Predators of press freedom

By By Banji Adisa   |   04 May 2010   |   10:00 pm  
THE first few months of this year alone has witnessed all manner of protests by pressure groups over matters germane to the interests and survival of both the concerned groups and the nation in particular. The list includes but not limited to visibly distraught women from Plateau, at the National Assembly, with a strong petition to force the government to act decisively on the senseless waste of lives in Plateau State; the Save Nigeria Group in Lagos and Abuja protesting on the corporate existence of a country whose ailing president, through his minders and associates, held 150 million people to ransom for so long. How can we forget in a hurry protests against kidnapping (an emerging multi-billion naira industry); the pro and anti-(Maurice) Iwu groups over his questionable ambition to remain in office as INEC boss, and lately, journalists who staged a rally over unwarranted killing of colleagues. Without prejudice to the protesters’ right to peaceful assembly, our great country that has so drifted dangerously close to disaster on many occasions will be the greater beneficiary.
Two days ago, on May 3rd, the world marked the World Press Freedom Day. That was not the first, it has always passed unnoticed or uncelebrated even by the affected constituency, but this year’s was different. The occasion came as an auspicious time for Nigerian journalists to defend a cause (the unrestrained attacks, some fatal, on their colleagues). We have always done that creditably for the society, leaving our own rearguards open. The Nation’s reporter, Edo Ugbagwu and Light Bearer’s Nathan Dubak and Gyeng Bwede are the very recent killings in the line of duty. Members of the journalists’ union took to the streets in Lagos in an unprecedented manner to say ‘enough is enough’. Will the development deter the reporters who still hold the fort for Ugbagwu and company from the pursuit of truth, liberty and justice? I hope not.
Incidentally, a report by the Paris-based media watchdog RSF(Reporters Sans Frontieres) listed the Nigeria Police as the leading source of abuses against the press just as it identified politicians, militias, religious leaders among others as the 40 worst predators of the press. (That is not however to say that the police have been behind the killing of journalists here, merely an accusation of abuse of privilege). RSF rightly observed that the predators are “powerful, dangerous, violent and above the law…these predators of press freedom have the power to censor, imprison, kidnap, torture, and in the worst cases, murder journalists.” How true. Seventeen presidents and several heads of government are said to be on the list which is updated every year.
Most times, the police operatives forget that they are partners in progress with journalists in the building of a great nation. In their overzealous approach and in a bid to satisfy their masters, they go beyond bounds to maltreat journalists. What is required, perhaps, is a complete reorientation by the police high command. The police institution in a democracy should be able to exhibit more civility in their relationships not only with journalists, but also with the general public.
But the government has to invest more in the police too to help them deliver, as Lagos Governor Raji Babatunde Fashola observed when he addressed the placard-carrying journalists on Monday. He said: I have taken the view that no amount of money is too much to secure lives. If we don’t equip them to do their work, I am sure we have no moral ground to challenge them. Then and only then, I think, the police authorities would stop bland, ready-made comments that its officers would try their best to unravel a murder. From experience, its best has not been good enough for the society. What with the long list of unresolved murder cases (journalists alone) starting with Newswatch magazine editor-in-chief, Dele Giwa, in 1986 through a letter parcel bomb, down to Bagauda Kaltho (The News); Tunde Oladepo of The Guardian in 1992; Godwin Agbroko and Abayomi Ogundeji(This Day), Omololu Falobi (The Punch); and our dear Bayo Ohu, again of The Guardian, on September 20, last year?
Must a sane country wait for more sadistic actions before a drastic solution is found to protect journalists and citizens of this country generally? Nigeria should not continue to be classified with the Taliban enclaves, Chechnya, Yemen and the rest in the infamous list of RSF. The NUJ has done the right thing to draw attention to a potentially consuming fire in their profession. The government through the security agencies should listen and act decisively. This country has more than enough problems to cope with and it is not deserving of any devilish souls to hunt journalists. The ambition of the powerful in our midst to muffle the drums should be curtailed.
But how times change, talking of protests. A few decades ago, Nigerian students – articulate students they pride themselves – in tertiary institutions across the country were always in the vanguard of rallies or marches to protest domestic or socio-political problems and inadequacies of government. The networking among the campuses was fearsome and the government was always conscious of the capacity to mobilise within hours. The students’ national body, a respected pressure group, was a strong voice of the voiceless. But things have since fallen apart with the seeming infiltration of their ranks because many of their leaders are allegedly constantly compromising. The NANS, their association, an offshoot of NUNS, has remained a shadow of itself, in the interest of the government anyway.
Now, it is every group unto itself in the society. That of course has led to the emergence of scores of faceless political pressure groups which fight their cause, mainly political, on the pages of newspapers. However, that is not to say the country has been lacking credible interest groups or associations. There are, and they are as vibrant and articulate as they come. That in itself is the beauty of democracy.
Matters arising
Today, all eyes as they say, are again on that small but troublesome state of Ekiti. It has to do with the unfinished business of struggling for the soul of the state between Governor Segun Oni and his challenger, Dr. Kayode Fayemi. The governor is fighting to retain his hard-won seat on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) against the claimant from the Action Congress. It would be second appearance of the two before two different tribunals. Ekiti has proved in the past to be a theatre of bloody confrontation and violence, not for any other reason but for the enthronement of justice and fairness. Policemen in battle gears are already prowling the city of Ado Ekiti in another of their psychological warfare in political matters like this. We only hope the people will give peace a chance, whichever way the pendulum swings at the tribunal because either party not satisfied with today’s judgment most likely still has the option to proceed to the Appeal Court. Ekiti Kete deserves peace and tranquility to make progress.
So, there is a limit to jokes? Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is humour personified, any day. He so enlivened the presidency during his eight years tenure cracking jokes with reporters as he deemed fit, even when some serious questions demanded serious response. True to type, he continued out of office because it is natural. But he went a bit too far during his interaction with a reporter of the Voice of America recently when he was quoted as saying in an interview that even Jesus Christ cannot conduct a credible election in Nigeria.
To say that such an unguarded statement was coming from a professed Christian and former leader who, according to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) had benefited from the system, is blasphemous. Obasanjo is lucky he doesn’t belong to the other faith where a Fatwa would have been declared on him. Only last week, a lecturer at the Bayero University lost his job and was banished from the campus (he is on the run now) for publishing a book of contumacious verses like the famous Salman Rushdie who had a price put on his head by extremists. He later fled from his potential killers to safety in one of the western countries.
The CAN says Obasanjo needs counseling and deliverance. Is there any contrary view? The lesson is not only for the Owu chief but also the so-called comedians who eye the big bucks entertaining fellow weary citizens at public functions.
A powerful minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir el Rufai is reportedly back in the country. I salute his courage in the face of mounting allegations of abuse of office by the EFCC. He was scheduled to appear before the commission yesterday. It’s a rare opportunity for the accused to defend himself while the accusers have to prove their case, if any. I wish others on the run would be like el Rufai. He is a man after my heart for this courageous move.

THE first few months of this year alone has witnessed all manner of protests by pressure groups over matters germane to the interests and survival of both the concerned groups and the nation in particular. The list includes but not limited to visibly distraught women from Plateau, at the National Assembly, with a strong petition to force the government to act decisively on the senseless waste of lives in Plateau State; the Save Nigeria Group in Lagos and Abuja protesting on the corporate existence of a country whose ailing president, through his minders and associates, held 150 million people to ransom for so long. How can we forget in a hurry protests against kidnapping (an emerging multi-billion naira industry); the pro and anti-(Maurice) Iwu groups over his questionable ambition to remain in office as INEC boss, and lately, journalists who staged a rally over unwarranted killing of colleagues. Without prejudice to the protesters’ right to peaceful assembly, our great country that has so drifted dangerously close to disaster on many occasions will be the greater beneficiary.
Two days ago, on May 3rd, the world marked the World Press Freedom Day. That was not the first, it has always passed unnoticed or uncelebrated even by the affected constituency, but this year’s was different. The occasion came as an auspicious time for Nigerian journalists to defend a cause (the unrestrained attacks, some fatal, on their colleagues). We have always done that creditably for the society, leaving our own rearguards open. The Nation’s reporter, Edo Ugbagwu and Light Bearer’s Nathan Dubak and Gyeng Bwede are the very recent killings in the line of duty. Members of the journalists’ union took to the streets in Lagos in an unprecedented manner to say ‘enough is enough’. Will the development deter the reporters who still hold the fort for Ugbagwu and company from the pursuit of truth, liberty and justice? I hope not.
Incidentally, a report by the Paris-based media watchdog RSF(Reporters Sans Frontieres) listed the Nigeria Police as the leading source of abuses against the press just as it identified politicians, militias, religious leaders among others as the 40 worst predators of the press. (That is not however to say that the police have been behind the killing of journalists here, merely an accusation of abuse of privilege). RSF rightly observed that the predators are “powerful, dangerous, violent and above the law…these predators of press freedom have the power to censor, imprison, kidnap, torture, and in the worst cases, murder journalists.” How true. Seventeen presidents and several heads of government are said to be on the list which is updated every year.
Most times, the police operatives forget that they are partners in progress with journalists in the building of a great nation. In their overzealous approach and in a bid to satisfy their masters, they go beyond bounds to maltreat journalists. What is required, perhaps, is a complete reorientation by the police high command. The police institution in a democracy should be able to exhibit more civility in their relationships not only with journalists, but also with the general public.
But the government has to invest more in the police too to help them deliver, as Lagos Governor Raji Babatunde Fashola observed when he addressed the placard-carrying journalists on Monday. He said: I have taken the view that no amount of money is too much to secure lives. If we don’t equip them to do their work, I am sure we have no moral ground to challenge them. Then and only then, I think, the police authorities would stop bland, ready-made comments that its officers would try their best to unravel a murder. From experience, its best has not been good enough for the society. What with the long list of unresolved murder cases (journalists alone) starting with Newswatch magazine editor-in-chief, Dele Giwa, in 1986 through a letter parcel bomb, down to Bagauda Kaltho (The News); Tunde Oladepo of The Guardian in 1992; Godwin Agbroko and Abayomi Ogundeji(This Day), Omololu Falobi (The Punch); and our dear Bayo Ohu, again of The Guardian, on September 20, last year?
Must a sane country wait for more sadistic actions before a drastic solution is found to protect journalists and citizens of this country generally? Nigeria should not continue to be classified with the Taliban enclaves, Chechnya, Yemen and the rest in the infamous list of RSF. The NUJ has done the right thing to draw attention to a potentially consuming fire in their profession. The government through the security agencies should listen and act decisively. This country has more than enough problems to cope with and it is not deserving of any devilish souls to hunt journalists. The ambition of the powerful in our midst to muffle the drums should be curtailed.
But how times change, talking of protests. A few decades ago, Nigerian students – articulate students they pride themselves – in tertiary institutions across the country were always in the vanguard of rallies or marches to protest domestic or socio-political problems and inadequacies of government. The networking among the campuses was fearsome and the government was always conscious of the capacity to mobilise within hours. The students’ national body, a respected pressure group, was a strong voice of the voiceless. But things have since fallen apart with the seeming infiltration of their ranks because many of their leaders are allegedly constantly compromising. The NANS, their association, an offshoot of NUNS, has remained a shadow of itself, in the interest of the government anyway.
Now, it is every group unto itself in the society. That of course has led to the emergence of scores of faceless political pressure groups which fight their cause, mainly political, on the pages of newspapers. However, that is not to say the country has been lacking credible interest groups or associations. There are, and they are as vibrant and articulate as they come. That in itself is the beauty of democracy.
Matters arising
Today, all eyes as they say, are again on that small but troublesome state of Ekiti. It has to do with the unfinished business of struggling for the soul of the state between Governor Segun Oni and his challenger, Dr. Kayode Fayemi. The governor is fighting to retain his hard-won seat on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) against the claimant from the Action Congress. It would be second appearance of the two before two different tribunals. Ekiti has proved in the past to be a theatre of bloody confrontation and violence, not for any other reason but for the enthronement of justice and fairness. Policemen in battle gears are already prowling the city of Ado Ekiti in another of their psychological warfare in political matters like this. We only hope the people will give peace a chance, whichever way the pendulum swings at the tribunal because either party not satisfied with today’s judgment most likely still has the option to proceed to the Appeal Court. Ekiti Kete deserves peace and tranquility to make progress.
So, there is a limit to jokes? Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is humour personified, any day. He so enlivened the presidency during his eight years tenure cracking jokes with reporters as he deemed fit, even when some serious questions demanded serious response. True to type, he continued out of office because it is natural. But he went a bit too far during his interaction with a reporter of the Voice of America recently when he was quoted as saying in an interview that even Jesus Christ cannot conduct a credible election in Nigeria.
To say that such an unguarded statement was coming from a professed Christian and former leader who, according to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) had benefited from the system, is blasphemous. Obasanjo is lucky he doesn’t belong to the other faith where a Fatwa would have been declared on him. Only last week, a lecturer at the Bayero University lost his job and was banished from the campus (he is on the run now) for publishing a book of contumacious verses like the famous Salman Rushdie who had a price put on his head by extremists. He later fled from his potential killers to safety in one of the western countries.
The CAN says Obasanjo needs counseling and deliverance. Is there any contrary view? The lesson is not only for the Owu chief but also the so-called comedians who eye the big bucks entertaining fellow weary citizens at public functions.
A powerful minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir el Rufai is reportedly back in the country. I salute his courage in the face of mounting allegations of abuse of office by the EFCC. He was scheduled to appear before the commission yesterday. It’s a rare opportunity for the accused to defend himself while the accusers have to prove their case, if any. I wish others on the run would be like el Rufai. He is a man after my heart for this courageous move.


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