Nigeria faces one of her worst periods of insecurity, the Speaker of the House Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, has said.
Dogara spoke at a conference with the theme “Press Freedom in Nigeria – Rule of Law, Media and Violent Extremism,” to mark the 2019 World Press Freedom Day in Abuja.
According to him, “The theme of this year’s celebration is most apt as Nigeria now faces one of her worst periods of insecurity manifesting in violent extremism, rampant cases of kidnapping, cattle rustling, herder/ farmers violent conflicts and murderous campaign of bandits across Nigeria.”
This, he said, poses a major challenge to media practitioners. “The media must constantly balance the need to inform the citizens with their equally weighty responsibility to ensure that their reports do not contribute to exacerbate an already dangerously tense and fragile situation.
Journalists while doing their work face challenges, he said, but that nonetheless, free press is important to the survival of democracy.
He said: “It was the witty Thomas Jefferson, one of the architects of the American Constitution who felt so strongly about the principle of free expression that he declared something that sounds absurd to non-democrats.
“He said that ‘If it were left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
“The free press is so important to the survival of democracy that it is the only business the American constitution specifically protects under the first amendment.
He dedicated the event to journalists who paid the supreme price or those that are being incarcerated for bringing information to the public or upholding the right of the people to know the truth about the way they are being governed.
“In 2017, the International Press Centre (IPC) reported that two Nigerian journalists were killed and documented 14 assault cases involving journalists and media houses.
“The slain journalists were Famous Giobaro of Bayelsa State-owned radio station, Glory FM 97.1, who was shot dead on April 16 that year and Lawrence Okojie of Nigerian Television Authority, Benin, who was shot dead while returning from work on July 8.”
Dogara said documented assault cases involved the invasion of the premises of Premium Times, Abuja by armed police officers on January 19 resulting in the arrest of Dapo Olorunyomi the publisher and Evelyn Okakwu, the judiciary correspondent.
He further said “The Committee for the Protection of Journalists, CPJ declared the year 2018 as the deadliest for journalists in the last three years. 2018 was marked by the high profile brutal murders of Saudi columnist, Jamal Khashoggi and Slovak data Journalist Jan Kuciak who was shot alongside his fiancé’.
“At the end of 2018, 348 journalists were in prison with more than half of them detained in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. It was also reported that 60 journalists were being held hostage across the world. Permit me on this auspicious occasion to salute the heroism of journalists who died in active service and those who have survived this brutal form of censorship.”
Dogara said in all nations of the world, the citizens appreciate the role of the press to inform, educate and entertain, as well promote accountability of the government to the people.
“The law, in all democratic settings, recognizes the watchdog role of the press in governance, which has earned it the appellation as “the Fourth Estate of the Realm.”
He said “the press, radio and television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in the constitution and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.”
Dogara further said: “This means that it is the duty of the media to monitor the government as it carries out its assigned responsibilities under the constitution. The media is also saddled with further responsibility of relating its observations of government performance to the people.”
He said this places a constitutional responsibility on the press. “In other words, the press is duty bound to perform its assigned constitutional responsibilities of holding government to account.”
According to the Speaker, press freedom, “which is the focus of this celebration, is very fundamental to the sustenance of the principles of the Rule of Law, Open Government, Democracy, societal peace and order, as well as the delivery of good governance.
“In conclusion, permit me to say that press freedom is not negotiable and direct violence to journalists is not the only threat. Those who attack the media as “fake news” or “enemy of the people” in order to erode the credibility of the press are as dangerous as those perpetrating violence against journalists.
“As legislators, we will always stand up and speak out for pressmen and media outfits that uphold the ethics of fairness, objectivity, truthfulness and patriotism in their practice.
“It is hoped that the 9th Assembly dedicate itself to enacting enabling laws that will prioritize the protection and welfare of journalists to enable them do the work of democracy.