An X-ray Of Press Freedom In OBJ's Nigeria


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An X-ray Of Press Freedom In Obasanjo’s Nigeria




Suleyman bin Muhammad Odapu



April 29, 2005


“The truth can always be accessible to any one’ –Dan fodio


By the time this piece is read, there is the likely hood that my village, keana will be searched and my department in Bayero University will host the security. But THE TRUTH MUST BE TOLD, if not to save democracy, to contribute to scholarship. So I will burn the cross.


All that is thought as ‘like’ as not about press freedom in democracy, is truly not. For: the freedom we thought prior to 1999 is in the decline. Worst of all, the infringement of press freedom is not only carried out by government security agents, but the public and journalists themselves.


Press freedom, the world over, has become the meter for measuring democracy and the tonic for self and national development. But what is this press freedom?


It is not freedom to journalists alone, nor is it censorship or restraints only by government. It is free flow of information and access to it without restraints. To take from Sean McBride and etal in the book Many voices, one world, Press freedom is the collective enlargement of each citizen’s freedom of expression. Democracy is based on the sovereignty of the people and the public right to know is the essence of media freedom and its deprivation diminishes other freedom. Thus, press freedom is a sine quanon in a true democracy.


If today, there is gross abuse of press freedom, the foundation was laid by the last military regime. Knowing the power of the press, who has forced the military out, the military ensured that it put a solid ground for the abuse of press freedom before it left the scene.


Three days before General Abdulsalam Abubakar handed over, he signed into law, Decree 60, creating again the press council, an anti press freedom body which has as penalties for defaulters of its codes, payment of N250,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 3 years and N100,000 for publishers who failed to report their progress.


Not long after this administration took over, the many hopes and dreams of Nigerians started to take a new dimension. Igha Oghole, a journalist with Radio Benue was arrested and detained by the police because he insisted on interviewing the state commissioner of police.


Fifty  (50) armed policemen stormed the International press Center (IPC) in Lagos and arrested four journalists, held them for hours and without any charge released them. The police claimed they were acting on information that the militant group of Odua People’s Congress (OPC) was planning to address a press conference at the center. We may make sense from the claim, but when one remembered that the leader of the OPC, is “untouchable” the police claim becomes more of bunkum than dinkum.


The Nigeria Police force seized the 4th March edition of Today Newspaper and Ayagu and sealed off their offices on grounds that it carried headlines that could threaten peace in Kaduna. A month later an armed detachment of the state security services (SSS) sealed off Leaders and company. Publishers of Thisday and warned the paper’s Editor-in-chief, Nduka Obaigbena from investigating the national security advicer,Obaigbenaought to have known: investigative journalism is only taught but not practiced in Nigeria.


In Ebonyi state, Police detained Emmanuel Okike Ogah and Ogbnonaya Okorie of Ebonyi Times newspaper, for publishing what it called “seditious articles in an unregistered newspaper”. The paper had been publishing, the police did not realized it was an “unregistered paper” until it publish that the state governor bribed state legislators to approve his nominations for commissioners.


The News magazine’s Ademola Adegbamigbe and his hired professional photographer were arrested by the police, while covering civil violence in Abia state.


It is a different ball game in Nassarawa state, as students replaced police in maltreating journalist as reported by media rights. A group of members of the Nasarawa State Students Association (NASSA) on July 28th 2003 stormed the premises of radio Nigeria, Precious FM Lafia and gave two journalists the beating of their lives. Their offense was reporting the election results of national executive council of the body, which the group lost. You may think since it is not the security, the culprits will be brought to book, I am afraid, nothing happened, because they had the support of the little power that be.


When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers, and that is why when members of the Nigeria police, fought with their counterparts in the Air force at Abuja, it was NTA’s Muhammad Labbo and his camera man who went to cover the fight that suffered, as they fighters turned them to be the “common enemy”.


For reporting what was said, journalists covering the shining minister, Malam Nasir el Rufai and who reported the minister’s out burst that he is only accountable to the president and called the senators their real name “fools” were suspended from reporting in the minister’s office. What a democracy?


Several journalists were assaulted or physically threatened during the year (2003) including a photojournalist by the police aids to the vice president. In June, state security officials claiming to act on the orders of the president bought all the copies of an issue of TELL magazine that alleged corruption related to All Africa Games contracts. I didn’t say this, Ronal Koven in the book, FREEDOM OF THE PRESS 2004 “A global survey of media independence” did.


The broadcast media especially private have a story to tell , the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) disallowed live broadcast of news from BBC, VOA and DW, what you may call denial of access.


Recently at the national secretariat of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), journalists who went to cover the party’s caucus meeting, following the face off between the president and the then party’s national chairman, even when the journalists were not a threat to the peace of the meeting, security men did what frighten female journalists most (physical threat) for the journalists, instead of ending up in the news room with  jottings to compile news, they ended up in the hospital. That is the prize of practicing journalism in a civilian regime we call ‘democracy’.


When the Nigeria labour congress (NLC) called for a nation wide strike in July 2004, Nigerians were in a dilemma as NTA, the largest T.V network in Africa and one station bidding for the award of the most censored media in Africa, haven made the award in Nigeria its’ exclusive right, told Nigerians the strike has been suspended, fortunately CHANNEL T.V in a live programme with the NLC president, told Nigerians the strike will be on. Unconfirmed reports say the president spokes person became the temporary news editor of NTA during the crisis.


Despite government’s record on press freedom, the situation is relatively not too bad. At least there is access to the media; the Internet, international cable or satellite is not restricted. The federal government established additional radio stations across the country. This has weakened state government’s media stations that do nothing but sing the praise of their pay masters.


In fact, the federal government is liberal because during the campaign for the 2003 general elections, we saw campaign flashes of the major challenger, the people’ general, Buhari while in states you not even hear the name(s) of major challengers to the incumbent. Some times their names are omitted in ordinary Zabi Sonka (a request program).


With the likes of Sam Ndah still exposing, Bilyaminu Bala making us to think and laugh with tears, Muhammad Haruna still getting his facts and Lewis Obi dong what he knows best, press freedom is not dead.


The coming of more private stations is a boost to press freedom, and freedom F.M. Kano leads the way. Truly ‘freedom’ because you hear pro and anti government in the station.


Now to the other side of the coin, and it would not be wrong to start with Doug McGill’s poser “it really is time to ask in the journalism profession, are we doing things the right way?


Our president’s spokesperson is a journalist and the honourable member who moved the bill “Journalism enhancement Bill” (A bill with all the characteristics to gag the press) is also a journalist. What can you make of this? Simply the Hausa saying “Da dan-gari akan ci gari” (You can not win a war without the support of an insider).


Journalists kill stories and make some trivial stories look important. Remember how Bob Chicago’s case was swept under the carpet while Toronto’s case became the top burner of discuss in the media.


Most papers that do not pay journalist regularly are owned and managed by established journalists. This is given way for “brown envelope” or what journalist cal “kwa” or ‘last paragraph’.


Journalists and politicians can destroy or develop this edifice, ‘democracy’. A true democracy can be achieved through press freedom, independence of the judiciary and transparency. It’s the hard way but the only way.


Odapu is the former National

President, Nasarawa State Students Association

(NASSA) and an undergraduate of Mass Comm.

Bayero University, Kano.



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