As Nigeria joins the rest of the world today to celebrate the World Press Freedom Day, journalists and civil society organizations lament the failure of the government to improve on advancing freedom of expression.
According to the 2017 World Press Freedom ranking compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Nigeria’s record of press freedom declined from 111 in 2016 to 122 in 2017, out of 180 countries that have been graded.
This fall from grace has regrettably placed Nigeria in the red zone for press freedom globally. The report, shed light on the cover up nature of stories that involve politics, terrorism and financial embezzlement happening in Nigeria. Four months into the year and we have witnessed the arrest and harassment of over 15 journalist.
This raises concerns on the development of Nigeria, if it continues to choke the freedom to expression and information. Freedom of press is essential to any democracy; it denotes an atmosphere in which media-professionals can work and publish what is true and fact without fear or any threat. Freedom of press being an important precondition of any free society. Press has been called the fourth pillar of a state and newspapers are regarded as the people’s parliament serving as a watchdog to the government. However, the Nigerian government and powerful individuals create obstacles to the freedom because it poses as a challenge to their abuse of power, corruption and monopoly.
The case of Kemi Olunloyo a controversial blogger whom was arrested for exposing an alleged corruption scandal of a popular pastor and his affair with a nollywood actress. Samuel Walson a publisher, was also arrested alongside the blogger. That arrest was the second time in two weeks the blogger had been arrested for her online posts. She was picked up on March 5th and was only granted bail 3 weeks after, on the 30th March 2017.
This case is one of many, Olalekan Adetayo, a state house correspondent was expelled from the presidential villa for writing a prior story on the ill-health of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Press, for its part, as a reliable body of the society, should not misuse this freedom. Posting fake allegations disguised as truth stains the purpose of true journalism and soon the lines between the truth and lies become blurred. Journalist should have the integrity and high ethical morale to only posts stories they know to be the truth.
However, Nigerians are not watching idle. Ekiti State Governor, Mr Ayodele Fayose urged journalist to rise in one voice and protect the democratic rights of freedom of expression and this has created a stir among activists. Recently, Stakeholders Forged a Coalition on Whistleblower protection, press and internet freedom in Nigeria. These stakeholders included the Premium Times Center for Investigative Journalism, Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, Committee to Protect Journalists, Nigerian Union of Journalists and International Centre of Investigative Reporting amongst others.
The Punch Newspaper also responded by issuing a public statement to the President ending it with
’The world is watching. Nigerians are waiting. And the press is hoping that President Buhari will seize the moment to redress this grievous assault on press freedom and scrub off the blot that this incident may leave on his democratic credentials.
World Press Freedom day should remind us of the immense role and influence of the media. And how freedom of press is necessary in order to know what is right, what is true and fair. Only a free press can ensure people’s access to information and help to build a well- informed, transparent and accountable society. This is the vision for Nigeria and unfortunately there is no shortcut to achieving this goal.0