The scars left on our collective psyche by our long tenure under authoritarian rules – British colonialism and military rule – continue to haunt people in government even after 20 unbroken years since the return of democracy in 1999.
At every opportunity, elements in the Legislative and Executive arms of government continue to relapse back to the shop-worn authoritarian gambits meant to restrict the democratic space and curb the freedom of our people and the media to access public information.
In June 2018, it took a major uproar and feisty challenge to nix an attempt by the Senate to make a law to “regulate” the Nigerian internet space. This time around, the Management of the National Assembly, preparatory to the inauguration of the Ninth session on June 11, 2019, rolled out 20 new accreditation guidelines for media and journalists which sought to reduce media access to the two chambers of the National Assembly.
Among requirements for accreditation included code of certification from the National Library, proof of minimum daily circulation of 40,000 copies for newspapers which must be published daily, recertification form to be signed by the CEO and the Abuja Bureau Chief, minimum of two years coverage before permanent accreditation, submission of tax income returns for two years for each media house, among others.
Even though the office of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and some top officials of the NASS Management, have denied being behind these preposterous recertification requirements, it is obvious that whoever were behind it did not understand the media industry they sought to gag, or the laws guaranteeing freedom of the press in Nigeria.
They do not even understand that the National Assembly is a forum where the Nigerian people are represented, and the media being an estate standing as the eyes and ears of the people in the parliament, have an inalienable right to freedom of access to its activities within the laws of the country.
It was not surprising that the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE and other socially-active groups came out en masse to force its retraction.
Next time the NASS Management seeks to review its accreditation guidelines with a view to weeding out fake journalists and keeping accredited media houses manageable, it should consult and work with the relevant media unions and stakeholders.
The Nigerian media have a long history of zero tolerance to the muzzling of its constitutionally-guaranteed mandate to serve the people and hold government to account. This history dates back to the colonial days and endured through 29 years of abrasive military rule.
Press freedom has come to stay in Nigeria. The Media will continue to be a major promoter of our democratic rights and defender of our freedoms.