigeria

By Odita Sunday
30 November 2021   |   4:10 am
Following the discovery of Vanguard Newspaper’s reporter, Tordue Salem’s body, the human rights community has raised fresh concerns over safety of newsmen in the country.

Tordue Salem

Following the discovery of Vanguard Newspaper’s reporter, Tordue Salem’s body, the human rights community has raised fresh concerns over safety of newsmen in the country.

The deceased was last seen on Wednesday, October 13, 2021, after the close of work at the National Assembly on that fateful day and a colleague dropped him off at a petrol station adjacent to the Police Force Headquarters.

The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Vanguard Newspapers Limited, Salem’s last employer, immediately reported his disappearance to the police authorities.

His death, no doubts, has brought fears to a lot of journalists who are afraid that their constitutional role of informing the public is becoming threatened.

While sympathising with the family of the deceased journalist, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said the death was a great loss not only to his family, relatives and friends, but “to the entire country at a time when Nigerians are yearning for a change in the way and manner they are governed, and at a time when journalism and journalists are the hope and voice of the people, this is indeed a big blow to our democracy in Nigeria.

“Journalists are part and parcel of transforming the society. It is their constitutional right to defend the rights of citizens by reporting unbiased events that affect the lives of Nigerians as they unfold, part of their responsibility also has to do with investigations and exposing, amongst other things, corrupt practices by government officials and other criminals in the country, for example, the recent Pandora Papers.

Unfortunately, these people are being targeted and attacked by some elements, who sabotage the Nigerian Constitution and the democratic processes of the country, because one of the determining factors of a democratic society is press freedom.

“Fast forward the discovery of the deceased journalist body now, more than ever, journalists are under threat and fear of carrying out their constitutional responsibilities. This is, indeed, a threat to democracy. It is clear that journalists are not safe in Nigeria due to the oppressive nature of the political space in the country.

Some of the things government should do are the following: provide a policy and legal framework for the protection of newsmen and women; ensure adequate investigations are carried out to bring perpetrators of journalists’ crackdown to book, as well as checkmate the activities of security personnel to ensure that they work hand in hand with newsmen for adequate protection.”

He also canvassed increased partnership with journalists so that trust is built in the way and manner in which each party carries out its activities.

National Coordinator, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, said: “The discovery of Salem’s dead body and the disjointed, illogical, fallacious and incoherent narratives being bandied by the Nigeria Police Force clearly show that Nigeria has returned to the days of the vultures in government who will do everything to cover up their tracks and their evils of dictatorship.

“Pure and simple, the circumstances surrounding the forced disappearance of the journalist right in front of the Force headquarters and the fact that it took the police over a month to begin to reel out different tales by moonlight about how his remains were discovered in a morgue, and then, the cocktails of half truths, falsehood and outright illogicality on how a so-called hit-and-run driver is claiming to have killed him accidentally on the day he disappeared.

“So, he was killed by a hit-and-run driver, the question is who took the remains to the morgue and why did it take a whole month for this so-called hit-and-run driver to emerge from nowhere to make this sensational claims that is total falsehood? We believe that there is more to it.

“So his disappearance in front of the Police Force headquarters is intriguing and this shows that no matter how you support the evils going on within the government circles, the moment they perceive that you are becoming a threat, they will come for you.

“Journalists are in trouble and activists are also in trouble as 2023 election draws near.”

Onwubiko added: “Government is the suspect in the illegal renditions of opponents of government. The government is responsible for the many forced disappearances of journalists. So expecting the government to solve the same tactics they are adopting to eliminate by substituting their perceived opponents is like expecting a black goat to turn white in the dark.

“The world needs to know that Nigeria has become unsafe for journalists and civil rights activists and the United Nations and leaders of some major democracies in the West and America need to mount pressure on government.

“Nigerians need to be vigilant to denounce the systematic annihilation of journalists and civil rights activists. Many activists have already died in suspicious circumstances only this year. There is fire on the mountain and the world needs to act to save the constitutional democracy in Nigeria from imploding and becoming full dictatorship. Government officials need to be told that there are consequences for this induced assassination happening right under their nose. It’s a matter of time.”

Security analyst and journalist, Christopher Oji, said: “It is unfortunate that journalists that are supposed to checkmate the government and leaders have now become endangered species. This is too bad in a democracy. The murder of the Vanguard Reporter is a pointer that lives of journalists are no longer safe.

“Their safety is no more guaranteed. We have heard many stories surrounding his sudden disappearance. First, we thought it was abduction and journalists went on protest calling on the security agencies to find him. We were shocked that until the two chambers of congress gave a marching order to the police to find him that his body was allegedly found in a morgue and a driver, was just arrested claiming that it was a hit-and-run issue.

“This is suspicious and I must say unequivocally that there is more to his death than this drama. How come that the police were not able to discover the driver all these while until the upper Chambers waded in? We have returned to military era where journalists are hunted and mow down. I am suspecting foul play. The 2023 general election is fast approaching and I think he was investigating something relating to crime, especially in politics.

“The government should, as a matter of urgency, look into the matter and order the police to come out with the true position of what transpired. An independent inquest should be constituted to investigate the death of the journalist. If the truth about his death is not uncovered, there will be serious mutual suspicion between the press and the government.”