A nation at war with itself
On 6th January, 2021, three photojournalists with PUNCH, Leadership and Sun newspapers were assaulted while carrying out their duty by the officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps stationed at the headquarters of the National Identity Management Commission in Abuja. The security officers grabbed their cameras and deleted all the pictures after damaging the camera of one of the journalists.
This occurred months after a Former Minister, Mr Fani-Kayode, was seen in a viral video abruptly leaving a briefing at Calabar, after pouring invective on a reporter, Eyo Charles of Daily Trust newspaper, who asked him a question on the person bankrolling his tour to states across the country. Though, the former Minister later appologized for this ugly incident but the display depict the nature and character of most of Nigerian elites.
In Nigeria, media is seen as a means of projecting the view of the elite alone. Anytime, the media does the opposite it is tagged different names despite the freedom of expression guaranteed in the Constitution.
For instance, the section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, stipulates that: every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
Specifically, section 22, states that “The press, radio, television and other agencies of mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter (i.e. Chapter 2 of the Constitution) and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.”
From these sections, it’s obvious that the media is the oxygen of democracy. Any attempt to silence it is like sending a poisoned arrow to the soul of a nation. That is why, the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, described the mass media as a more important arm of the society than the government itself. “Were it left for me to choose whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I shall not hesitate to choose the latter,”
Despite this crucial role, the press in Nigeria still faces insults, embarrassments, harassments, beatings, and even death, in the process of gathering information and sometimes threat from the government or its officials after dissemination.
On 11 October, a Daily Trust reporter Gimba Kakanda was roughed up inside a police station in Abuja, the capital, after being arrested. While in January 2019, security agents from the Nigerian Army, SSS and police raided the offices of the firm across the country, seized their media tools, and forced staff to go into hiding.
Also, Ebuka Onyeji, a reporter with the Premium Times online newspaper, was attacked by five police officers while performing his duty at Abuja on October 5. In the same manner, the police attacked Arise Television camera operator Francis Ogbonna and reporter Ferdinand Duruoha in Abuja.
Similar thing happened on October 12, when a group of protesters in Lagos State, hit Television Continental presenter Theophilus Elamah in the chest and forced him and the cameraman he was working with, Julius Idowu, to leave the protest area. The same is the narrative of Oluwatoyin Yusuf, a journalist with the Osun State Broadcasting Corporation (OSBC) who was attacked by unidentified men at Osogbo on October 17th.
Repeatedly on October 24, a police officer hit Akpokona Omafuaire, a senior photojournalist with the Vanguard newspaper, on his way to the Nigeria Union of Journalists’ headquarters in Warri, Delta State.
The Nation Newspaper office was not left out in the rage against media houses by unidentified people across the country on October 21st. Emmanuel Adeyemi, a correspondent with The Sun newspaper, was shot by unidentified people on his way to the NUJ office in Lokoja on 26 October.
Other reporters that faced this ugly side of their profession are Luka Biniyat, the Vanguard newspaper Kaduna correspondent, Dipo Awojobi who was arrested over an alleged defamatory article about a Nigerian politician, among others.
In fact, the surge in the arrests of bloggers and journalists under suspicion of ‘cyberstalking’ by the government and their officials shows clearly that the nation’s democracy is on a dangerous trajectory. No wonder, the country is ranked 115th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
In October 2020, the Federal Government through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) sanctioned prominent television stations such as Africa Independent Television, AIT, Arise TV, and Channels for what it called, a gross violation of the broadcast code, top of which is the use of unverifiable online video footages on the social media.
Though usage of unverified material is a condemnable act and must not be encouraged in the fourth estate of the realm but the circumstances that surrounded the action of the regulative body shows that there is something more to the sanction than the pronounced claim and that is why most of the methods that worked in the advance countries failed to work in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, institutions are built around a personality. This makes it very easy for those in power to use them for their ulterior motive just as the NBC was used during the Endsars protest to instill fear in the minds of most of the prominent media houses in order to suppress the voice of the masses.
The nation’s democracy is degenerating to a draconian system because of the threat pose by the elites, and overzealous officers to the freedom of expression. As a result, the nation continues to experience different forms of war, ranging from verbal threats and other demonstrations that serve as a poisoned streal to her soul.
In searching for the best therapy to heal this wound, the media needs to be immune from all forms of threat hindering the free flow of adequate and accurate information so that the people can enjoy the dividends of democracy the way it is being done in the advanced countries.
Oluwasanmi wrote from Ibafo, Ogun State.
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