The 2020 IDEI media roundtable: Stakeholders focus on journalists’ safety, press freedom limitations in Nigeria

Professor Ayo Olukotun

By Emeka Ugbogu

THE participants at the Stakeholders forum in Lagos to mark year 2020 edition of the United Nation’s International Day to End Impunity, IDEI, for Crimes against Journalists have blamed the high levels and dimensions of violation of journalists’ rights, abuse and brutalization on the inability of journalists to be resolute in their fight and defense of the freedom of expression.

They identified other causative factors such as the defects in the 1999 Constitution; threats posed by the non-implementation of the Freedom of Information act and, internal and external censorships, which have grossly affected the safety, welfare and practice of Nigerian journalists.

In a keynote presentation by Professor Ayo Olukotun on the theme: “X-raying the encumbrances of journalists’ safety and press freedom in Nigeria: Action point for stakeholders”, he noted that the Nigerian media scene is very vibrant, but much encumbered by the already identified “unfavorable and oppressive, shrinking public and political space”.

The Survey Report of the IPC, he said, revealed to us that: “freedom can be withdrawn, removed or out rightly, trodden upon.” According to Professor Olukotun, Nigeria is very close to bottom in terms of the global indices on press freedom. He cited that the lower the position of any nation on the Press Freedom Index, the worse the nation is in the underdevelopment, poverty and instability.

He identified the low patronage of the media by relevant governmental and private sector players in Nigeria as another systemic threat to press freedom and suppression of the Nigerian press

Professor Olukotun also identified “Claw-back’ clauses in the 1999 Constitution as areas of contradictions, which grant press freedom on one hand, and take same away with another hand”. He said with the inexplicit nature of the Constitution, abuses of press freedom are on the increase in Nigeria and blamed it squarely on officialdom and over-reaching governmental and security agencies.

Professor Olukotun called for a review of the Constitution and expunging of the sections, which censor the press. He said a system should be in place that: “criminalises, demonises any censorship of the press or impedes a cognate agitation for a liberalized political space.”

He called for “total vigilance to maintain the freedom we fought for and enjoy” and reiterated the need to hold values of integrity, recognise the opportunity costs, which journalists are called upon to exercise; decline to support and suppression to freedom of expression and press freedom; ensure good exchange of information between rulers and followers.

Furthermore, Professor Olukotun rhetorically asked if: “is the current happenings in the political space commensurate to the price of the democracy we fought for? Is the price worth it based on the sacrifices by our freedom fighters?

On protests and civil agitations, he said that protests for a civil society devoid of unjust rule and violations and persecutions were in order based on the current levels of democratic retrogression; whilst the global metrics showed a decline.

For press freedom to thrive, he recommended that the Freedom of Information Act must be adhered to by government officials; that the fight against breach of press freedom must be continuous and the NUJ Lawyers must be in the forefront in this fight; sustenance of democracy must be with the people; that the press and the people must uphold the values of integrity by recalling the good “Utopian” society and that advocacy should include lobbying and penetrating the “innards” of the “House”

Concluding, Professor Olukotun identified effective “vertical and horizontal accountability” as essentials in the struggle for a free press and civil society. He called for: “conscienticising journalists of the dangers ahead; need to build bridges across the length and breadth of Nigeria and the avoidance of restrictions or localisation of messages on trans-Nigerian; ethnic, religious, regional, tribal and cultural basis.” These factors, he said, gave the #ENDSARSProtest an almost Southern Nigerian coloration.

The panel of discussants on the Survey Report enjoined journalists, whilst the various press and media stakeholders are pushing to have quality space of operations, to be brave in tackling assignments from volatile regions despite the infractions and impediments to their operations.

Specifically, in the context of engendering press freedom and safety of journalists in Nigeria, the panelists called for the review of the Electoral Laws; especially as it pertains to coverage and reportage by the press.

The panelists also blamed Journalists for being a part of their woes and pointed out that Journalists have a reasonable measure of blame for tacitly avoiding participation in issues that affect their safety and freedom.

According to the panel, self-censorship on the part of Journalists is a big threat and there is need for intervention in terms of training, re-training in the workplace.

A call was made on the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, and other relevant stakeholders to assist journalists in cases of violations of their rights. The NUJ was also enjoined to monitor and offer safety tips and ensure journalists welfare and safety is guaranteed in the course of their operations.

Other recommendations include ensuring fair practices in terms of remuneration and payment of salaries by media owners; provision of Insurance policies to journalists and provision and, continuous updates of journalists’ database.

Earlier in his welcome address, Lanre Arogundade, executive director, International Press Centre, IPC, expressed his pleasure and remarked that the event was being held to mark year 2020 edition of the United Nation’s International Day to End Impunity, IDEI, for Crimes Against Journalists.

It is also the outcome of IPC’s Nigerian Journalists Safety Initiative and one of the components of a three-year project on ‘Safety Awareness and Impactful Reporting of Communities’ being implemented by IPC with the support of the Open Society Foundation, OSF.

“The forum represents a collective reawakening of all, especially media practitioners and stakeholders to the dangers posed to press freedom in Nigeria, and limitations to the journalism profession within the context of safety,” Arogundade said.

According to Arogundade, the initiative primarily aims to improve the boundaries of safety of journalists and press freedom in Nigeria through continued sensitization of media professionals and other relevant stakeholders.

On the persistently increasing threats and abuses being faced by the press,

He reminded the participants of the relevant provisions in the 1999 Constitution which he emphasized and “mandates us to monitor safety of Journalists.”  Furthermore he said: “The state of the safety of journalists in Nigeria now requires special attention, while urgent reforms to address the situation are needed as the country is now one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often spied on, attacked, arbitrarily arrested, or even killed.”

Tracing the unwholesome impunity of various agencies of government, gross maltreatment and violation of rights of Nigerian Journalists, Arogundade made references to various collaborating reports; stating: “the IPCs monitoring activities have documented several cases of attacks on journalists; moreover, during the

#Endsars protests, police and demonstrators attacked at least 12 journalists covering protests against police brutality and calling for the abolition of the country’s Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad and at least five news outlets were attacked.”

According to him, within a 10-month period, prior to the #EndSARS protest, IPC through its Journalists’ Safety Alert Desk documented fifty-nine (59) instances of attacks on journalists.

The nature of the attacks included physical assault, harassment, brutalization, armed robbery, threat to life, unlawful arrest and detention, which resulted in body injuries like bruises, fracture and public humiliation. The persons/groups allegedly responsible for the attacks were LASTMA, Nigerian Police, and Department of State Security Services, armed robbers, Islamic movement of Nigeria, Soldiers, and Nigerian Customs Service.

He noted that “Amnesty International, Committee to protect Journalists, Media Rights Agenda and Social Economic Rights Accountability Project have similarly released reports that capture various acts of violations of citizens’ rights, including the media and journalists within the past year.”

He assured the participants that: “our array of eminent speakers and panelists, will speak further to the issue at hand, so also, our eminent guests. Our expectation is that at the end of it all, we will come up with resolutions and action points that should make clear our collective resolve to check the abuse of media and journalists’ rights by all means LEGITIMATELY, LEGALLY AND CONSTITUTIONALLY possible.”

Arogundade expressed immense gratitude to the Open Society Foundation, whose support, he said, made the event possible. He also expressed sincere thanks to the invited guests, speakers and facilitators.

He thanked Professor Ayo Olukotun of Onabisi Onabanjo University for accepting to deliver the main address on the occasion. He also thanked representatives of stakeholders from the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Nigerian Guild of Editors, GOCOP, NPAN, among others, for their presence.

The event, organized by The International Press Centre, IPC, Lagos-Nigeria, under the auspices of the Nigerian Journalists Safety Initiative, was attended by the leadership of media professional bodies and associations, such as Nigerian Guild of Editors, Nigerian Union of Journalists; the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers, GOCOP; representatives of civil society organisations, CSOs, senior journalists, academics, and media support groups.

– Dec. 11, 2020 @ 15:29| GMT |

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