By Chukwuma Umeorah
Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has said that it will continue to fight against attacks on journalists and support them in the course of performing their constitutional obligations to ensure transparency and accountability in government as contained in Section 22 of the constitution.
Decrying the spate of attacks on journalists in the country, MRA called on the government to take more serious measures and adopt robust mechanisms at ensuring that journalists are assured of their safety given the difficult and dangerous responsibilityies that expose them to all sorts of risks and attacks in discharge of their duties.
The Programme Director, MRA, Ayode Longe, while speaking at a press conference to commemorate the 2022 edition of ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ in Lagos, Wednesday, said that failure of government to arrest and prosecute those complicit in attacks on journalists gives the impression that they can get away with these ugly acts unpunished.
He pointed out that since the beginning of this democratic dispensation on May 1999 till date, the MRA has collated and documented a total of 19 journalists who have been killed, and that in all of these killings, no perpetrator has been prosecuted or brought to justice.
“Despite several attacks against journalists that have been reported by organisations like Media Rights Agenda and others over the years, the government has never made any serious effort to investigate or prosecute the perpetrators.
“This is a serious cause for concern because either wittingly or unwittingly, the impression is being given that it is okay to harm journalists in Nigeria and that whoever does so, will get away with it because there will be no investigation and nothing would be done to them.
“We challenge the Nigerian government to cite any attack that it has seriously investigated and share the outcome of any such investigation including details of those arrested and prosecuted,” he said.
Longe further pointed out that the Law enforcement agencies particularly the Police that are meant to protect journalists are complicit in the matter. According to him, the police are the highest perpetrators of impunity against them making it difficult to rely on their protection. He said, “Our records show that men and officers of the Nigerian police are the major perpetrators of these attacks as MRA documented over 15 incidents which they were perpetrators.
Given the complicit nature of the Police and other law enforcement and security agents as worst offenders, it goes without saying that they cannot be relied upon.”
He added that the security and law enforcement agencies have become a tool in the hands of the rich and powerful to intimidate and violate the rights of journalists and media houses and prevent them from doing their work which he described as a brazen disregard for the decision of the ECOWAS court and violation of Nigeria’s treaty obligations.
He also pointed out that in recent times; the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has also become a major impediment to broadcasting freedom and development of broadcasting in Nigeria.
Restating government’s role, he cited its obligation to journalists as spelt out in Principle 20 of the ‘Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa’. Part of which states that ‘ Government shall take to measures to prevent attacks on journalists and media practitioners undertaken by state and non-state actors and to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators’.
MRA’s Head of media and legal department, Obioma Okonkwo in her address maintained that freedom of expression is the fundamental right of every individual. She noted that ‘an attack to one journalist is an attack to all’.
Obioma affirmed that MRA has been at the fore of seeking redress to infringements on the rights of journalists. She said that MRA would continue to render assistance to journalists including legal backing and otherwise in all aspects regarding carrying out their functions. She enjoined journalists to speak up whenever they feel violated in order to get justice. She called Nigeria Union of Journalist as well as other civil society to take very seriously the welfare and protection of the rights of their members. She reiterated their commitment at ensuring the safety of journalists.