In Nigeria and across the world, media practitioners continue to face harrowing times
By Tessy Igomu
Over the years, the number of journalists killed in the line of duty in Nigeria and elsewhere around the world has continued to swell.
Yet there are no corresponding investigations detailing the causes of their deaths. Continued violations of journalists’ rights through attacks, arrests and abductions, according to human rights reports, have also continued unabated. And practitioners are getting worried.
On Thursday, June 20, 2016, Yomi Olomofe, 47, Publisher of Prime Magazine, was attacked at the office of the Nigeria Customs and Excise, at the Nigeria-Benin border in Seme while trying to investigate a matter. The journalist was thoroughly battered during the encounter.
Tife Owolabi of the Reuters International News Agency, on February 14, 2015, had his home in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, ransacked by armed agents of the Department of State Services. After the invasion that lasted for about four hours, his computers, cell phones and working tools, including external hard drives and memory cards, were allegedly removed. He was accused of espionage.
Nigerians would not forget in a hurry the 1986 murder of the Editor-In-Chief of the Newswatch magazine, Dele Giwa. He was brutally killed through a letter bomb. Perpetrators of the dastardly act still remain unknown.
In 1990, two Nigerian journalists, Tayo Awotunsin of Champion Newspaper, and Krees Imodibie of The Guardian, disappeared in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital while on official assignment. It was during the Liberian civil war.
In 2009, 45-year-old Bayo Ohu, an assistant editor with The Guardian was shot dead in his home. Members of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) believed Ohu was killed for his political and investigative reporting.
Also, journalists such as Enenche Akogwu, Abayomi Ogundeji and Godwin Agbroko were all gruesomely killed. Also killed were Bagauda Kaltho of The News, Tunde Oladepo of The Guardian and a female journalist, Bolade Fasasi.
On the global scene, in 1984, the editor of the Hind Samachar group in India, Ramesh Chandra, was killed. He was shot dead and doctors were later to count 64 bullet holes in his body. Another journalist, 40-year-old Sandeep Kothari in Madhya Pradesh was abducted and burnt alive.
Lately, authorities in Turkey issued, at least, 42 arrest warrants for journalists after detaining several others. Courts and regulators also censored, at least, 30 news-related websites, with the prime minister’s office, revoking the press credentials of, at least, 34 journalists. Revoked also were the licences of 13 television stations and 12 radio stations, even as security forces raided and shut a newspaper’s offices. This media purge followed a failed military coup that left a journalist dead.
According to ‘The Campaign’, a non-governmental organisation committed to strengthening the legal protection and safety of journalists on dangerous missions, the death of journalists over the years has been underreported. It revealed that, at least, 138 journalists were killed in 32 countries in 2014 while 1,189 were killed in 24 years, with more brutalised. The body also disclosed that in the first quarter of 2016 alone, 23 journalists have been killed.
According to the Geneva-based press organisation, 1,203 journalists were killed between 1992 and 2012.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also said that 69 journalists were killed around the world in 2015. It said 28 of the victims, representing 40 per cent, died in the hands of Islamic militant groups, such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, while nine died in France. The body disclosed that it was still investigating the deaths of, at least, 26 more journalists in 2015, to determine whether the deaths were work-related.
Journalists are at the centre of information dissemination. In Nigeria, the citizens depend largely on the news media for their source of unbiased information. This dependence of the public on the media gives journalists immense responsibilities.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion, information and expression. These rights include freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, to receive and impact information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
This declaration became binding on Nigeria after the country became the 99th member of the United Nations Organisation (UNO), thus committing towards realising the principles enunciated in the declaration.
However, it is saddening that, sometimes, journalists in Nigeria are hounded in the course of their duty, increasingly targeted by extremist groups, government goons and other interests fighting to keep corruption, abuse and other wrongdoings out of the spotlight.
Ratings based on world index shows that Nigeria remains a dangerous place to practise journalism, with spike in unsolved killings, earning Nigeria a place on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity (CPJI) Index for the first time in 2012. The organisation revealed that 2012 was a year Nigeria’s vibrant media faced attempts at being stifled. It cited the murder of Nansoh Sallah, editor of Highland FM, whose body was found on a roadside in January, and Chuks Ogu of Independent TV who was killed by unidentified gunmen in April.
It also reviewed incidents of security forces, engaging in acts of obstruction, intimidation and violence against journalists in the same year. It recalled how in February of that year, over 60 journalists were locked out of the press centre at the Lagos Airport and their equipment withheld as a matter of “national security.”
CPJI also recalled how in October, Bamigbola Gbolagunte of The Sun Newspapers was arrested on the orders of a police commissioner, who demanded the retraction of an alleged offensive report. It mentioned that in December, DSS operatives invaded the homes of reporters, Musa Mohamed Awwal and Aliyu Saleh of the Hausa-language Al-Mizan Newspaper. The two were assaulted, detained, and had their mobile phones and laptops confiscated.
Also in December, security officials prevented Ozioma Ubabukoh of The Punch from writing about the status of a governor, who had not been seen in public for several months.
“Investigations into these killings are usually carried out with sloppiness, and no real culprits are caught,” said Ayode Longe, a senior officer with the Media Rights Agenda, a press freedom group.
He maintained that the main reason for this impunity was lack of government will to prosecute those who attack journalists. “That has emboldened others to assault journalists, believing nothing would be done to them.”
Mr. Lanre Arogundade, Director, International Press Centre (IPC), said more needed to be done to safeguard the lives of journalists, especially those working in conflict zones and politically volatile areas.
He noted that many journalists had in the past suffered in the hands of security agents during the performance of their legitimate duties, with findings showing documented violations of journalists through assault, abduction, killing and destruction of their equipment.
He maintained that harassment and arrest of journalists by government agents had continued to thrive while self-censorship among government media had become prevalent for fear of being harassed, rebuked or even shut down.
Arogundade quoted a survey carried out on the safety of journalists in Nigeria, as saying that between November and December, 2014, there were attacks on 17 journalists at separate locations.
He added that 14 journalists, among them three females, were kidnapped by militants in Delta State while one was abducted by gunmen in Abia State. Another journalist, he said, was assaulted in Osun State while yet another and his crew were assaulted in Kwara State. He accused the police of being responsible for all the attacks.
Arogundade regretted that in Nigeria, newspapers and magazines, including the electronic media, operated with fear.
“In 2014, security men seized copies of some national dailies under the guise of security search. Some vendors were equally incarcerated for displaying copies of such publications,” he recalled.
Arogundade contended that the Federal Government should come up with a functional national insurance scheme for journalists, working in Nigeria in view of the increasing threats and attacks. He said national security was not the responsibility of security agencies alone, insisting that it was also a matter of collective responsibility, which required the active role of the press.
“It is important that the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), rise up and provide adequate protection for journalists in the country. From observations, the NPC seems not to be effective and sensitive to the plight of journalists in this country. This calls to question the existence of such an ombudsman,” he stated.
On survival tips for journalists, Mr. Tomi Olagunju, a lawyer with Citipoint Chambers, noted that journalists should take advantage of laws that protect their rights in Nigeria, stressing that their advocacy should include that laws standing as legal landmines against journalism practice be expunged from the Nigerian system.
He noted that those in authority still had more to hide despite the Freedom of Information Act.
He also noted that the physical protection of journalists was not guaranteed, even though the Nigerian law legally protected newsmen.
He, however, maintained that anybody beaten or harassed could seek redress, adding that Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has a body of protective rights or generic protection for all Nigerians.
He disclosed that as at 2015, journalists were tried for sedition, despite the fact that Section 39 of the same Constitution provided a covering for the press.
“Section 39 overwrites most of these draconian laws. It gives protection to journalists to give information, if they are sure about the source. Once you have done your job based on the ethics of the profession, you have a ground to sue.”
Mr. Mohammed Fawehinmi, Lead Partner, Mohammed Fawehinmi & Co., Executive Director, International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Mr. Dayo Aiyetan, and Peter Nkanga, West Africa Representative, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), were other experts that spoke at the event.