Human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Ebun-olu Adegboruwa, on Tuesday said that absolute press freedom was highly desirable for Nigeria to achieve the desired growth.
Adegboruwa said this while delivering a paper at the 2019 annual lecture of the National Association of Judicial Correspondents (NAJUC), Lagos branch.
The paper was titled ” Press Freedom in the New Social Media Age: Implications and the Law”.
He said that the concept of press freedom was well entrenched in the laws of Nigeria.
The silk said that the Nigerian Constitution imposed a duty on the media to hold the government accountable to the people.
He said that it also made provision for the freedom and right of the press to carry out the onerous task in aid of nation-building.
According to Adegboruwa, the press plays a pivotal role in every society, as it represents the conscience and values of a people.
More importantly, he said, it is a veritable link of information exchange between the people and their government.
“It is pertinent to note that the issue of press freedom in Nigeria is of great importance, as one would observe from Section 39 of the Constitution, that it falls within the realm of fundamental rights codified in Chapter IV of the Constitution.
“The import of this is that press freedom is an inalienable right which no government can derogate from or deny her citizens.
“The advent of the new social media has aided Nigerians like all other citizens of the world, in giving full expression to the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression and right to hold and disseminate opinion on any matter.
“The advent of twitter, facebook, Instagram and others in that category have empowered Nigerians especially young people to either expose various forms of malfeasance prevalent in society or to mobilize for causes which they believe can better their lives.
“It is conceded that there are the challenges of fake news, hate speeches, defamation and other vices associated with the use of social media.
“However, is that enough justification to further regulate the already regulated use of social media which sometimes violates constitutional provisions?
“There exists an abundance of laws already put in place which are sufficient to curb any fear that government officials and other well-meaning Nigerians may have”, he said.
In his speech at the event, Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), assured of the government’s resolve to ensure press freedom thrives.
The commissioner, who was represented by Dr. Jide Martins, said that the state must act in a robust manner to ensure that press freedom was not abused but used to advance constructive criticism.
“It is pivotal that all citizens exercise and enjoy their right to freedom of expression, press freedom, and association within the parameters of the law and other citizens’ rights are not breached.
“Some of the advantages of social media are also some of its banes.
“The fact that people can assume a false identity and disseminate information that can potentially cause offence, harm, and breach of national security is of great concern”, he said.
The Chairman of Nigeria Bar Association Lagos Island Branch, Mr. Yemi Akangbe, said that one of the implications of the topic, “is that everyone is now a journalist even without formal training”.
He said that social media had opened the floodgate to fake news, which, however, should be checked.
“There should be a cyber monitoring team, to monitor what goes out.
“The government should not be the only agency regulating information that goes out, the press can also do it themselves,” Akangbe said.
Earlier, the NAJUC’s Chairman, Mr. Peter Fowoyo, in his opening remarks, said the press must be free of all encumbrances in order to discharge its duty effectively to members of the public.
He called on the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) to recognise the impact of beat associations and see them as partners in progress.
At the occasion, awards were presented to some individuals in recognition of their achievements.
Among the recipients of the awards were Chief Emeka Okpoko (SAN), who received the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Team of the Year 2019; Mr Ebun-olu Adegboruwa (SAN), who received the best human right lawyer 2019; Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, who received the best financial crime prosecutor of 2019 and Mr Kayode Oyekanmi, who received the best public sector officer of 2019.