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Nigeria at 61, media professionals urge state actors to protect press freedom

By Sunday Aikulola
12 October 2021   |   4:09 am
Sixty-one years after independence, stakeholders have said the media industry has lived up to expectation by holding public office holders accountable.

A journalist being harrassed on duty

Sixty-one years after independence, stakeholders have said the media industry has lived up to expectation by holding public office holders accountable.

They also agreed that the media was not only pivotal to the attainment of independence in 1960, but have sustained the democracy. They, however, expressed concern over the worrisome press freedom violations in recent times.

According to stakeholders, journalists are often spied on, attacked and arbitrarily arrested or even killed.

A lecturer at the Faculty of Communications, Bayero University Kano, Dr. Ruqayyah Yusuf Aliyu, said the media had done very well just that some areas “needed to be addressed to make its performance better.”

She said the media contributed greatly to the attainment of independence, saying, “if not for the contribution of the media, only God knows what would have happened.”

Aliyu said even during the military, despite the gagging as well as hardships journalists faced, “they stood their grounds and kept writing, and today, we are celebrating democracy.”

A former Publicity Secretary Nigeria Guild of Editor (NGE) and publisher, Political Economist, Ken Ugbechie, said the media was actively involved during independence struggle and providing post-independence leadership.

Ugbechie said till date, it has remained one of the most vibrant in the world. “The Nigerian media is resilient and audacious. Most of the papers then like West African Pilot, Nigerian Tribune and others focused on independence. It was because of the pressure from them that the colonial masters left Nigeria. The media is a barometer to measure the nation’s conscience.

“Even for the democracy to be born in 1999, it was the media. I’m proud to belong to the media fraternity. We have demonstrated courage in the midst of death. Many papers have been proscribed. Nigerian journalists have been murdered in the course of doing their job. On a Sunday morning, a reporter with The Guardian Newspaper, Bayo Ohu, was gunned down in his own home. They keep doing this to gag us but when they shut us down, we rise again and we have kept rising.”

Media Rights Agenda MRA Programmes Officer, Ayode Longe, said the media have grown with the tides of development and has also been affected by what is happening in Nigeria and all over the world.

“When it began, it did as the publishing arm for the missionaries and their activities, then as a tool for nationalism by our founding fathers: the likes of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. During the military era, it served as the opposition to fight against military incursion into our politics. In time of relative peace, it has served the information; education and entertainment need of the people, as it does also at every other time.”

Longe continued, “it has also operated, reflecting the conscience of the nation, and so, when people accuse the media of being corrupt, it is because the media reflects a corrupt society. If the society had been morally upright, the media would also have been morally upright and promote moral uprightness.

“The media has also faced an economic downturn as a result of technological development especially of Internet and social media. The print media has borne the major brunt of this as all over the world, readership and purchase of newspapers and magazines have gone down. This is understandable because the time and way people get and consume news have changed drastically. The Internet has made it possible to get news: text, audio and video, instantly as it is happening and social media has enhanced this.”

Longe concluded, “The Nigerian media have been virile and served to preserve our human rights and fight for the good of Nigerians and should be commended. It has always remained vigilant, hence, successive governments fear the media and look for ways to buy it over or intimidate it. None has ever succeeded, not even the military with their guns. The media, therefore, needs the encouragement and support of all.”

On addressing press freedom violation, Aliyu said government should make security a priority. “The security situation is very poor and it is getting worse every day. It is not only journalists that are being attacked or kidnapped but also other Nigerians. The government should live up to its responsibility by providing adequate security for Nigerians. I’m an advocate of press freedom, but there is no absolute freedom because if we have absolute freedom, as human beings, we are going to over stretch our boundaries. Professionalism should be enhanced. The media must be responsible. We must verify our stories before going to press.”

Similarly, Longe said, “government has the primary responsibility and role to protect the lives of Nigerians and other residents. Unfortunately, it has failed and journalists have been attacked and killed with impunity in Nigeria more so as no one has been arrested, charged, prosecuted or sentenced for any offence committed against journalists or the media.

“The government is doing absolutely nothing, and this is evidenced by the fact that for no journalist killed in Nigeria has the perpetrators been prosecuted or sentenced. None! Successive Nigerian governments are by their inactions telling the media that they do not care about them. It is non-governmental organisations, with Media Rights Agenda (MRA) in the forefront that is working to see that they intervene to get the government to act or to bring the perpetrators to book.”

He said, “right now, MRA is implementing a project through which it seeks to challenge attacks on journalists in court and bring perpetrators to book and through the project ensure a conducive and safe environment for the media to operate in Nigeria. Government has the primary role of ensuring the safety of lives and as a result must also rise to protect the lives of journalists and ensure that the environment in which the media in Nigeria practices is safe.”

Publisher Premium Times, Dapo Olorunyomi said, “state actors have a duty to protect against, to prevent harm and to promote civic freedom. That expectation is codified in treaty, in statue and in our case law. That is, strange state abuse of journalists is acts of lawlessness, abuse of power and acts of criminality. The case against non-state actors is not made lighter either because they are equally liable. What is expected of state parties is to respect and uphold the law and enforce it when non-state parties violate them.”

Ugbechie added, “The state actors are not helping matters because they are the ones acting this impunity. They are the ones unleashing terror on journalists. When you protect journalists, you are protecting the society. If we condone crimes and not punish it, impunity against journalists will continue. Nigeria does not rank fine in press freedom index. Countries where there is press freedom are the best countries to live in. Every index in terms of human capital development, we are not ranking high at all.”