How government fails to protect journalists
The issue of press freedom has remained in the front burner across the country. While the media organisations struggle in their quest to serve as the intermediary between the government and the people, as well as holding government accountable, the government tries to suppress the media.
Many have argued that the media under President Muhammadu Buhari has not been free to practice. Recall that Buhari had promised during his election campaign under the ‘Change’ mantra to be a ‘converted democrat’, implying that the new democratic rule would not take after his dictatorship of 1983 to 1985, when journalists were harassed and jailed unfairly.
In spite of his recent press freedom claim, no fewer than 38 newsmen and women were arrested or harassed and at least one killed by gunmen in the first two years of the administration. The cases of abuse recorded so far show that this administration need to initiate actions that safeguard the social responsibility credential of journalists.
When Buhari was re-elected this year, he had campaigned on an image of good governance and anti-corruption. Many have expressed disappointment that Buhari has not lived up to his promise that journalists would be safe under his democratic administration.
Just to recall a few incidences, in January 2019, soldiers simultaneously invaded the offices of the Daily Trust newspaper in Abuja and its outstation in Maiduguri, arrested the regional editor, and carted away computers and laptops for publishing classified military information, thus, purportedly undermining national security.
Abubakar Idris also known as Dadiyata went missing about a month ago. It has been over 100 days since Steven Kefason was clamped into a Kaduna jail over a Facebook post. Last week, a Federal High Court refused Sowore’s application to challenge his detention. Agba Jalingo is being held incommunicado and without trial on the orders of the Cross River State Gov. Ben Ayade. At this moment, the Twitter account of fiery critic of the administration, Aisha Yesufu, has been suspended.
In 2018, a member of the House of Representatives caused police to arrest and detain a journalist working with Daily Trust, one Musa Krishi, for allegedly publishing an advertorial purported to be critical of the parliamentarian.
Jones Abiri, editor of the Weekly Source, was detained without charge in 2016 and denied contact with his family or a lawyer, for over two years.
In September 2017, soldiers attacked journalists at the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) office in Umuahia, beat them up and destroyed their work equipment for taking photos of the army during an Operation Python Dance show.
Also, during the 2019 general elections, no fewer than 15 journalists were attacked.
Jaafar Jaafar, editor-in-chief of Daily Nigerian recently described Buhari’s first term as ‘really bad’. “A number of journalists were incarcerated for no just cause. I can remember the case of Jones Abiri, who was detained for more than two years in the secret service dungeon.
“I fear for press freedom in Nigeria, as the Buhari administration may get emboldened. The president has his final term now. He is not seeking re-election. My fear is that this administration in the next four years may not condone some publications. Anything that does not favor the government, they descend on.”
Also, Nurudeen Abdallah, investigations editor, Daily Trust, Abuja, told Centre for Protection of Journalists (CPJ) that Buhari did not live up to expectations. “At the beginning I expect this administration to scale down the attacks, because they won the elections.
“Certainly, they will use their normal state apparatus: denial of advertisements, spying on journalists, and sometimes, outright attack. But we have our constituency, our readers. We have to tell them the truth, not what the government wants.
“I am only hoping that the people in power–the presidency and the state governors–will see reason and see journalists as partners in progress. The same people who are complaining against our reports now were the same people that were in the opposition. It’s a vicious cycle, but they should know that the people have the right to know. They should be responsible to the electorate,” he said.
Martin Ayankola, former editor, The Punch, said the situation is not terrible, though there have been attempts to curtail press freedom, adding, “I think that if you do your job right, you are also respected. Journalists are not supposed to make people in government look good. That is not our business. We are supposed to put out information we have. The government shouldn’t see us as an extension of their public relations departments.”
Director, International Press Centre (IPC), Lanre Arogundade, wonders where the current administration wants to be placed when it comes to freedom of the press. “Increasingly, it does not feel like the government is bothered about local and international opinion about its management of press freedom issues; there are instances of journalists being barred from performing their duty. The case of Jones Abiri, who was kept incommunicado for two years, comes to mind, and recently, the arrest of journalists who were covering a protest,” he added.
Arogundade said this was not acceptable as it violates all the principles of press freedom. “Except they are saying that before journalists could cover protests, they must get permission from the government. It is a worrisome trend. It constitutes an embarrassment.”
He called on the media professional bodies to start a proper dialogue with the government on the issue. “They need to address the matter with the urgency it requires,” he added.
Prof Nosa Owens-Ibie, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Caleb University and General Secretary, Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN), said it was imperative to know the place of regulation with regards to press freedom. “The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is doing its best to regulate, but there are systemic challenges regarding how far it can go.
“ We will be able to appreciate the efforts of the federal government on the basis of the realities; on its timely interventions at enhancing press freedom. “
Ibie said that the consciousness of the need for government to have a legacy should be the prime motivation to media policies and implementation.
The professor said that although the issue of journalists’ safety had become paramount around the world, the issues around the journalists’ environment impede his craft.