Press Freedom in Nigeria – Rule of Law, Media and Violent Extremism
REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, RT. HON. YAKUBU DOGARA, SPEAKER, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, AT THE OPENING CEREMONY OF THE CONFERENCE MARKING THE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY ORGANISED BY THE PREMIUM TIMES CENTRE FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM AND THE EUROPEAN UNION’S RULE OF LAW AND ANTI-CORRUPTION (ROLAC) PROGRAMME ON SATURDAY MAY 4TH2019 IN ABUJA.
I am greatly delighted to address you on the occasion of this Conference with the theme “Press Freedom in Nigeria – Rule of Law, Media and Violent Extremism,” to mark the 2019 World Press Freedom Day.
2. It is a day set aside to honour the important role of the media in sustaining peace and stabilizing democracies across the globe. I congratulate all Media practitioners, the world over on this year’s celebration.
3. 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.
4.It won’t be out of place to dedicate today’s event to all those 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 fourteen 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. 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.
5.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 fiance’. 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.
6. The World Press Freedom Day has, since its declaration by the United Nations in 1993, been attracting more and more global attention, and particularly among practitioners of the media profession. 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.
7. 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 is 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 exercabating an already dangerously tense and fragile situation.
8. 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”.
9. The Nigerian Constitution, 1999 assigns a very significant role to the Press in Chapter II thereof. Sections 13 – 24 contain the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy of Government, which are a set of lofty declarations containing the philosophical bases that should underpin governmental activities and actions.
10. Section 22 of the same chapter of the Constitution contains the provision that underscores the indispensability of Press Freedom to good and accountable governance. It states that “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 this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.” 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. This I posit 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.
11. Furthermore, Section 39, provides for the Right to freedom of expression and the press. It says that: (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
12. Some provisions of the Constitution seem to offer the government some leeway to tamper with Freedom of Expression and Press provisions already guaranteed. This is found in S.45 which provides that: (1) Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society
(a) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or
(b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom or other persons.
This is a useful tool for governments to use to combat terrorism, violent Extremism and other sundry security challenges that may threaten the cohesion of the State. It has however been conveniently used by tyrants to suppress and tinker with Press Freedom and Freedom of Speech particularly during periods of emergency, insurgency and civil strife.
13. Another issue I want to raise is the role of the Social Media which is ultimately part of the press, in combating violent Extremism or enabling it. The social media is largely unregulated unlike the traditional media that has a code of ethics for its practitioners. In today’s world of instantaneous news reportage and citizen journalists, every person with a communication devise like a phone, iPad or computer is a “Journalist”. It does not matter that he has no training. The ability for a citizen to express his views freely is at the heart of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. But it must have some exceptions as no right is absolute. Hate speech is not free speech and must not have a place in a democracy. Speeches that elicit debates are welcome but speeches that incite to violence must be punished. The amount of falsehood and incitement to violence unleashed daily in the Social Media may lead to unmitigated disruptive disaster one day if not checked. I guess the time is ripe for us as Nigerians to have a frank conversation on this issue. Maybe the solution and the debate should be led this time by the Media and Civil Society Organisations, NOT LEGISLATORS!. We must be honest enough to admit that there is no freedom without responsibility.
14. Only recently various United Nations and other international human rights bodies, Adopted, in Helsinki, on 4 May 2016, Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Countering Violent Extremism. This declaration set out in clear terms the general principles and specific recommendations to be followed by all stakeholders.
The General Principles agreed and enunciated in this Declaration include:
“a) Everyone has the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, especially on matters of public concern, including issues relating to violence and terrorism, as well as to comment on and criticise the manner in which States and politicians respond to these phenomena.
b) States have an obligation to ensure that the media are able to keep society informed, particularly in times of heightened social or political tensions, including by creating an environment in which a free, independent and diverse media can flourish.
c) Any restrictions on freedom of expression should comply with the standards for such restrictions recognised under international human rights law. In compliance with those standards, States must set out clearly in validly enacted law any restrictions on expression and demonstrate that such restrictions are necessary and proportionate to protect a legitimate interest.
d) Restrictions on freedom of expression must also respect the prohibition of discrimination, both on their face and in their application.
e) Restrictions on freedom of expression must be subject to independent judicial oversight.
Anywhere democracy struggles, it will be because of a weak Judiciary.
f) A key part of any strategy to combat terrorism and violence should be to support independent media and communications diversity.”
15. In assessing the state of government/ Press relations in Nigeria under the present dispensation, it is fair to say that it is anything but banal. We are all witnesses to recurring examples of coercion, threats, brutality, arrests, incarceration and media shut down perpetrated by the state against journalists and their establishments. Instances of these draconian measures adopted by State actors abound during the recent elections held in parts of the country and the General Elections. These attacks on the independence of the Press greatly inhibit effective media practice and does not augur well for good governance and democracy. Governments efforts must never be to make our citizens docile and obedient, that’s what repressive regimes do best, but our goal must be to keep our citizens active and informed with the skills to questions the questions and question the answers if they so wish. This is how democracies all over the world are built by refusing to censor the free press and by escalating positive conflicts. Ours cannot be different.
16. In conclusion permit me to say that 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 hope 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.
17. Finally, I must say that the Organised press and media in Nigeria has largely acquitted itself creditably. It has waged many memorable campaigns against tyranny and corruption. Our media practitioners definitely deserve some applause. But we will do better if we never stop documenting and exposing all cases of oppression of journalist by enemies of open society who masquerade as democrats; if we never stop insisting that journalists taken hostage and those in incarceration are freed without preconditions; if we never cease to demand that those in power must halt efforts to curtail press freedom/ Freedom of expression and above all; if we continue with courage to bring the news and hold those in power to account.
18. I wish you all a memorable and rewarding World Press Day Celebration.
19. God bless you and may God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.