The Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, has advised aggrieved persons and organisations to channel their grievances to appropriate authorities rather than resort to arrest of journalists in the country.
While calling for caution, the NGE condemned the recent arrest and detention of the publisher of Premium Times, an online publication, Dapo Olorunyomi, and his judiciary correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu, by the police.
The guild made its position known in a statement made available to the News Agency of Nigeria on Sunday in Abuja.
The statement was jointly signed by the NGE President, Funke Egbemode, and the General Secretary, Victoria Ibanga.
The guild described the action of the police as “unwarranted assault on the freedom of the press and undue interference”.
According to the statement, the recent siege on Premium Times was avoidable if grievances were channelled to the appropriate quarters for redress rather subjecting journalists to “inhuman treatment for exercising their Constitutional right to freedom”.
“Media practice is guided by rules, regulations and laws. There are options for any aggrieved person to seek redress if a media professional offends and libels him or her.
“Arrest and detention never end well. They only lead to strained relationship,’’ the NGE said.
Messrs. Olorunyomi and Okakwu were arrested by the police in Abuja on January19, in connection with a report that the Nigerian Army considered “offensive and libellous”, but they were later released.
The NGE said it gathered reliably that the police were acting on a criminal complaint filed by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.- Gen. Tukur Buratai, adding that the Army chief “alleged that Premium Times had defamed him by its coverage of military operations against Boko Haram.”
The NGE noted with concern “the growing clampdown, intimidation and frequent harassment of journalists by the police and other law enforcement agencies in the course of doing their lawful duties.”
“It is important to let overzealous security agencies know that harassment of media professionals is inappropriate and capable of creating tension in an already tensed nation.
“It is an unkind reminder of the dark days of military rule, which witnessed concerted efforts to gag the press through unlawful detention of journalists without trial.
“Wielding the big stick and raiding newsrooms at will in a democratic setting are conducts of poor judgment and sad ways of reminding Nigerians of those days they will rather forget,’’ the statement said.
NGE stressed the need for all security agencies to strengthen the symbiotic relationship between the media and security so as to promote peace and help both parties do their jobs effectively.
“This country belongs to all of us and we all must work hard to protect the integrity, peaceful co-existence and all that binds us together as one entity.
“We are aware of the enormous responsibilities and functions of the media as an institution and would like to note that media professionals are not above the law,” the group said.
NGE thanked all those who caused the release of the affected journalists and promised to defend democracy within the confines of what is right and lawful.
However, the guild called on all media professionals in the country to continue to lay much emphasis on things that “unite us rather than things that divide us.”