The allegations of security clampdown on journalists: AN EDITORIAL

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Kwara Journalists Protest Harassment, Impunity.

 

There is no disputing the fact of the media as a major stake in public trust.  If a journalist realises the danger in his not being trustworthy and the extent to which that rubs on his personal integrity, the trust the public have in the media organisation which he works for and his own future and the future of family environment where he comes from, he will stay well and keep to standard with fear of God and compliance with the norm in discharging his professional duties.  His failure to realise these and so behave himself led, on the long run, to the complicity that Nigeria witnessed in Benue, Plateau and Taraba where journalist chose the incidents he wanted to report against those he chose not to let Nigerians know thereby causing further collateral damages to lives and properties of innocent citizens.

 

The recent protest by journalism stakeholders in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, led by President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Alhaji Abdulwaheed Odusile, which was also replicated in some parts of the country including Port Harcourt, Ilorin and Owerri, Rivers, Kwara and Imo states’ capital cities, respectively, also by groups said to be the states’ councils of Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), have once again called attention to “journalism, security and rule of law” with an insight to the role of patriotic journalists and enforcement agents for national development.

At the protest also participated in by Director, Centre for Free Speech, Mr. Richard Akinnola and other notable stakeholders, the senior journalists also participated making their point against what they described as incessant harassment, arrests, intimidation and detention of journalists, by security agents, in different parts of the country.

In Owerri, Imo State, Chairman of NUJ Caretaker Committee, Francis Ebunugwo and National Trustee, Fidel Onyeneke, as well as immediate past chairman of the council, Innocent Igwe led journalists in the protest around the NUJ Secretariat, just like it was done in Ilorin where the Kwara State council took its protest to the Government House and protesting journalists were attended to by a commissioner on behalf of the government.

Those who protested in Port Harcourt took their protest to the Rivers State Police Command where a senior police officer, who attended to them, said, “As far as Rivers State Police Command is concerned, journalists are our friends”, adding by asking, “Or are journalists not our friends?” to which the answer was in the affirmative.

At the different places where the protests took place, journalists carried placards with inscriptions unanimously saying: “Enough is Enough of Harassment and Detention of Journalists”; “Journalists Should be Allowed to Do Their Job” and “There Should be Press Freedom in Nigeria.”  More inscriptions were also on display.

The NUJ and Amnesty International, the controversial international human rights organisation, have been heard loud on this same subject.  In Owerri, NUJ leader Ebunugwo, who addressed his colleagues, urged the Federal Government to address security agencies reckless impunity against journalists in the country.

“We say enough is enough. Those we suffered to put in power cannot betray us. They cannot stop us from doing our duties, destroying things we put in place. We cannot stop until the impunity stops,” he said.  That was just as Amnesty International has made a strong demand to the Federal Government to stop the clampdown on journalists in the country.

Speaking, a national trustee of the union, Onyeneke, said no country disregards journalists and survives, stressing that there was a link between government and the governed.

He said the illegality should stop, wondering the rational for the clampdown on journalism in the country, adding: “This has to stop. We appeal to the Federal Government to fully implement the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.”

Igwe described journalism as the voice of the voiceless, saying those harassing journalists should know that journalists carry out their obligation in accordance with section 39 of the Constitution.

The protest, which was on the directive of the Abdulwaheed Odusile-led National Council of NUJ, was also complied with by Taraba, Abia and Ebonyi states’ councils.

While clampdown on journalists in any given society must be strongly frowned at, questions being asked, and which leaderships of Nigerian journalism and security agencies will be the ones to answer, are: If journalists carry out their obligation in accordance with section 39 of the Constitution, does the Constitution section so empowering them to do such duty put them above the Constitution itself in the sense that doing so lead to breakdown of law and order in the society?

The questions also include: While the protesting media groups and Amnesty International harp on why arrest of journalists must stop, have they also investigated why those journalists were arrested in the first place to determine whether what they did actually warranted being clamped down upon or not?  And, like they have protested widely against security agencies for clamping down upon their members, which is expected of any serious professional body like the NUJ and rights group like AI, what measure has been taken or ever been taken by the NUJ or any relevant organisation or Amnesty International or any of the relevant Civil Society Organisation (CSO) in addressing the overzealousness or misdeeds by members of the journalism community and which many interest groups – religious, political, ethnic – have cried against for long?

Those who put these questions across are asking to know if, because the Constitution guarantees journalists the press freedom, the freedom places them above board like they can write anything without compliance with ethics and that where what they do causes the breaches of the law and order, whether they are so immune that no one can bring them under check.

On the attitude of security agents also, questions have also been put across to know, why should security agents dislike that their activities be reported so long what they believe they are doing, like the protesting journalists claim, is in line with their legal duty as specified by the Constitution?

If both journalists and security agents are carrying out their obligations as guaranteed by the Constitution, why then is the clash of interests so long they are both serving the singular purpose of national interest?  And if the security agents have arrested a journalist, who they believe has run foul of the law, what is that factor that is the impediment of their onward prosecution of such professional lawbreaker in court for his level of offence to be determined or otherwise be freed?

While answers to the line up of questions above are kept in the wait for leaderships of the journalism and security agencies to give, it must be spelt out here that since either a journalist or a security officer is first and foremost Nigerian before being what he is, the national interest and security and peace of the nation should be the priority of all.  And if this is generally the main intention guiding all actions of every Nigerian, be he or she politician, media/security professional, and so on, the case of agitation in the land will not arise.

But it is clear, as far as The DEFENDER is concerned, that either of the opposing professional bodies compromises the norm and so the clash of interest leading to journalists being clamped down upon and security agents’ actions being agitated against for doing what they both claim they do in line with what the Constitution has guaranteed them to do.

And the bottom line of it all is the insincerity on the part of politicians, this we have been able to find out.  While we continue to await answers to the above questions, like we said earlier, it must be made clear that politicians – who seek to administer the management of resources of the nation without good and sincere intention but for self and self only – have compromised most journalists.  It is the reason, our investigations further revealed, journalists present stories without substantiation to their editors and the editors, because of professional trust reposed in the reporters who are writers of such stories, go straight to passing the stories for publication or broadcasting and that is all.

In the end, when trouble ensues, only for the editors to find out that there is no truth in what the reporters have submitted, which is a danger to the operational flow line in journalism production.  For how long would an editor continue to distrust his reporter and therefore having to personally check the source of news (whether disclose-able source or not) if the reporter he works with is such that compromises journalism standard?

There is no disputing the fact of the media as a major stake in public trust.  If a journalist realises the danger in his not being trustworthy and the extent to which that rubs on his personal integrity, the trust the public have in the media organisation which he works for and his own future and the future of family environment where he comes from, he will stay well and keep to standard with fear of God and compliance with the norm in discharging his professional duties.  His failure to realise these and so behave himself led, on the long run, to the complicity that Nigeria witnessed in Benue, Plateau and Taraba where journalist chose the incidents he wanted to report against those he chose not to let Nigerians know thereby causing further collateral damages to lives and properties of innocent citizens.

As for the security agents, while commendations must be made to security forces particularly the Nigerian Army and Air Force and the Nigerian Police Force operating in North East, North Central states of Benue, Taraba and Plateau and the North West states of Kaduna, Zamfara and Sokoto over their successes against what has been uncovered as killings sponsored by “irresponsible politicians” working to discredit President Buhari in getting re-election in 2019, our investigations revealed that there are bad eggs among the forces who also need to be put under check.  Although The DEFENDER is aware of court marshal of erring soldiers by the Army and similar disciplinary actions against bad eggs within the Police, it must be brought to the front burner here that some police junior officers still compromise the standard in the discharge of their duties.

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