Stakeholders fault attack on press, insist power must be kept in check
Journalists, literary experts and other stakeholders at a recent colloquium on shrinking media and civic space in Lagos have condemned attack on Nigerian press including social media, arguing that this narrative must change. With the theme: Keeping the power in check, the stakeholders also noted that Nigeria has a sordid history of attacks on the media, and now on citizens who use social media as a form of expression and accountability tool.
Recent reports of detention, harassment, assault and obstruction of journalists and citizens show a troubling trend in the attempt by the state to control the media and civic space in the country. According to Olabisi Deji-Folutile, former Editor, Saturday Punch, “this is not the best of times for media and civil right organisation in Nigeria.”She said the fear is palpable, because the country is in a period when “constructive criticism is misinterpreted as hate speech and people could be hounded.”She noted that it takes courage to go ahead to do your job as a journalist, anything could be construed as hate speech and this has kept a lot of people in the cooler.
For the lady, “every lover of democracy should be concerned about what is happening in Nigeria,” adding, “democracy thrives in the era of free press”, therefore, the need to keep democracy alive becomes crucial.The poet and polemic Odia Ofeimun, who was the keynote speaker, stressed the importance of educating the citizens. He noted, “ a society that is ill-educated can never keep government in check.”
Kunle Ajibade, Executive Editor PM News/The News moderated the panel session, which had Jitty Ogunye, Richard Akinnola, Osai Ojigho and Yemi Adamolekun as panelists. Ogunye, a lawyer, said, “the so-called democracy we are practicing is incapable of being grown.”
According to him, “we oscillate between hope and despair. Anytime election is coming, we were always hopeful, and after elections, we see monstrous leaders. We tell ourselves time is the ‘healer of wounds’. And we are worse than we were before. Nigeria needs a revolution. What we have on ground cannot be handed over to our children. It is poison.”
Veteran journalist and former judiciary reporter, Richard Akinnola, noted, “I feel embarrassed comparing the judiciary under the military to the judiciary of today. Gani Fawehimi’s passport was seized under the military era and the court ordered it to be released and General Ibrahim Babangida government obeyed. Today, the court will order the release of somebody from detention and the government refuses. Our major focus should now be the judiciary. We now have to keep them on their toes. The younger generation is also afraid but this should not be the case.”
Osai Ojigho, on her part, said the citizens have not properly harnessed their power. According to her, though education is key but the citizens must also be courageous. “We are in an era that has been designated post truth era where anything goes, we are not value based anymore and so we face an issue. We are not able to agree on some fundamental principles and it has a created a vacuum. Whether you like someone or not, his rights must never be violated.”
Yemi Adamolekun, convener, Enough is Enough, agreed with Odia Ofemun that ill-educated people couldn’t keep power in check. “We need to invest in educating Nigerians on their right. Even if you get a better government now, we are in a deep mess where orders are not being observed, people are doing anything they like. We need to get to the state where we take a stand. For instance, getting to a state wher eby we agree that we are not using generating sets until power is stable. There is lot of poverty in the land and one would have thought this would have compelled people to protest but fighting for daily bread is taking a lot of energy from many people.”
Organised by the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), TAP Nitiative and partners, the organisers noted that the aim of the programme is to highlight the fundamental principles of press freedom, to asserts the rights of citizens in a democracy, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists and citizens who have lost their lives or are in jail because of their work.
“The reality of Nigeria’s media space today is that attacks on Press continue to occur with total impunity where Nigerian journalists face threats, physical attacks, detentions, intimidation, persecution and death for their professional work,” the organisers noted.
Specifically, the objectives are: to explore and discuss new issues and challenges facing the media and journalists in Nigeria; to reflect on the diminishing civic space in Nigeria and what citizens need to do to assert their rights; to examine concerns such as the safety of journalists (both online and offline), and the best ways to push back against a growing climate of disinformation and threats by the State; to recognize and celebrate journalists and media practitioners that have stood firm despite constant violations and attacks.
There was also public presentation of Testimony to Courage (Essays in honour of Dapo Olorunyomi) and A Press Attack tracker called (Asari TheBot) was also launched.
No comments yet