A judge of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Dupe Atoki, has charged Nigerian public officials to seek legal redress when they feel offended by a news report, instead of harassing and intimidating the journalist.
Mrs Atoki spoke at the 2019 World Press Freedom Day organised by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism in partnership with the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) Programme and the British Council, in Abuja on Friday.
She said the harassment, detention and stigmatisation of journalists are violations of the freedom of expression.
“You are not only violating the right of the journalists or editors, but you are also violating the right of citizens to receive vital information,” said Mrs Atoki, a former director general of the Consumer Protection Council.
”Any public officials who feel offended by reports done by journalists should instead take legal action,” she said.
The ECOWAS judge said there are constitutional provisions that protect Nigerian journalists such as Section 22 which empowers the media to hold the government accountable.
She, however, noted that Section 45 of the Constitution – which deals with the defence of public safety, morality, public order and so on – gives the government the power to take that right away from journalists.
According to Mrs Atoki, the Sedition Act of the Criminal and Penal codes is another law used to harass and intimidate journalists.
She said the law provides a prison term of two years and three years at the first instance, and fines and forfeiture of the seditious publication.
“A sedition constitutes a mode of communication or engagement that is set in motion with the principal object of stirring up acts of treason, lesser commotion, and defamation of government,” she said.
“A seditious speech is any oral advocacy to overthrow the government or destruction of the State by force of violence.”
While charging the incoming ninth National Assembly to pass laws that de-criminalise press freedom as well as repeal anti-press laws, Mrs Atoki also called on government agencies to comply with Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.
According to her, the FOI Act allows the media to access information
“Section 1 of the Act provides that every citizen whether adult or minor is entitled to have access to any records under the control of the government or any public institution.”
The 2019 World Press Freedom Day was themed ‘Media for Democracy: Journalism and elections in times of disinformation.’
The event had in attendance Philip Aduda, the Senate minority whip, who represented Senate President Bukola Saraki; Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria; Yakubu Dogara, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Ketil Karlsen, the Ambassador of the European Union, among others.