THE FUTURE OF A NIGERIA THAT IS PEACEFUL, PROSPEROUS, STABLE, FREE OF CORRUPTION AND BAD GOVERNANCE LIES IN A FREE PRESS
The Press, Radio, Television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.
Section 22, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as altered) Professional journalism which upholds the responsibility and accountability of Government to the people of Nigeria is dead.
An unusual number of Nigerian politicians and bureaucrats who have a world record for corruption and plunder of State resources have become very comfortable in keeping Nigeria in a perpetual state of arrested development because they have neither been made responsible nor accountable to the Nigerian people
Therefore, blame the present crop of irresponsible and politically correct journalists for the present sociopolitical and economic malaise in Nigeria.
The new normal is that many Nigerian journalists are mere news messengers who report what is already known by everybody to have happened. Most times, they are news contractors who are contracted to write stories as instructed by their paymasters. They have been told not to have an opinion despite the constitutional guarantee of their freedom to hold and express opinions as contained in “Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution” .
The professional journalist has a constitutional mandate by the provisions of *Section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution* as cited above. Therefore, he is an authority in a democracy. He uses the journalistic privilege to write news stories that are opinionated. That makes him a big threat to corruption and bad governance. He should be feared by bad people in government but today, it is the journalist who is afraid of bad people who are in government because they wield state power for selfish ends.
Ever wondered why the Nigerian journalist is so badly treated, disrespected, often without defined conditions of service and is subjected to various forms of indignities?
The welfare of the average Nigerian journalist is abysmal. And here’s the reason. The political establishment in Nigeria whether military or civilian over the years, has always had a lethal hatred for the journalist because of the corrosive power of the truth against corruption, which he purveys.
Abacha, Obasanjo, Buhari and Babangida as military heads of state, heavily punished journalists who dared to be professional in history. A public interest information in the hands of a journalist, which is perceived to be a threat to the establishment, qualifies the journalist to die. Dele Giwa, Kunle Ajibade, Godwin Agbroko, good men and many more were killed for practicing dispassionate journalism.
The golden era of the Nigerian Observer, Daily Times, National Concord, the Guardian, and News Watch, to name a few, has gone. Nigerians have become used to reading safe news that is bereft of the authoritative opinion of the journalist. That opinion is formed from news sources which he is legally entitled not to disclose to anybody, including the government and especially security agents.
Tony Ezimakor of the Daily Independent Newspaper in his recent article – https://independent.ng/swiss-agent-govt-officials-stole-millions-dollars/, writes on the intrigues surrounding the payments of millions of dollars by the Nigerian government, as ransome for the release of some kidnapped Chibok girls. According to him, the payments have empowered Boko Haram to wreak more havoc on Nigerians.
Otunba Olomofe of Badagry Express once attempted to expose some Nigerian Custom officials involved in the importation of illegal arms into Nigeria. He almost lost his life. Thanks to Peter Nkanga of Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), Amnesty International, Nigeria, the O & M Show of the African Independent Television ( AIT ) some well meaning Nigerian journalists and lawyers like Jiti Ogunye with my humble self who supported him. He has so far been so demoralised by the persecution he received from Nigerian security agents and must have contemplated resigning from the noble profession of journalism.
But Ezimakor has just revived that brand of courageous journalism for which the rest of the world used to hold Nigerian journalists in very high esteem. It should be least surprising that he was detained in the custody of the State Security Service ( DSS ) past the constitutional limit of 24 hours. His house has been raided by armed state security men. He was held for more than 4 days in order to force him to disclose the sources of the damaging facts contained in his article. But He must never disclose his sources by virtue of his journalistic privilege. Every journalist has that privilege.
The DSS should have summoned the courage to approach a court of law in order to seek an Order of Court against Ezimakor, compelling him to disclose his news sources. That is the procedure as against the cheap use of state might to oppress a law abiding citizen who was merely discharging his constitutional duty. Until that is done, the DSS should immediately tender unreserved apology to Ezimakor and by extension the media organization he represents.
Ezimakor was persecuted by the Nigerian authorities and this presents a unique opportunity for the revival of responsible journalism in Nigeria – A FREE PRESS is most certainly the last hope of attaining the democratic Nigeria of our dreams.
Frank Tietie is the Executive Director, Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights ( CASER )