The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to publicly condemn all attacks on journalists and media organizations.
The group said Mr Buhari should “issue a clear public statement to all government and security force officials prohibiting any acts of intimidation, threats, harassment, and arbitrary arrests of journalists and media workers, and state that such incidents will be immediately investigated and appropriately disciplined or prosecuted.”
This was disclosed at the launching of SERAP’s report on Thursday in Lagos titled “Something to Hide? : Media Freedom Under Siege in Nigeria”.
According to SERAP, the report written by veteran journalist, Richard Akinnola, said 36 journalists were attacked between January 2019 and July 2019, with 30 of the attacks recorded during the 2019 elections. Press Attack Tracker (PAT), a civic tech platform, provided the statistics.
The report also stated that 18 journalists were assaulted for covering the nationwide #EndSARS protests against police brutality in October 2020.
Dave Peterson, Senior Director, Africa Programmes, National Endowment for Democracy, while delivering his goodwill message virtually commended SERAP for the publication.
“Nigeria is known for its dynamic press, and any threat to the Nigerian press and media around the world is a threat to democracy,” he said.
Mr Akinnola, while presenting the report for SERAP said, “It is fundamental and imperative that everyone, particularly journalists have and peruse the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“Citizens have a right to protest. Citizens should not be hindered from protesting peacefully. ”
‘Nigerian government wants press under siege’
Human Rights lawyer and activist, Femi Falana, during the launch, said the government of Nigeria wants the press to remain under siege because they want to keep the information confidential.
According to Mr Falana, the government is desperate to silence the press.
“It’s to hide from Nigerians information about misgovernance, wanton corruption, regarding the reckless killings of the people, unwarranted abduction of our people including school children, undergraduates, secondary school students, and even primary school pupils.
“Of course government is also determined to hide from us the fact that our country has been captured by the IMF and World Bank whose neoliberal economic policies have continued to put people in poverty. So you are not supposed to know why we are poor in the midst of plenty.
“About two weeks ago an agency of the government, Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation suddenly announced that Channels Television [a programme aired by the station] has been suspended and fined N5 million. No trial was held, the NBC became the judge, the witness and the sole prosecutor in the same court charged the Channels Television in absentia, convicted the media organization and proceeded to punishment,” he added.
Mr Falana said the conduct of NBC cannot be justified within the provision of the Nigerian Constitution.
“I, therefore, submit that if Channels Television paid the fine of N5 million, it should be refunded without any further delay. Secondly, the NBC should apologize publicly to Channels Television and the Nigerian people for violating our collective rights.
“Furthermore, the amended code should be withdrawn forthwith because Chairman of the Board who was supposed to preside over the meeting has said that the amendment was never passed and therefore nobody has challenged him and that is why the amendment has to be crushed and set aside.”
Mr Falana said the government of President Muhammadu Buhari should leave office if it is unable to perform its statutory responsibilities.
“If a President is unable to perform the functions of his office, the National Assembly shall move for him and ensure he is neatly taken out of power through impeachment.
“Section 14 sub-section 2 provides the primary purpose of a government shall be the security and welfare of the people. When the government can’t guarantee your welfare or security what is left?
“Those who are unable to govern us should be shown the way out, through the instrumentality of the law.”
The report by SERAP illustrated that Nigeria’s civic space has significantly shrunk in the past two years.
“State actors at federal, state, and local government levels have carried out violations that have shrunk the civic space.
“By taking actions that violate democratic freedoms, state actors have been culpable for the many infractions on the civic space in Nigeria. A number of non-state actors such as Boko Haram, (and other quasi-religious groups), political thugs, “unknown” gunmen, and some powerful individuals are also guilty of taking steps that violate freedoms thus shrinking the civic space in Nigeria.
“The report concludes that state actors as government entities have legally binding obligations to ensure and promote an open civic space particularly because Nigeria is a democracy. So it is imperative that the government should promote freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly in the country.”
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