Thursday, 1st June 2023

Security, role of the media in Nigeria’s democracy – Part 2

By Olukayode Ajulo
04 January 2022   |   2:49 am
The Nigerian media is a critical stakeholder in every sphere of the Nigerian project; from the military days to this present democratic dispensation, the Nigerian media

Newspapers. Photo: pixabay.<br />

Continued from yesterday

The Nigerian media is a critical stakeholder in every sphere of the Nigerian project; from the military days to this present democratic dispensation, the Nigerian media has continued to advance and stabilize the democratic structure of the Nigerian State by promoting the fundamental freedoms of the Nigerian people. With the instrumentality of the proverbial pen, which is mightier than the sword, the Nigerian media has demonstrated that indeed it is a powerful force to be reckoned with in society. 

In May 1999, Nigeria returned to democratic governance after series of military interregna and Nigeria’s Fourth Estate of the Realm has since remained resilient and patriotic in their noble duties despite the daunting intimidation, threats and harassment by state and non-state actors. 

The media having been vested with the constitutional mandate of holding the government to account has not cowered or shirked this responsibility. For context, Section 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is hereby reproduced below:

“The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.”

The above obligation further deepens the imprimatur of the Nigerian people to hold the government to account using the agency of the mass media. A number of media organizations have gone ahead to crystallize their position in this regard by enforcing the freedom of the press as guaranteed under Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Again, it is not rocket science that the continued legitimacy of any democratic government is assured when the right to freedom of speech and expression and by extension other fundamental rights are protected at all costs. The watchdog appellation given to the media is an understatement of the power it possesses relative to governmental powers. Only a fool dares to lock horns with the fourth estate of the realm. 

The Nigerian media provides the platform through which the people are informed about the activities of the government and this is crucial because once there is a disconnect between the governed and the government, then the democratic process is exposed to attacks by agent provocateurs, saboteurs and unpatriotic elements in the opposition. 

The electoral process is another area where the noble duty of the media is also largely felt. The pre-election, election and post-election stages of the election cycles have always received adequate attention from the Nigerian media by way of voters’ education, voters’ information, voters’ mobilization and monitoring of election results. The electorates are presented with plethora of information by the Nigerian media in an election season and the consequent choices again give life to our democracy.

Furthermore, the democratic development of the nation rests on the shoulders of the media who daily reports the activities of the three arms of the government without fail. Save for instances where a media organization is alleged to have breached certain codes of broadcasting in the opinion of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, there is hardly a time when the people are not informed about the government as well as happenings in the society.

That said, it is important to emphasise that the standard of objectivity which is a core value of the media profession has become manipulated and eroded by some media practitioners and organizations to such an extent that recklessness and partisanship are now fronted as ‘holding the government to account.’ This is a lamentable tragedy, which must be reversed because the issues that now confront the Nigerian State call for restraint, decency, patriotism and civility when reporting the news. 

The role of the Nigerian media, therefore, is not the portrayal of the government as weak but a careful balance is needed so as not to play into the hands of enemies of the State. This brings to the fore the issue of National security which will be discussed better in the succeeding chapter. 

4.0 National security and the media
As earlier inferred, national security cannot be seen alone from the standpoint of the protection of the territorial integrity of Nigeria but it encompasses the continued existence of Nigeria as a corporate entity. It, therefore, means that anything that comes against the circumference of that continued existence of Nigeria is to be taken as a threat to national security. This is quite instructive because there are unarmed individuals with large followership whose words of mouth or statements can wreak devastating havoc on our corporate existence. The Nigerian media when used in advancing and propagating such inflammatory statements are culpable in such a threat to national security.

Closely instructive here is the case of Asari Dokubo v. the Federal Republic of Nigeria which was finally decided by the Supreme Court in 2007, one of the counts upon which the accused was charged at the trial court was premised on the interview he granted to the Independent Newspaper wherein he stated inter alia as follows:

“Nigeria is an evil entity. It has nothing to stand on and I will continue to fight and try and see that Nigeria dissolves and disintegrates and I am ready to hold on to the struggle to see to this till the day I die. I do not see any reason why I should continue to live with people that have no relationship with me whatsoever.”

The above was taken to be a threat to national security and thus the appellant was denied bail, which was contested at the Supreme Court. The apex court in deciding the propriety or otherwise of the bail denial held as follows: 

“Where national security is threatened or there is a real likelihood of it being threatened, human rights or the individual right of those responsible take second place, human rights or individual rights must be suspended until the national security can be protected or well taken care of. This is not anything new. The corporate existence of Nigeria as a united, harmonious, indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation is certainly greater than any citizen’s liberty or right. Once the security of this nation is in jeopardy and it survives in pieces rather than in peace, the individual’s liberty or right may not even exist.”

The above decision was a restatement of an earlier decision of the Court of Appeal with Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour delivering the lead judgment. Now, this subsisting judgment of the Supreme Court became an authority upon which President Buhari stated at the NBA conference in 2018 that “Rule of Law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest. Our apex court has had cause to adopt a position on this issue on this issue in this regard and it is now a matter of judicial recognition that; where national security and public interest are threatened or there is a likelihood of their being threatened, the individual rights of those allegedly responsible must take second place, in favour of the greater good of society.”

To be continued tomorrow

Ajulo, FCIArb. UK, the Managing Partner Castle of Law and Executive Director, Egalitarian Mission For Africa, delivered this paper at the NUJ NTA Headquarters Chapel’s Week in Abuja.