The murder of one of Nigeria’s iconic journalists and the founding editor-in-chief of Newswatch Magazine, Dele Giwa, through a parcel bomb on October 19, 1986 will go down as the country’s most prominent and controversial attack on press freedom.
Mr. Giwa’s death at the age of 39 will remain a huge loss for the practice of investigative journalism in Nigeria as circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery, with security agencies and government yet to bring the culprits behind the murder to book.
That was the first case of letter bomb in Nigeria. Till date, no one else is the country is known to have been killed in that manner.
Though there have been efforts especially in this democratic dispensation to ensure a free and independent press, journalists in Nigeria still operate under varying degrees of threats and attacks.
Recently, a CPJ report listed Nigeria among the 12 countries in the world where journalists are killed and the killers evade justice.
The report – annual Global Impunity Index – stated that five journalists in Nigeria have been killed “with complete impunity” in the past decade.
At least two Nigerian journalists have been killed in 2017, according to data collected by the International Press Centre, IPC.
Twelve other journalists and media organisations in the country suffered various forms of assault including from state actors.
To check the deteriorating freedom of expression in Nigeria and the rising numbers of press attacks, journalists, government institutions, civil rights groups and NGOs gathered in Abuja on Thursday to seek solutions.
The event tagged ‘press attack dialogue’ was organized by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) in collaboration with the Coalition for Whistleblower Protection and Press Freedom, supported by Free Press Unlimited.
Issues bordering on the nature of Nigerian laws on journalists and how it restricts their professional practices were extensively discussed.
“In many low income earning countries especially in Africa, the civic space is termed to be threatened and narrowed most of the time”, Chelsey Burrman, a representative of the Netherlands Embassy in Nigeria said earlier before the dialogue session.
Ms. Burrman said the Dutch embassy is partnering with Free Press Unlimited to specifically improve access to information for the media in Nigeria.
On freedom of the Netherlands’ press, she said “I will like to think that the Netherlands press is free to write and speak freely within certain limits and respect to the law.”
During the dialogue session, Charles Otu, a reporter with the Guardian newspaper, narrated how he was abducted and beaten up by thugs, who warned him to stop writing reports that were critical of the Ebonyi State government.
Ayode Longe, the programme manager, Media Rights Agenda, said unlike Nigeria, article 162 of the Ghanaian constitution specifically provides media freedom, “there it says that the media shall be free and shall not be censored and that parliament cannot make laws that will censor the media.”
Mr. Longe decried the fact that there is a lacuna in the laws guiding media freedom in Nigeria.
“What we have is the criminal defamation laws. Our laws are more or less negative and work against the media.
“In the world, the movement is towards civil defamation but in Nigeria, we still have criminal defamation which should not be. What we also found out is that the state goes ahead to prosecute cases that are meant to be handled by individuals,” he said.
Mr. Longe also cited among others a case involving the wife of the Ogun State governor and journalists.
“They felt they were defamed, so the police arrested the alleged defamers and detained them before they were arraigned. These are individuals, they are not even government officials, so this was supposed to be a civil matter.”
IMPUNITY AND STEPS TOWARDS SELF-REGULATION
Abdulwaheed Odusile, the National President of Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ said technology is changing the world of journalism thereby affecting the way journalists practice the profession.
“The old school thing is over and the new generation are not keen on what it used to be or how we use to do things,” Mr. Odusile said.
He added that the problem Nigerian journalists have is that they are too much in a haste.
“Most of our journalists are too much in a haste to file their stories that they don’t do a thorough work, it’s good to be at the news stand to break the story first but at what cost?”
“Some of the things happening to the media are self-implicating.”
He stressed that most of the journalists in Nigeria failed to register with NUJ.
“It is only when you are in trouble that’s when you now begin to look for the office of NUJ to come and bail you out.
“About the burning issues of impunity, I think we know what has happened in the past but they continue to happen because past attacks on media have not been investigated and culprits were not brought to book – nobody has found the killers of Dele Giwa.
“Today they can also kill another journalist and nothing will happen and this is why we need to talk to the President and the security agencies and even the court.”
He added that the court also contributes to all the acts of impunity.
“By the time you go for court case you will be so shocked that your case might take up to 20 years. These are the kinds of thing that get people frustrated.”
Mr. Odusile further said that a national committee is being set up between NUJ and security agencies including prison authorities to tackle impunity and attacks on journalists in Nigeria.
Three days ago, 23 radio and television stations across Nigeria were fined for various breaches of broadcasting rules set by the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, a move which elicited critical reactions from Nigerians.
The spokesperson of the regulatory body, Maimuna Jimada, said the stations were punished for hateful speech, vulgar lyrics and unverifiable claims.
There has not been much awareness in the country on what constitutes a hate speech; although it has been described in other climes as speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it incites violence.
In some countries, a victim of hate speech may seek redress under civil law, criminal law, or both. A website which uses hate speech may be called a hate site.
On May 31 2016, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter, jointly agreed to a European Union code of conduct obligating them to review “majority of valid notifications for removal of illegal hate speech” posted on their services within 24 hours.
Tunde Akpeji, a representative of the National Communications Commission, NCC during the dialogue, said the Commission has come under pressure to regulate Over the Talk, OTT communications such as WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media platforms.
“There are calls for its regulations, they are looking at it from the financial and economical angle but the NCC showed its leadership ability by stressing that the commission won’t regulate OTT because it’s a grey area.
“If we do that, there will be identity issues and at that point the whistle blower may lose his/her protection”, Mr. Agbeji said.
He said even with sim card registration where identities of people are easily known, the commission conducts its regulatory work in such a way that users identity are hardly compromised.
“In that regard, the commission expects the telecommunication companies to follow due process.
“Only law enforcement agencies can be issued identities of phone users by telecom operators and the policy requires that it will be backed by a court warrant.
“In the broader aspect of when stories are published by media organisations and how well the people have access to it, the commission prevents anti-competitive tendencies by making the internet cheap so people don’t wake up one morning and find the internet too expensive for them to go online and read stories”, the NCC official said.
UNVEILING PRESS ATTACK TRACKER
The Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, PTCIJ, had launched a Press Attack tracker as part of its strategic vision of ensuring freedom of expression and its fight against press gagging.
The tracker seeks to document and track threats and attacks on journalists nationwide.
Unveiling the tracker at the Abuja event, Aisha Hashim, a PTCIJ programme officer, said the tracker is named pressattackng, www.pressattackng.crowdmap.com
She gave a detailed explanation of how the tracker works and how to post attacks.
At the end of the programme, participants all agreed that more needs to be done to ensure press freedom in Nigeria.