The Coalition for Whistleblowers Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF) notes the alarming trend of media censorship by state authorities in Nigeria. We observe that public officers and influential individuals are increasingly intolerant of critical reporting and fair comments by journalists. They, therefore, resort to the use of instruments of state criminal justice system to suppress freedom of expression and free press. From January 2019 till date, we have recorded 71 attacks on the media, including arrests, intimidation, detention and killings. We, as a coalition, totally condemn this abuse of power by state actors and security agencies.
Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution and several international instruments acceded to by Nigeria guarantee the right to press freedom as the media exercise their statutory duties. The right of citizens to freedom of expression, to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any medium is guaranteed under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also guarantees the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media.
The flagrant disobedience of court orders and the charges of treason, terrorism and cybercrimes against citizens by Federal and State Governments set a dangerous precedent in the misuse of the state criminal justice system to silence free expression. In recent times, the Federal Government has charged journalists, including Jones Abiri and Omoyele Sowore, with treason and terrorism for engaging in social activism and practising Journalism. This is unacceptable. As if taking a cue from the federal government, the governors of Cross River, Kaduna and Kano States have followed this trend by charging Agba Jalingo, Chidi Odinkalu and Nazir Ahmad respectively with obnoxious and strange offences of terrorism, cybercrime and criminal defamation.
Furthermore, some sections of the Judiciary, as a consequence of its lack of independence, have become willing tools in the hands of state and federal governments by granting judicial approvals that stifle free speech. They do this through the demand of onerous bail conditions and unconventional trial procedures in criminal charges against journalists and other citizens. This also contributes, in no small measure, to the validation of human rights abuses by the State.
We demand that Nigeria must take steps to amend or repeal oppressive provisions of the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015, particularly Sections 24 and 25, and other laws, which violate international and regional treaties on human rights to which Nigeria is a state party as well as Section 1(3) and 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The government’s declared intention to regulate citizens’ use and access to social media and the civic space must not be in conflict with or constitute a breach of existing laws pertaining freedom of speech and association. Media stakeholders and the civil society need to continue to harp on the inviolability of Section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, which accords the media the role of holding government accountable to the people. The campaign for free press must be sustained by the media and civil society to ensure that public officials fully guarantee that journalists, bloggers, broadcasters, social media users and all media practitioners are allowed to carry out their work without any form of intimidation and persecution. Government must also take concrete measures to respect, protect and ensure the effective enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and media freedom.
Media practitioners must be proactive in the defence and protection of media freedom. We must engage in advocacy and public enlightenment while also holding regular public hearings into allegations of harassment and attacks on journalists, bloggers, broadcasters, social media users and all media practitioners’ right to freedom of expression.
We call on the African Union, regional and sub-regional bodies and the international community to prevail on state authorities in Nigeria to abide by their obligation to respect media freedom, citizen’s freedom of expression and enable the growth of a free and vibrant press in Nigeria.
Freedom of expression is critical to the sustenance of democracy and the advancement of an orderly, informed and progressive society. The Coalition is prepared to defend the interest of citizens and organisations whose rights are violated in the exercise of freedom of expression.
COALITION FOR WHISTLEBLOWERS PROTECTION AND PRESS FREEDOM (CWPPF)
African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL)
Civic Media Lab
Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC)
Daily Trust Newspaper
International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR)
International Press Centre (IPC)
HEDA Resource Centre
Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUJ)
Paradigm Initiative (P.I)
Premium Times (PT)
Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)
Sahara Reporters (SR)
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP)
Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ)