”Fake news isn’t new. Government has been propagating them since 1960. What we need to shut down is fake government” — Omoyele Sowore (Sahara Reporters Convener)
As the world celebrates press freedom day today, it remains sacrosanct that voices are heard, and opinions shared. The governments must be reminded at all times of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948
Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDRH) also in use in our nation — Nigeria.
June 23, 2009, I was still a high school student, just in the second year. I created an idea in my high school due to the entropy of news without anyone trapping them and feeding the students with it. I created a press club which was a welcome development widely accepted by most of the students and teachers. Soon after, I and my friend — Co-founder broadcasted our first news to the assembly of pupils on a bright Tuesday morning. One of the headlines raised eyebrows in the school as the school prefects — government were not solemnly comfortable with it. Some minutes to the end of the day’s lecture, I and my friend were whisked away from our class. We were beaten, disgraced, pressured and lynched, just for feeding our community with the greatest weapon — Information.
There has been many trying times to journalism and freedom of expression in Nigeria. These threats has created a hole in the heart of Nigerians now filled with fear of nothing, the threats has endangered transparency and accountability in government. Many outspoken Nigerians and journalist have been maimed emotionally and eternally with Dele Giwa -founder of Newswatch magazine and vibrant journalist who was on the verge of carrying out a socialist revolution before his assassination as a vivid example. The struggle always continues as the government has made themselves an enemy of the press.
Recently, a Punch Newspaper — correspondent to the government house was sent out of the presidential villa by the Chief security officer of the president. The social media bill recently pushed by the Nigeria Senate is a timely call for Nigerians to understand the government plans to witch hunt freedom of expression. Even though the immediate past president of this nation — Dr Goodluck Jonathan signed Freedom of information (FOI) into law, its not getting better. Our government should be the motivating power behind the press, but they have rather chosen to be a negative catalyst to the nation’s growth. The government influence on the press is germane and grave. The consciousness in us has been redirected towards the wrong path as Nigerian youths prefer to broadcast flimsy information rather than challenging the action of the government. Lack of this freedom has created a downside loop between the government and the governed.
According to the Press Freedom Index, released on April 26, 2017 by Reporters Without Borders, RWB, Nigeria ranked 122 out of 180 countries examined with Norway on the table’s top. In 2016, Nigeria recorded a decline on the world ranking, falling from 111 to 116, this year, the free fall continues as the country recorded another fall, moving from 116 to 122, which placed it conveniently on the red-zone for press freedom across the world. Presently, press freedom in Nigeria is critically endangered as it is at the world’s red zone, soon, if this free fall continues freedom of expression may be laid to extinction even though it remains in our constitution. This got me thinking when flipping through the pages of Premium Times Newspaper .
According to the RWB, “In Nigeria, it is nearly impossible to cover stories involving politics, terrorism, or financial embezzlement. Journalists are often threatened, subjected to physical violence, or denied access to information by government officials, police, and sometimes the public itself. If I can be subjected to physical violence even as a high school pressman, I wonder what journalists out there face on daily basis. The government would rather choose to constitute some sets of news outlets to work in their favour and pay them burdensome amount of money than to give press freedom the cause to thrive. Under the present administration in Nigeria press freedom has been raped and manhandled even though the President clamours it every time that he’s in support of the media. Some months ago, the controversial blogger Ms. Kemi Olunloyo was arrested and charged for cybercrime for publishing an adultery allegation against Pastor Ibiyemi. She was Locked up for weeks in a prison uniform just for expressing her freedom. The details gets sour as the campaign for press freedom has been the order of the day in Nigeria.
One thing is sure, whistleblowing policy recently passed cannot substantiate for press freedom. Whistle blowing can not thrive without adequate press freedom for whistleblowing shall live by press freedom. A popular phrase among the masses is “we only have freedom of speech not freedom after speech” which means the freedom after you’ve expressed your right is not guaranteed. No one will ever want to be a whistleblower except for the 5% since the whistle will be seized and the blower will be hijacked. It is incongruous to think you can effect change in a community without the sounding board.
The free fall of Nigeria on the Press Freedom table is justifiable as in the past year Journalists were maimed, disturbed, arrested and some assassinated. Some weeks ago, some Premium Times Newspaper journalist were arrested as some armed officers ransacked the agency’s office in Lagos, Omoyele Sowore’s arrests, to mention a few. These scenarios are indications of the government attempt to silence the masses. On Saturday morning, Bernstein, a CNN contributor said Nixon targeted the media in an attempt to divert attention from his own misconduct. This is the reason why the government has made herself a natural enemy of the press to make sure their evil deeds are covered up in the dredge.
Mathama Gandhi outspokenness, Martin Luther King Jnr. Vibrancy to tell the government what is and is not brought revolutionary change in their respective country. The only way to stop someone from talking is to keep talking. The press is the watchman of the government, and also the Fourth tier of the government. As the executive is essential to the survival and growth of a community so is the press. Without violence, through continuous reminder to the government applying the tools internet has made available to us, we must keep the government on their toes.
At this state of our economy, and governing system, we — electorates must channel our grievances to the government — our representatives accordingly. On this note we must change our behaviour towards events recycling in our environment. One reason why the press is not doing too good is that we focus our searchlight on the evil our government will do, that we do not see the good they are doing. Now, silence is not an option at all, as our government needs us the most now even though they do not acknowledge it. We need more crucial minds to battle the critical challenges of this time. Press is the only force that can dress our nation and present it worthily to the world.
Originally published at http://www.opinionnigeria.com on May 4, 2017.