President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been called upon to immediately reverse the alleged unlawful ban on 25 journalists and media houses from covering the presidential villa and restore the accreditations of those affected.
The call came from a Lagos-based rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), through a statement issued by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, who also charged the president to publicly instruct the officials in the presidential villa to allow journalists and media houses to freely do their job and discharge their constitutional duty of holding those in power to account.
Recall that the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) recently withdrew the accreditations of some 25 journalists from covering activities at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The banned journalists include those from the Vanguard; Galaxy TV; Ben TV; MITV; ITV Abuja; PromptNews; ONTV, and Liberty.
Referencing its letter dated August 26, 2023, SERAP insisted that, “Barring these journalists and media houses from covering the presidential villa is to prevent them from carrying out their legitimate constitutional responsibility.
“Your administration cannot, with one broad stroke, ban journalists from covering public functions. Citizens’ access to information and participation would mean little if journalists and media houses are denied access to the seat of government”.
While adding that media freedom is a cornerstone of Nigeria’s democracy and journalists must be able to hold the government to account, the group posited that the government cannot cherry-pick journalists to cover its activities.
SERAP’s letter read in part: “We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 48 hours of the receipt and/or publication of this letter.
“If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.
“Nigerians may consider the expulsion of the journalists from the presidential villa as your government’s ambivalence towards media freedom, and citizens’ rights of access to information and participation in their government.
“The legal obligations imposed on your government to ensure and uphold media freedom and human rights, and facilitate public access to the presidential villa as a public trust, outweigh any purported ‘security concerns and overcrowding of the press gallery area.’”
While adding that media freedom, access to information, and citizens’ participation in the affairs of their government are the sine qua non of a democratic and rule-of-law-based society, the group suggested that the withdrawal of the accreditation tags of the journalists directly violates media freedom and human rights including access to information and the right to participation.
According to SERAP, “It would have a significant chilling effect on newsgathering and reporting functions and may lead to self-censorship.
“The withdrawal of the accreditations of the journalists would construct barriers between Nigerians and certain information about the operations of their government, something which they have a constitutional right to receive.
“Media freedom, access to information, and the right to participation are necessary for the maintenance of an open and accountable government.
“These freedoms are so fundamental in a democracy that they trump any vague grounds of ‘security concerns and overcrowding of the press gallery area.’”