…as stakeholders berates government attempt to stifle the media
The Nigeria Union of Journalists launched a six year report of press freedom in Nigeria which revealed the increasing rate of violations of media professionals and members of their families as a clear signal that journalists are being deliberately targeted because of their profession noting that least 300 violations affecting about 500 journalists, media workers and media houses have been recorded in Nigeria under the regime of President Buhari.
Presenting the report to the public in Abuja on Wednesday 30th June 2021, Barrister Frank Tietie, Executive Director, Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER) said the government of Buhari that prides itself in fighting corruption, insecurity and good governance should be proud to partner the media in other to be seen to be more transparent and accountable to the citizenry.
He said a situation where key public office holders who are being funded through the public treasury cannot disclose their salaries as well as their operational cost is a dent to the anti-corruption stance of the government.
And citing an example of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), who have refused to disclose to open their financial records for public scrutiny, he said this is an antithesis to the government fight against corruption.
Barrister Frank advised the government to see journalists as doing its constitutional role of holding government accountable to the public a role assigned by the constitution which the elected political office holders have sworn to protect. He said just as the executive, legislature and judiciary have their constitutional role so does the media workers be it in the print, electronic or online and must not be seen as allies.
The Executive Director CASER also called on the judges to beware of being used as a repressive channel to trample on the media through using the Cyber Crime Act, adding that the Freedom of Information Act have made it mandatory disclosure to the public information about the operation of governance as it relates to its day to day operation saying such information should be at the website of the agency for all to access.
The report which was compiled in collaboration with Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) based in Ghana with sponsorship with Open Society Initiative For West Africa (OSIWA) and Hewett Foundation a US a nonpartisan, private charitable foundation that advances ideas and supports institutions to promote a better world, shows that least 300 violations affecting about 500 journalists, media workers and media houses have been recorded from 2015 till date.
Continuing the reports added that ‘’no single act of such violations has been successful redressed either by the courts of law or by the National Human Rights Commission which findings and rulings are never given any serious attention’’
Also the report not that instead there have been attempted censorship of the media citing the Hate Speech Bill 2018: The bill suggests that any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person shall die by hanging upon conviction. The bill was sponsored by Senate Spokesperson, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullah and the May 2019, new rules were introduced, and that took effect on June 11, which have severely limited the press’s access to the National Assembly. Under the new rules, to cover the National Assembly, a media outlet would be required to have a daily circulation of forty thousand copies or five thousand daily views online.
The Press Freedom Report also states that there have been excessive fines citing the August, 2020 case where the National Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) imposed a fine of N5million (13,000 USD) on Nigeria Info Radio for alleged hate speech and in On October 26, Nigeria’s broadcast regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission imposed a fine of 3 million naira (US$7,850) on three televisions, sanctions generally condemned by the media fraternity as excessive. The regulator had accused the three stations–Africa Independent Television, Channels Television, and Arise Television– of unprofessional reportage on the EndSARS protests, a charge of misconduct in their coverage of the protests. A legal fight –back by some rights groups was unsuccessful as the courts backed the regulator’s action
Furthermore the reports states that “Nigeria is fast gaining notoriety for its failure to tackle impunity for crimes against journalists including killings. For example, in 2017, four journalists were killed in separate incidents with no credible inquiry yet to find the culprits and their motive for the fatal attacks. The four were Ikechukwu Onubogu, a cameraman with the Anambra Broadcasting Services, Lawrence Okojie of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) in Edo State, Famous Giobaro, and a desk editor with Glory FM in Bayelsa State and freelance broadcaster, Abdul Ganiyu Lawal in Ekiti State.
In addition four more journalists have since been killed under circumstances that have yet to be clarified through any credible investigations. The killing on July 22, 2019 of Precious Owolabi, a reporter with the Channels Television in Abuja while covering a protest by members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria-IMN, was agonising. The sudden violent turn of events during what was supposed to be a peaceful protest by the IMN members who were demanding the release of their leader, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, led the police to shoot indiscriminately. The Reporter-Precious Owolabi who was on national service died of bullet wounds sustained during the coverage of the protest. It was not clear who actually fired the fatal shots. A Deputy Commissioner of Police, in charge of Operations at the FCT Police Command, Umar Usman equally died from gun shots sustained during the violent protest. So far, no investigations were carried out and it was believed that the young reporter, was a victim of Police action.
And On January 28, 2019, security forces who were battling Shiite Muslim protesters in Abuja, shot and killed Alex Ogbu, a journalist with the Regent Africa Times newspaper. On January 15, 2019, Maxwell Nashan, a journalist with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Adamawa State was, found tied and muzzled in a bush with his body hacked at several places. Nashan, who had been abducted from his house the previous day, died on arrival at the hospital. On January 21, 2020, Alex Ogbu, a Reporter with Regent African Times in Abuja was killed by a stray bullet from the Police while covering a clash between the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) popularly known as Shi’ites and Police in Abuja.
On October 24, 2020, Pelumi Onifade, who was covering the #EndSARS protests for Gboah TV, an online television channel, was attacked by security officers and carried away alongside a mob arrested by the Lagos State Task Force. About a week later, the body of the student journalist was found in a mortuary in Ikorodu Lagos. His family lawyer said his body had bullet wounds. Onifade was a 200-level student of the Department of History at Tai Solarin University of Education, Ogun State, and an intern at Gboah TV
In concluding the report recommended seven actionable points for both Governmental and Non-Governmental Stakeholders 1.Arising from the fact that highly skilled persons now shun employment in the media industry due to low pay and poor staff welfare conditions, there is therefore an urgent need to provide competitive wages and emoluments for Media workers. 2. The long hours of work and tight deadlines which create an unhealthy work environment replete with stress-induced ailments should be replaced with a conducive environment to ensure optimal performance and reduce health risks. 3. Journalists suffer maltreatment in the hands of overzealous security agents, political thugs and disgruntled elements. There should, therefore be a deliberate effort to investigate and publish such violations while adequate insurance cover be taken for media workers exposed to accidents and injuries.
The fourth recommendation arises from the fact that security agent’s account for majority of the press freedom violations recorded, the military and police authorities must issue direct instructions to their officers to refrain from wanton attacks on, and frivolous arrests of journalists. It noted Journalists in developed countries are celebrated, and this is made possible by the attention, consideration and funding given by relevant authorities and stakeholders to the sector. This is however not so in Nigeria despite the invaluable services being rendered by the sector which also provides the window through which other nations view and assess the country. There is therefore an urgent need for all Stakeholders to ensure that the profession of Journalism is accorded its rightful place in society.
The sixth recommendation is the training and retraining of media Professionals, especially with regard to personal protection and security, should be given priority by the NUJ, Media Owners and other Stakeholders and lastly Government must be alive to its responsibilities and obligations. Many acts of impunity are clear indications of the failure of government to uphold international obligations to protect the lives and liberties of citizens, especially journalists. The systematic failure to address the ever increasing numbers of unresolved murders of journalists and other media workers feeds into the sense of impunity and encourages further violence against the media. Investigations into serious violations including attacks on media houses and killings must be bolstered and pursued to their logical conclusion.
Earlier The NUJ President Chris Isiguzo in his opening address called on the government not to destroy the foundation of a striving democracy which is free press and rule of law while Representative of the MFWA, in his message from Ghana via zoom states that Nigeria use to have a very striving a vibrant press that is a cynosure of Africa countries but events in the last six years appears to be rolling back on the gains of free press and rule of law.
Mr. Lanre Orogundade of the International Press Centre (IPC) Lagos speaking via zoom while commending the NUJ for the initiative which is in line with what IPC does said this will bring to fore the state of the media in Nigeria, while Action Aid Nigeria advised the government not to gag the media because it is the sources of credible and reliable information to the public adding that the government and key stakeholders should implement the recommendations.
Francis Nwosu, Executive Secretary Nigeria Press Council said that the organisation is a regulatory body with its board members being journalists and the media stakeholders, all of whom have refused to nominate their members to fill the Board as a result the NPC has no board till date.
Media practitioners at the one day event called on the government not to gag the media saying its attempt to regulate the media space is not a mark of democracy saying that while journalists are expected to be factual in their reportage, the government must see the media as the fourth arm of government. The government was reminded that the media was very pivotal in the reportage of the government when it was in opposition and benefitted from the benevolent of the media.