By Innocent Anaba, Onozure Dania
Reactions have continued to trail Amnesty International Monday’s report, Endangered Voices, released at a briefing on state of freedom of expression and media freedom in Abuja, detailing harassments, intimidation, sometimes physically assault and arbitrary arrests by Nigerian authorities of Journalists, bloggers and activists, simply for doing their job or expressing dissenting opinions, which it noted was on the increase.
In this edition of Law and Human Rights, we bring to you the view of lawyers, as they expressed concern over the development.
Prof Ernest Ojukwu, SAN.
The report of harassment, arrest and detention of journalists in Nigeria by government agents is a disturbing trend that challenges our hope for democracy and freedoms. It a cause for concern. In all history, the introduction of dictatorships commenced with the harassment of journalists and citizens who spoke out against governance wrongs.
“Once there is a successful clamp down on freedom of speech and freedom of information all other human and people’s rights become a mirage. I hope that all well meaning person’s will continue to speak out on this issue and keep calling out our leaders and agents who think that they themselves would be safe in a country without freedoms.”
Solomon Akuma SAN, said “It is unfortunate. It is a sign to gag the press and freedom of expression and a clear indication of intolerance to opposing views.”
Prof Sam Erugo, Dean, Faculty of Law, Abia State University
There’s general clampdown on those critical of this government, it’s not limited to journalists. The spate of harassment, arrests and detention of innocent citizens is worrisome. The journalists are usually victims in situations such as the present in Nigeria. There’s is apparent impunity and abuse of executive powers by agents of the executive arm; and this can only be addressed by the executive. The rule of law should dictate the course of action of every agent of government. Baton will always change, and today’s agent-supremo could become the hunted tomorrow.
Mrs Ethel Nwabuzor
It’s not just illegal but also unconstitutional, A flagrant violation of their fundamental human rights as enshrined under the 1999 Constitution. It is also an assault on the Freedom of Information Act.
One evil that can be catastrophic if allowed to fester is the gag of the realm of journalism. They can make or mar the government. Woe betides that government that makes or attempts to gag the watchdog of the society.
On the basis of seeing journalism and journalists as the prism of our ‘sights.’ It is unfortunate that there seems to be an unwitting clampdown on journalists in this era and this should not be so. Some would argue that with the state of infringements on fundamental rights of people, particularly, journalists, that the government of the day is becoming despotic.
“Some others would argue that if the government of the day does not put its feet down, certain individuals or certain professionals like journalists would not know that there is a limit to freedom of speech. By and large, one would begin to wonder if there should not be a meeting and melting point between the government and the journalists to warrant a balance and avoid unnecessary arrests, batteries, assault of all sorts and even confinements in very extreme cases as has been brought to the fore by Amnesty International.
“I begin to wonder the type of advisers and the advises that the government is getting that is making them react to all sorts of ‘barrages’ and seeming ‘attacks’ at a time and policies of government. By and large, I do believe that the government really needs to tread carefully. The damnation that would follow such acts as we are seeing now would be unprecedented. I sincerely do think that the government of the days needs betters advisers in this regard.
Report of Amnesty International cannot just be wished away. It’s high time we looked critically at the claims and address the issues that brought these journalists into objects of oppression and address the situation immediately.
Freedom of Expression is constitutionally recognised in any sane climes. Sec 39 of the 1999 constitution as amended guaranteed the freedom of expression of every person be it Nigerian citizen or non citizen however, subject to tort of libel and defamation. In furtherance of the above the government of Nigeria enacted Freedom of Information Act so as to enable Nigerian citizens access to vital information. Tragically, the same government of Nigerian enacted another legislation known as Cyber Crimes Act 2015. This act has taken away the freedom of expression of the same every person through the backdoor.
“The journalists both print and media are against the letter of the constitution often issue a disclaimer saying the information is the view of xyz and not that of the media organisation. This is completely unwarranted in a democracy. The assault on the media is avoidable if the practitioners rather than bemoaning their current travails can muster courage with the support of the civil societies engage the government of the day on the need to protect the practitioners otherwise the entire nation is in trouble. “Additionally, there is the urgent need to challenge any legislation that surreptitiously takes away the freedom of expression of every person in Nigeria such as the Cyber Crimes Act. I want to appeal to APC led government to be tolerant of opposition, critics etc.
This is important because we all witnessed how the current Minister of Information when he was the spokesperson of APC fed us with both substantiated and unsubstantiated news prior to 2015 yet the heaven did not fall.
“Now that they are government, the APC led government should thread softly as regards its un-accommodating posture to criticisms. Every journalist who is being persecuted or tried in any court on account of the views expressed should as a matter of urgency be released unconditionally.”