Journalism, the Fourth Estate of the Realm and the society’s watchdog, is a profession that has paid its dues in nation building and that continues to play the inevitable surveillance function so that the country for which generations of men and women have laboured to build would not go on its knees.
There is no telling the sacrifices the practitioners of this noble profession have made in the evolution of the this country, right from the time of struggle for self government, through the dark ages of the military rule to the dawn of democracy.
However, one would expect that this group of persons who have given talents, bodies and blood to see their country attain democracy would now be better placed to enthrone civility and good governance for the benefit of all. But the sad reality is that the opposite is the case.
Instead of being positioned to enhance development and good governance, the profession is going through another round of repression in the hands of crude political leaders.
There have been repeated reports of cases of abuse, harassment, assault, arrest and jailing of journalists in the different parts of the country. The ugly tide has risen to a level where concerned citizens must markedly intervene.
The business of journalism, one must say now requires utmost caution. Journalists now have to be on guard, members of the pen profession have to put their houses in order on a daily basis as they do not know who is next to be picked up, locked up or even incarcerated by politicians who hate to see themselves in the mirror. I must in any case state that this present situation of the Media in Nigeria is a breach of the laws upholding our Constitutional Democracy.
Nigeria like every other nation of the world has laws regulating its affairs and these laws ought to be respected and complied with by Agencies of Government in carrying out their activities. Unfortunately, just like in banana republic, it appears that the Nigerian government has no regard for the rights of Citizens as enshrined in the Constitution.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) being the grundnorm has stated in its Section 39 that;
(1) “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impact ideas and information without interference.”
In the recent past, there was the case of Samuel Ogundipe, a Premium Times reporter, who was apprehended by the Police. The news of the arrest and account freezing of Mr. Samuel Ogundipe is an appalling narrative in a democratic dispensation. Samuel Ogundipe in the exercise of his duty as a journalist reported news appertaining to the invasion of the National Assembly by the officers and men of the State Security Services and insisted on maintaining the confidentiality of his source in accordance with Article 4 of the Code of Ethics for Nigerian Journalist which is made pursuant to Section 9 of the Nigerian Press Council Act (CAP N128 LFN 2004). Having accused him of many unfounded allegations, the officers of the Nigerian police proceeded to arrest him.
The usual trend, until recently, was to arrest a journalist and freed him or her after few days of arrest then the arraignment of certain unlawful charges. The new turn of regular harassments as exampled by Samuel Ogundipe is unlawful, uncivilised and totally unacceptable. This is condemnable in the strongest of terms as an unreasonable and barbaric act on part of the Nigerian Police.
Trying to muzzle Mr. Samuel Ogundipe whose only offence was being a journalist is a drama taken too far. And the sadder part is the silence of persons who are supposed to rein in on these anomalies. It is now so precarious that we don’t know who will be picked next.
The demolition of the Radio house (Fresh FM) of the renowned musician, Yinka Ayefele is another obvious attack on the media. The Oyo State Government had claimed that the building contravened shoutate laws, even if it did, due process was not followed. What could have been done was either to fine him or withdraw his License.
The demolition of the building is an unfair act stifled at frustrating the Media. The fact that the matter was already in court is enough to make the government apply breaks, respect the status quo and not to tamper with the building irrespective of whether there was a Court injunction or not. Yet the building was demolished in a manner that tells of the reign of anarchists.
The discerning is very persuaded that the spate of attacks on the media is a politically calculated ploy to either manipulate, tilt or cow the Media in favour of the ruling class in the imminent 2019 elections. Other similar occurrences lend clear credence. The Channels TV was fined 5 million in the month of July 2018 for refusing to be the propaganda machine of the government against National Assembly.
A host of other Media platforms are going through either suspension, fine or lock down in a democratic regime.
As things stand, it appears we are having a repeat of the effect of Decree No 4 of 1984 where Nigerians could not voice out their opinions and beliefs.
With the way things are within the polity, journalists can no longer do their jobs without fear of arrest and incarceration, where it ought to be given a free hand and accorded their right according to Section 39 of the Constitution as stated above.
I am particularly worried that this is a deliberate fettering of the Media who is the eyes of the citizenry. It is now happening at a rate that can no longer be tolerated. We cannot afford to fold arms and watch our hard earned democracy being fragrantly desecrated by autocratic men of governments by attacking the Media unjustifiably. It is condemnable and strange in a democratic regime. All well meaning citizens must rise up against this.
. Dr. Ajulo is of the Castle of Law, Abuja.