The purpose of a free speech is usually debatable as to ascertain the speaker’s or writer’s mission, the consequences of the speech become the sole responsibility of the writer or speaker. This position can be linked with the famous quote of former Uganda military Head of State: “Freedom of speech is guaranteed, but freedom after speech is not assured.
As the world celebrate press freedom day 2020, it is important for us to look back at the treatment of journalists in Nigeria, especially under this regime using few journalists as a case study
On August 22, 2019. Agba Jalingo, the publisher of Cross River watch was arrested in Lagos and detained. For over 24 hours after his arrest, he was not charged to court nor released but was transfered to a detention facility run by the anti-cult and anti-kidnapping police in Calabar, capital of Cross River state. Agba Jalingo is still trending on twitter, as the committee on protection of journalist with the aid of his lawyers are doing everything possible to win this struggle of intimidation and harassment against Jalingo. It is suspected that Cross River state governor, Ben Ayade is behind the harassment of Agba Jalingo.
Another Journalist, social media critic and lecturer, Idris Abubakar popularly known as Dadiyata. His case is a puzzle yet to be unravelled. We do not know if it is a case of abduction, kidnap or arrest. Dadiyata was said to have been taken away from his family without demand for ransome and no location as to his whereabouts for over six months till now. There are suspicions that his abduction is not unconnected to the denunciation and criticisms of Governor Umar Ganduje of Kano.
It is worthy of mention that Dadiyata was abducted by unknown assailants in his Kaduna home. He was taken away from his wife and young daughter.
On 22nd July, 2019 Precious Owolabi a trainee reporter working for Channels TV died of injuries from live ammunition while she was covering a protest by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria.
Another victim, Victor Ogungbenro was kicked, slapped, dragged and sprayed with teargas while covering the #RevolutionNowProtest in Lagos State on the 5th of August 2019. Even after identifying himself as a cameraman and online news editor for Sahara Reporters. Ogungbenro suffered in the hands of criminals in police uniforms. The people who dealt with Gbenro are not fit to be called officers of the noble Nigeria Police Force.
Aside the killings, physical assaults and illegal detentions, interrogations and arrests. Journalists are subjected to illegal prosecutions. Media offices are raided at will, sometimes without warrants, while others are suspended. Such is the case of Daar Communication on June 6, 2019.
On this year’s World Press Freedom Day 2020. I express my thought under the theme “Journalism Without Fear or Favour” the Nigerian Perspective.
Journalism is beyond the production and distribution of reports on events. The word journalism applies to the occupation, as well as the processes in gathering and publishing information by journalists. The purpose of journalism is thus to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments.
If Journalism is about information to help the citizens and all esteemed readers to make the best possible decisions about their lives and to have an insight about governments. That brings us to the big question, why are Nigerian Journalists subjected to so much fears and favoritism in form of paid media?
As I have stated earlier in my first three paragraphs the pains and afflictions of journalists. It would be partial not to say that some journalist have become paid media and influencers paid to bury the truth and paint bad as good, ugly as beauty and use their voice as the make-up to replenish evil as wondrous deed. They have become tools in the hands of the government to mislead the citizens by giving them biased and false information. The paid media is not anything better than the corruption and rot in the Nigerian society.
The intimidation and harassment against journalism has not ceased since the advent of civilian governments. The military is known worldwide for disregard of human rights but is a dremocratic government not expected to be better?
What seems to have been forgotten is that journalism is the voice against corruption, bad government policies, injustice, sexual abuse and discrimination against women, child rights’ abuse and the violations of other human rights.
Journalism will forever remain a tool for public opinion to be expressed, a tool acting as checks and balances on the government and its citizens.
Journalism in Nigeria is not free from attacks, bureaucratic restrictions, criminal defamation and application of physical force against journalists. Nigerian journalists are exposed to incessant harassment, detention, prosecution, intimidation and threat to life if not death.
The media is under the seige of office raids and license seizures. Political interference has been the order of the day, prevention of protest and protest disruption.
Apprehension, fear and uncertainty have greeted a lot of young minds who would like to venture into the skill of writings, expressions leading them to the path of journalism.
No journalist is safe in Nigeria, not even me a common writer. There is no protection for those who wake up late in the night writing the truth for us. There is no law protecting the safety of those who go through dangers covering report of terrorism at the centre of the danger zone. Investigative and photo journalism are the most prone to danger from insecurity. Some of them walk kilometers into the terrorist zones to cover stories, they work in the midst of violent protest to get report.
They are no different from internally displaced persons moving endlessly to get to the root of every case seeking the truth from conscience.
Journalism without fear and favour is possible if we all do better but as of today in Nigeria Journalists, social media critics and writers are not safe due to the inability of the government at all levels to truly accept criticism
You have read of Dadiyata, Victor Ogungbenro, Agba Jalingo and others but the truth is we are all sitting on a time bomb. Nobody is safe.
Tomorrow, it may be me.
Martins A.F Adedeji