New Telegraph

Press Freedom: When journalists come under state’s threat

Regarded as the oxygen of democracy, the media is once again in the spotlight over attacks by state and non-state actors in recent times. It is something, many argue, was reminiscent of the dark days of the military. LADELOKUN LADELOKUN writes on the need to respect press freedom and protect the Fourth Estate of the realm

In spite of the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression and movement, activities of security agents have again come under scrutiny following what is deemed the highhandedness of security personnel said to be teleguided by politically exposed persons. Relying on the Cybercrime Act, a number of Nigerians, particularly journalists, have been clamped into detention for more than 48 hours over publications considered offensive; something lawyers interviewed by Sunday Telegraph described as unlawful. Until he recently gained freedom, Daniel Ojukwu, a journalist with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), was in detention for 10 days without a known court order allowing for such. The Ojukwu abduction, according to the FIJ, was in connection with his story which alleged that Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, a Senior Special Assistant to the president on Sustainable Development Goals, paid N147 million (US$106,154) of government money for school construction into a restaurant’s bank account. Also, on March 15, another journalist and former First News Editor, Segun Olatunji, was abducted and detained for two weeks by the Nigerian military over a report he allegedly wrote against a top government official. On February 6, four journalists- Adisa-Jaji Azeez, Salihu Ayatullahi, Salihu Shola Taofeek, and Abdulrahman Taye Damilola-from an online news site, Informant247, were detained and charged with cyberstalking and defamation. This followed a complaint lodged by the Rector of Kwara State Polytechnic, Engineer Abdul Jimoh Muhammed, after reports alleging that the Rector had made bogus claims about the institution’s financial status. Owing to what some stakeholders and observers described as unrelenting attacks on journalists, there are growing concerns about safety in the media space. According to the 2024 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Nigeria is among the most difficult countries to practise journalism in West Africa, occupying 112th position out of 180 countries considered. The report further added that Nigerian journalists were regularly monitored, attacked, and arbitrarily arrested. Meanwhile, at a meeting with members of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) last year, President Bola Tinubu had expressed the willingness and readiness of his administration to always uphold media freedom and respect opinions. “I care about what is going on in the country. I thank you for your support and opinions, even the criticism of our government. Without the support of some of you, I will not be standing here as president. “You have held our feet to the fire, and we will continue to respect your opinions, whether we agree or not. One thing I must say is that I read every paper, various opinions and columnists,” Tinubu pledged.

45 cases of attacks on journalists documented- MRA

In spite of the pledge by President Tinubu that his administration would uphold media freedom, there have been at least, 45 documented attacks on journalists and media houses in the last one year of President Bola Tinubu’s administration, according to Media Rights Agenda (MRA). MRA noted that out of the 45 cases of attacks documented, law enforcement and security agencies were responsible for 62 per cent of all attacks, while hoodlums and thugs perpetrated 16 per cent of the attacks with unidentified persons such as kidnappers, armed individuals, etc. being responsible for 15 per cent of the attacks. According to Edetaen Ojo, MRA’s Executive Director, there is no instance where any of the perpetrators had been arrested, prosecuted or otherwise held accountable, with the result that impunity continues to thrive. “We have in the room reporters, publishers, academics, human rights activists, lawyers and other professionals, so that we can all reflect on the state of media freedom in Nigeria and figure out what else we can do to improve the environment for media practice in the country and combat impunity for attacks against journalists, other media professionals and media organizations.

“Throughout the existence of Media Rights Agenda as an organization, we have tracked attacks on journalists, media freedom and freedom of expression in general and have tried to offer various forms of assistance from time to time, including most notably, providing legal and litigation assistance to victims of such attacks. Our experience has been mixed in this regard. We have recorded some successes but also have been unable to secure favourable outcomes on many occasions and we continue to grapple with the challenge of achieving better outcomes. We have also undertaken strategic litigation on many occasions as part of our efforts to improve the media environment in the country, again with mixed experiences of successes and disappointments.” He further stated that MRA had been disappointed and disturbed by numerous reported attacks on journalists and media houses across the country in the last one year. “MRA’s analysis of the data on attacks against journalists and media workers in Nigeria indicates a significant level of risk across various categories. It seems to us therefore that in light of this situation, we need to redouble our efforts and collaborate more in defence of media freedom and the safety of journalists. “Part of our strategy going forward would be to foster such collaboration and solidarity among media professionals, among civil society organizations between the media sector and civil society. He added: “We therefore call on all stakeholders to share information more and support each other in times of crisis.

We are working with our partners to develop tools to enable us to better track, document and respond to attacks on journalists and media freedom in general. We are also engaged in discussions on the establishment of a national mechanism on the safety of journalists and part of the functions of such a mechanism will be ensuring that there is accountability for any attack against journalists or the abuse of power inherent in any such attack. “We need to focus significant attention on the frequent attacks coming from law enforcement and security agencies while striving to ensure that there is no more impunity for such attacks. In pursuance of this, we also see the need to establish an industry-wide legal assistance programme supported by the dedicated fund with that ultimate objective of ensuring that no attack on any journalist or media organization goes unchallenged. “We believe that there is a need for specific legislation to protect journalists and the media, consistent with the requirements of relevant regional and international instruments. We will also be directing our efforts towards this objective in the coming months and years,” he said.

Diary of unsolved murder of journalists

Almost 38 years since the assassination of Dele Giwa, founding Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine, by parcel bomb on 19 October 1986, in his residence at 25, Talabi Street, off Adeniyi Jones Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos, his death has remained a mystery to Nigerians and his killers have not been brought to justice. Also Bagauda Kaltho, a journalist with The News/Tempo magazine, was said to have disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1996. There is also the claim that he was killed in a bomb explosion at Dubar Hotel in Kaduna. Other journalists whose murder have remained unsolved include Bolade Fasasi, Bayo Ohu, Godwin Agbroko, Eddy Ayo-Ojo, Tunde Oladepo, Samuel Boyi, Fidelis Ikwuebe, Samuel Famakinwa, Enenche Akogwu, Chinedu Ofoaro, Okezie Amarubemi, Zakaria Isa, Yusuf Mubarak, Nathan Dabat, among others.

Questions about constitutionality of Cybercrime

Act In response to attacks by an X user recently on the Nigeria Police and its past Inspectors General of Police, Muyiwa Adejobi, Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), had drawn attention of the said user to the existence of the Cybercrime Prohibition Act (2015) and implications of cyberstalking. Specifically, Section 24(1) of the Cybercrime Act, 2015 states: “A person, who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer systems or network that is grossly offensive, pornographic or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character or causes any such message or matter to be sent, or he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent, commits an offence under this Act and is liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term, not more than 3 years or both.”

Reacting to the claim by Adejobi, human rights activist and lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, stated: “It is disgraceful that the Force PRO has been alluding to a law that no longer exists in Nigeria. The provisions of the infamous Section 24 of the Cybercrimes (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2015 that the police have been using to harass Nigerians has been repealed by the National Assembly and replaced with a radically different and new provision.

“The amended Act was assented to by President Bola Tinubu in February 2024. Under the new Act, posts which are injurious to a person’s reputation are no longer a crime. The new Act limits the offence of cyber-stalking to messages.” Left in the lurch? In a statement, the Management of First Media Network, the Publishers of First News, apologized to the Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila ,dissociating itself from the story of its former editor, Segun Olatunji ,that reportedly got him arrested and detained by security agents for two weeks. The management had in the statement said the story was handed out to it as facts by a misleading source, adding that it was riddled with, “falsehoods and fabricated stories”.

The management added: “As a responsible media organisation, we wish to state very categorically that we have no malicious intent towards the person of the Chief of Staff to the President or his office. Hence, our decision to tender an unreserved apology and the need to publish a retraction of the said story.”

Reacting in a letter addressed to the Publisher/Managing Director, First Media Network Limited, Olatunji said:“In view of the latest development regarding the Gbajabiamila story and the stance of the company’s management, I hereby tender my resignation as the General Editor of First News.” He added that, “in no distant time, the truth will come out and then it’ll be my word against theirs.”

 

Fake stories destroy reputation – Ubani

For Lagos lawyer, Barrister Monday Ubani, journalists and social media users must exercise caution when publishing stories to avoid the wrath of the law. “Most times, people misuse social media. Somebody cannot just sit down in a hidden place and write anything about somebody without having facts. And most times, malign and destroy an individual. There was a particular video I saw recently by one man. He just sat down in his house and was castigating the Senate President.

He was saying that the Senate President alone ate N3trillion. That the N3trillion of the budget was taken by the Senate President. The person was a gubernatorial candidate in Delta State. So, he is not a small person. And when he’s being confronted, he apologised. But then, how many people will he tell that he lied. Sometimes, it’s you guys who do these things that attract the wrath of the law. But one thing I would not want despite the fact that someone has committed a crime is long detentions because the constitution guarantees timelines within which you charge someone, who is alleged to have committed a crime. “Anyone who has committed a crime, either cybercrime or any other crime should be charged to court timeously.

Investigations should be carried out and don’t detain the people indefinitely.” He added: “But we must be careful about the misuse of social media. A lot of damage is being done by people, who sit down and concoct stories and write about individuals because they have access to phones and social media platforms. It destroys people’s character. It is easier to destroy than build. But whatever it is, if a crime is committed, let there be timeous arraignment and prosecution of that individual.”

Ubani, however, noted that journalists are supposed to inform the members of the public and hold those who are in government accountable, adding that it was unacceptable to clamp journalists indefinitely into detention. “Then, there shouldn’t be unnecessary punishment.

That’s why I said if you allege that someone has committed a crime, then charge him timeously and present the evidence because the court cannot convict any person when there is no evidence of wrongdoing. That timeous charge and arraignment will clear the doubt as to whether you have erred against the law or not. But putting someone in indefinite detention is not the proper thing to do.

If someone has committed a crime by using the social media platform to malign an individual, then Gbajabiamila Ubani Olatunji The SundayMagazine that person must be punished according to law. The journalist, who is writing anything must be responsible enough to prove if there is issue of evidence. Then, whoever is in government must show a high level of responsibility and accountability. I do not support anyone hounding journalists. I do not also support journalists maligning some people, destroying their reputation because they are in government .”

We demand respect from govt, security agencies – NUJ

The Chairman of the Lagos chapter of the Nigeria Union Journalist ,Adeleye Ajayi, in an interview with Sunday Telegraph ,described the media as the oxygen of democracy, going down memory lane to state the contributions of journalists to the independence of Nigeria and democracy. “Journalists should be allowed the freedom to operate without being molested, without harassment, without arrest. The media is the oxygen of democracy. Recall that in the First Republic, our forefathers, who were journalists, fought for independence. People like Bisi Onabanjo, Segun Osoba…I think journalists , as watchdog of the society should be allowed to operate freely in the society. No matter what’s written. But at the same time, we need to get our facts right. We should be factual and accurate about our reporting. But cases of abduction of journalists are becoming too rampant.

“The government should try as much as possible to grant journalists free access to do their job. That’s why we call them the Fourth Estate of the realm. “Constitutionally, journalists have a role to play. We are the mouthpiece of the people. We set agenda. At the same time, fake news should be disregarded. We should not condone fake news. Right now, we are checking for perpetrators of fake news. Whoever carries fake news, that person will be sanctioned. Therefore, security agencies and the government should give journalists their due respect. But they cannot stop us from writing. We will continue to write because that’s our job. We are not going to be intimidated. Like I said earlier, we have to be factual. Good enough, apart from the NUJ, the human rights group are also on our side and other groups. It’s wicked to abduct journalists.”

It’s rape of rule of law – Activist

Sharing his thoughts with Sunday Telegraph, human rights activist and lawyer, Kehinde Bamiwola, argued that keeping an alleged offender longer than necessary in the custody could only be described as a rape of rule of law. “You can’t arrest someone today for an offence that was created by a law that has not been in existence. For instance, someone did something two years ago, you passed a law this year, and you want to move the clock anticlockwise to witchhunt that person. It’s not allowed. Our problem in this country and I must say this, the impunity we are having under the present Inspector General of Police is incomprehensible. It’s unimaginable. What we are experiencing is a rape of the rule of law.” He added: “Let me use the language of the court in the case of Ojukwu Vs Attorney General of Lagos State. It said the rule of law is different from the rule of man.

What are they doing now, abducting? Can you see? They will keep some of these people, the journalists somewhere and they will tell you they are still doing investigation when the constitution says no one should be kept beyond either 24 hours or 48 hours. They keep somebody in custody, raping the constitution, which is the organic law, from where even the IGP and whosoever derive their power from.” He further noted that the hounding of journalists and other Nigerians and incarcerating them indefinitely were reminiscent of the days of the military.

“What they are trying to do is a reminder of what people suffered during the military era – the incarceration, the unlawful arrest, the intimidation and what have you. Now, they should remember that the Freedom of Information Act is another law that guarantees people… when you now want to come under Cybersecurity or Cybercrime, cyber this, cyber that, they should know that any law that is inconsistent with the Constitution will be rendered null and void. Let them not push people to go back to ENDSARS era. If that could happen to a journalist(Daniel Ojukwu), that’s the voice of the masses, the conscience of society- the custodian of what we call information dissemination- it means nobody is safe. “I’m not saying that anybody, who has published anything that is contrary to the ethics of journalism should not face the law. But if anyone has genuinely carried out their duty, I think the principle of democracy allows that I condemn in totality, the abduction of that journalist without taking him to court. If he has any case to answer, let the court decide.” Bamiwola said it was high time, Nigerians fought the injustice witnessed under the present administration.

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