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Ensuring The Safety Of Journalists In Nigeria

Femi Ogunshola

Analysts recall that assault on journalists became rampant during military political administration in Nigeria, especially between early 1980s and mid 1990s.

They note that journalists were harassed, brutalised, imprisoned and even killed without respect for sanctity of human lives.

They recall further that the late Dele Giwa, the Publisher of Newswatch Magazine, was killed in one of such attacks.

Ace journalist Giwa was allegedly killed when a parcel sent to him in his residence exploded. His killer has yet to be identified.

In another recent development, Mr Benedict Uwalaka, a photo journalist with the Leadership Newspapers was beaten and assaulted in 2012 during the coverage of the collections of the remains of plane crash victims at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Lagos.

Uwalaka recalled that he was at the premises of the hospital with his colleagues on the invitation of the hospital’s management to cover the release of identified bodies of the Dana Air crash victims.

He alleged that as he moved closer to the vehicle where a body was to be placed, an official of the hospital seized his camera and another one hit him on the head.

In the light of this, the International Press Centre (IPC) has expressed concern about various forms of attacks that journalists in the country are subjected to, mostly in the course of their duty.

The Director of the centre, Mr Lanre Arogundade, said the centre and the Open Society Foundation recently monitored the safety of journalists and discovered that no fewer than four journalists suffered attacks within a short period from various security agents and thugs.

He listed the affected journalists during the period as Mr Julius Osahon of Guardian Newspapers who was reportedly held hostage and aggressively addressed by political thugs at Yenagoa while covering the protest against non-payment of five months’ pension arrears by pensioners in Bayelsa.

He said Mr Michael Sholeye of Petals FM radio station was also reportedly assaulted at a petrol filling station at Oluyole area of Ibadan while covering an alleged attempt by drivers of mobile telephone company to jump queue.

Other journalists listed to have suffered similar attacks included TVC senior broadcaster Toyin Ibrahim of Television Continental (TVC) who was attacked by suspected robbers on her way home from work early morning when she boarded a commercial mini-bus from Ketu to Berger-Magbo area of Lagos.

With the spate of the attacks within a short period, IPC therefore solicits an end to all forms of assault and intimidation of journalists, insisting that journalists have crucial role to play in the consolidation and sustenance of democracy.

The centre recalls that: “It is worth reiterating that the Nigerian constitution in Section 22 gives the media the weighty responsibility of monitoring governance and holding the government accountable to the people.’’

Beside this, the United Nations Human Rights Commission observes that in the past 22 years, 1,055 journalists have been killed worldwide.

“Figures compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international non-governmental organisation that promotes press freedom globally, show that the vast majority of journalists are not killed because of the life-threatening situations in which they find themselves, but are murdered outright because of their reporting.

“Very few of those murders are investigated and in almost 99 per cent of cases, no one is prosecuted,’’ it says in its recent report.

However, President Muhammadu Buhari has assured Nigerians that his administration will not condone any actions aimed at hampering the freedom of the media.

In his keynote address at the opening of the Congress of the Federation of African Journalists in Abuja, he expressed concern about frequent attacks on media practitioners in Africa.

“Nigeria views the International Declaration for the Protection of Journalists as a positive step, and strongly condemns attacks targeting journalists in the course of their duties.

“This administration sees the media as a partner in progress and has never even contemplated harassing, not to mention killing any journalist,’’ he said.

According to him, the media represents the eyes and ears of the world and any attempt to silence it through the harassment, arrests, detention and murder of journalists, is akin to making the world go blind and deaf.

The president, nonetheless, urged media organisations to adopt best safety protocols for their journalists.

“They must develop and implement procedures and tools aimed at ensuring the physical and psychological safety as well as the digital security of journalists in line with the International Declaration for the Protection of Journalists,’’ he said.

In his view however, Mr Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, observed that Nigeria had free and independent press.

He commended the media for remaining resolute in the pursuit of liberty, social justice, equality and democracy.

He promised that the government would continue to create the enabling environment for the media to thrive.

He also restated the Federal Government’s commitment to strengthening democracy and good governance through the implementation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

He said the FOI Act had succeeded in creating accountability and probity in governance, observing that it had curbed corruption and allowed Nigerians to participate in governance.

He called on United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to ensure that the right of information was enhanced and protected in Nigeria, promising that the government would put machinery in place to ensure the effectiveness of FOI.

In his comment, Mr Michel Arrion, Ambassador and Head of European Union Delegation to Nigeria commended the country for practising the most vibrant democracy in Africa with absolute press freedom.

He described the freedom the Nigerian media enjoyed as an asset, noting that freedom of opinion and expression was indispensable.

He said that the EU recognised that free, diverse, independent media would promote and protect freedom of opinions and expressions.

“By facilitating the free flow of information and ideas on matters of public interest and by ensuring transparency and accountability, independent media constitute one of the cornerstones of democracy,’’ he said.

According to him, an informed, active and engaged citizenry is not possible without free, independent and pluralistic media.

He also lauded the role of social media activists in deepening public discourse, shaping public opinions and promoting transparency and accountability in the country.

He said social media had thrown up new challenges, observing that all human rights that existed offline must be protected online in term of freedom of opinion, expression and right to privacy.

“Nigeria, in our assessment, is a country where freedom of expression is respected, the traditional media is relatively pluralistic, bloggers and cyber activists share their views.

“Nigeria boast of a large, vibrant social media community, whose engagement with the social-political processes has enriched public discourse and widened the frontier of participation on issues that concern the citizenry,’’ he observed.

All in all, United Nations Human Rights Commission insists that: “States must create an enabling environment in which the rights of journalists and other members of society can be fully respected.

“They must also adopt legislative and policy measures for ensuring the safety and protection of journalists and other media workers, with zero tolerance of any form of violence against journalists and full accountability for any such violence.’’ (NANFeatures)


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