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Tinubu, Egbetokun, stop harassing journalists*

The Punch Editorial May 16, 2024.

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THE escalating trend of journalist abductions in a democratic government under the guise of law enforcement is causing grave concern among the public especially media practitioners, who face heightened fears for their safety while carrying out their duties. The apprehension extends to the families and friends of journalists, who are increasingly alarmed about the safety and freedom of their loved ones. Tinubu, his officials, the military, and the Inspector-General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, should understand that press freedom is integral to democracy. Tinubu should stop these abuses.*

*From the abduction of FirstNews Editor, Segun Olatunji, from his residence in Lagos on March 15, by military troops, to the recent distressing incident involving Daniel Ojukwu of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, who was captured by the police on the streets of Lagos, media professionals find themselves in a peril reminiscent of Nigeria’s dreaded era of military dictatorship.*

In the latest episode on May 1, the FIJ filed a missing person report at police stations in the vicinity where Ojukwu was expected to be present. However, three days later, a private investigator contracted by FIJ managed to trace the last known location of the journalist’s phone to an address in Isheri-Olofin, a site believed to be where law enforcement personnel apprehended him.

Subsequently, Ojukwu’s family received information about his detention at the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, Lagos. They were informed that authorities accused him of violating the 2015 Cybercrime Act. Ojukwu was bundled to Abuja three days later.

He was reportedly arrested for a story that alleged that a top government official in the Presidency caused N147 million, originally allocated to build a school, to be paid into the account of a restaurant in Abuja. In Nigeria, where public corruption is deep, the police should have investigated both sides.

Olatunji had also been abducted for reporting about corruption in the Presidency.

The timing of Ojukwu’s abduction is particularly poignant, coinciding with Nigerian journalists’ participation in the global observance of the 2024 World Press Freedom Day. He was released after being held for 10 days without any court hearing.

*Tinubu and Egbetokun are setting bad precedents.*

In its defence, police spokesman Muyiwa Adejobi said there was a petition against Ojukwu and about 15 cases against FIJ. But the cases cannot be solved by the police taking the law into their own hands. There are enough laws on slander, libel, and falsehood to prosecute erring journalists and organisations, but not by abduction.

A report says 25 journalists have been prosecuted under the Cybercrime Act since its introduction, including eight under the Tinubu administration.

Under Tinubu’s predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, journalists suffered undue persecution, including Jones Abiri, Agba Jalingo, and Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of an online newspaper, Sahara Reporters.

*In truth, the police are busy chasing shadows. Journalists are mostly harmless. Instead of abducting them and raising tensions, Egbetokun should concentrate on bandits, terrorists, and armed robbers who slaughter police officers and citizens in the North.*

Despite this, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, insists that no journalist has been incarcerated under the Tinubu administration. That is a lie.

*The stark reality on the ground contradicts such boasting. The abduction and detention of journalists not only infringe upon their fundamental rights but also cast a shadow of fear over the entire media landscape. This climate of intimidation and coercion hampers journalists’ ability to perform their duties effectively and undermines the principles of democracy and freedom of expression.*

In its 2024 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters without Borders lists Nigeria as 112th out of 180 countries because it is “a challenging place to practise journalism.” It stood at No. 129 in the 2022 index.

A 2021 Press Freedom Report said eight journalists were killed under Buhari between 2015 and 2021. There were 300 violations in 500 incidents against Nigerian journalists in the period. Like China, the Buhari government, through Lai Muhammed, its Minister of Information, repeatedly tried to introduce coercive laws against press freedom. In June 2021, it banned Twitter (now X) from the country’s social media space for seven months.

As media practitioners continue to face threats to their safety and freedom, the government must uphold its commitment to press freedom and ensure the protection of journalists from arbitrary arrest, detention, and harassment. Failure to do so not only jeopardises the safety and well-being of journalists but also undermines the integrity of Nigeria’s democratic institutions.

In the hallowed halls of democracy, the freedom of the press stands as a guardian, a beacon illuminating the shadows where corruption lurks, and tyranny festers. In Nigeria, the once-bright light of press freedom is dimming under the shadow of the Tinubu administration, which exhibits alarming echoes of the repressive tactics employed during the brutal military regimes of Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha in the 1980s and 1990s.

The parallels between Tinubu’s government and the autocratic rule of Abacha are too glaring to ignore. Like Abacha, who wielded censorship as a tool to crush dissent and maintain an iron grip on power, Tinubu is tightening the noose around the neck of free speech, seeking to silence those who dare to challenge the status quo. This erosion of press freedom represents a dangerous regression for Nigeria, once hailed as the hope of democracy in Africa.

The crackdown on journalists sends a chilling message to whistleblowers and activists, who seek to expose corruption and injustice. By silencing the messenger, the Tinubu government seeks to shield itself from scrutiny and accountability, perpetuating a culture of impunity where those in power operate above the law.

Yet, a free press is not a luxury but a fundamental pillar of democracy. Without the ability to report truthfully and without fear, democracy withers, and tyranny thrives. The Nigerian people deserve a government that respects and upholds the principles of press freedom, not one that seeks to suppress dissent and control the narrative at any cost.

 

Tinubu must heed the calls for reform and immediately halt the assault on press freedom by law enforcement agencies, especially by the military, police, and Department of State Services. Journalists must be allowed to carry out their duties without fear of reprisal or persecution. The arbitrary arrests, intimidation, and harassment must cease, and those responsible for violating the rights of journalists must be held accountable.

The government should enact robust legal protections for press freedom and ensure journalists can operate without fear of censorship or retaliation. Freedom of the press is enshrined in Nigeria’s constitution, and it is incumbent upon the government to uphold this.

It is time for Tinubu to respect the role of the press as the Fourth Estate of the realm and uphold the principles of democracy by allowing journalists to work freely and without fear. Anything less would be a betrayal of the Nigerian people and a dark stain on the future of democracy in the country.

*The individuals and organisations concerned should resort to litigation against their tormentors.*

https://punchng.com/tinubu-egbetokun-stop-harassing-journalists/

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