Ayo Oyoze Baje
“Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again; The eternal years of God are hers;
But Error, wounded, writhes with pain,
And dies among his worshippers”
– William Bryant
Truth is their first target. The next is the truth teller. The perpetrators of pure evil would go to great lengths to deploy all imaginable machinations, in a bid to arm twist, cover up or out rightly drown the truth in the vast ocean of grand deceit. But Truth is eternal, incontrovertible, beyond the devious manipulations of any mortal. If only the power monger, be he a tyrant, dictator or some desperado democrat knows. But he does not!
So, emboldened by the devilish desire to maintain a semblance of innocence, after some hideous crimes must have been committed, he strikes. And not a few patriotic journalists have fallen easy preys to their antics. In the line of duty, to their nation and mankind, some journalists have become the voiceless victims to this set of people, drunk on the heady intoxicant called political power. Some have been beheaded by ISIS. Others languish in Syrian jails. Indeed, some have had their skulls broken, their faces lacerated and their limbs decapitated. Records abound of those brutally raped or bruised and battered to a state of coma. In fact, some victims still lucky to be alive have gory tales to tell. In this group are journalists suffering the trauma of persisting high blood pressure, lingering muscle pains, excruciating back ache and mind-bending insomnia.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), noted in 2017 that at least 2,297 journalists have been killed since 1990. Amongst the deadliest countries listed in the statistics since 1992 are Iraq (184), Syria (111), the Philippines (78), Russia (58), Colombia (47) and India (41). On its part, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has recorded related deaths in targeted assassinations, cross fire incidents and bomb attacks, including 112 who lost their lives to violence in 2015, 93 who were killed in 2016 and 25 so far murdered in 2017. Sectorially, those covering politics took the highest figures at 48 per cent, followed by war (38%), human rights, (21%), corruption (20%) and crime (15%). Though the number is lower than previous years, the IFJ has warned against complacency and continued impunity. But why, you may ask? Justice has been served for only four percent of journalists killed worldwide!
But before you breathe easy, delighted that Nigeria is not amongst the deadliest countries so listed, think again. According to the media advocacy organization CPJ, “Nigeria and Somalia are among the worst nations in the world in combating deadly anti-press violence, our 2013 Impunity Index has found. Five journalists have been killed with impunity in Nigeria since 2009. However, 13 Nigerian journalists were killed in 2012 alone in active service, making it the highest in the history of the country since independence in 1960”.
Dear reader, what you have just read was my focus on the travails of journalists written back in 2017. That was then, but this is now. Only a few days ago concerned Nigerians condemned an alleged plot by security operatives to arrest investigative journalist, Fisayo Soyombo. But why?
The former editor of The Cable and a contributor to Al Jazeera, in his undercover stories exposed corruption in Nigerian police cells and prisons. He detailed how policemen “pervert the course of justice in their quest for ill-gotten money”. In the second part published by The Cable, he exposed “how the courts shortchange the law and (how) the prisons are themselves a cesspool of the exact reasons for which they hold inmates.” The final part of the report is yet to be published.
Before him, precisely on August 30, federal authorities in Cross River state charged Agba Jalingo, the publisher of the privately owned news website CrossRiverWatch, with disturbance of public peace and treason for his writings and social media posts about Cross River Governor, Benedict Ayade, according to CPJ and Attah Ochinke, the journalist’s lawyer.
If found guilty, Jalingo could face up to three years in prison for the disturbance charge and up to life in prison for treason, according to the Nigerian criminal code. In a similar vein, a report by Jonathan Rozen/CPJ Africa Research Associate on April 15, 2019 stated that: “Under Buhari’s first elected term, CPJ documented detentions, assaults, and harassment of the press.
In one particularly grave case, Jones Abiri, editor of the Weekly Source, was detained without charge in 2016 and denied contact with his family or a lawyer, for over two years. Also,” before the February general election, authorities continued to harass the press: Premium Times reporter Samuel Ogundipe was detained and prosecuted for refusing to reveal a source; Buhari stated publicly that “rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest”; and the military raided two Daily Trust offices”.
But let us note that Buhari is not the first Nigerian president so accused of hounding journalists. We recall, with deep pains, the brutal murder of the two Nigerian journalists, Tayo Awotunsin and Krees Imobibie, who disappeared in August, 1991 in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, while reporting on the civil war. Also, more than thirty years after, patriots still agonize over the cruel and callous killing of Dele Giwa, the pioneer Managing Editor of Newswatch Magazine through a letter bomb on 19th October 1986 during the IBB era.
That of Bayo Ohu, a reporter with the Guardian Newspapers on September 20,2009 and Channels Television reporter, Enenche Akogwu shot on January 20, 2012 in Kano still remain as scary scars on the conscience of the nation. Are we done?
Not just yet! The operatives of the EFCC unleashed mayhem on workers at the Sun Newspapers as reported on September 21, 2017. A statement from the paper stated that: “For one grueling hour, EFCC operatives subjected our staff to crude intimidation, psychological and emotional trauma.
The development had more to do with suffocating free press in Nigeria than law enforcement.” In a similar vein, a score of soldiers on Operation Python Dance against members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, stormed into the Nigerian Union of Journalists Press Centre in Umahia on 12 September, 2017. Some journalists were beaten up, with the seizure and smashing of their cameras , smart-phones, computers and other equipment containing newly-shot photos and videos.
Truth be told, we do not want to go back to the dark days of military dictatorship when seasoned journalists including the likes of Kunle Ajibade, Chris Anyanwu, Ben Charles-Obi, George M’bah, Onome Osifo-Whiskey and Babafemi Ojudu saw hell in Sani Abacha gulag.
The way forward is for journalists to be insured as being championed by the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ. They should be trained in the areas of the laws of journalism, job security, journey management and how to ensure their mental health. Safety training for them should have in attendance their employers, to drive home the message of protection of their lives and provision of enabling environment to thrive.
Baje writes from Lagos