As the world commemorates the global Press Freedom Day on May 3, the Nigerian Guild of Investigative Journalists (NGIJ) has called on the Federal as well as state governments in Nigeria to ensure that the media is independent and journalists are truly free to practice without any fear of intimidation or persecution.
The guild said journalists are a critical partner in nation-building and should not be gagged, intimidated, harassed, maimed or killed for doing their lawful duties as guaranteed by the Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, Article 19 of the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The NGIJ made this call in a statement on Sunday in Lagos signed by Mr Israel Bolaji, the guild’s Vice President (Information and Strategy).
Calling for a more strengthened press freedom and release of detained journalists, the guild said, “According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, about 250 journalists worldwide are currently behind bars.”
“In Nigeria, between January 2019 and November 2019, the Media recorded at least 71 attacks including arrests, detention, intimidation and killings”, according to The Coalition for Whistleblowers Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF), a coalition including Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, International Press Centre (IPC), HEDA Resource Centre, Nigerian Union of Journalists NUJ and SERAP.
“The popular cases of Agba Jalingo, Abiri Jones, Peter Okutu, Chijioke Agwu and others also readily come to mind. Detaining journalists for doing their job runs contrary to the obligation to ensure an enabling environment for the media. The criminalization of journalism must end. That should start with releasing journalists from detention in Nigeria urgently. ”
Bolaji noted that journalists go through difficult hurdles to get the nation informed. “For example, under the current circumstance of the global Covid-19 pandemic, journalists risk their lives as front liners to source accurate information which are shared with people to help make well-informed health decisions that can make the difference between life and death.
“As the pandemic spreads attacking over 3 million people globally and over two thousand in Nigeria, the press has contributed significantly by sharing verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis. This helps in countering the scourge of misinformation, stemming from sensational health advice and conspiracy theories.”
Urging journalists not to relent, NGIJ said the media must remain professional and known for providing facts and insightful analysis; for holding leaders – in every sector – accountable; and for speaking truth to power.
“We call on governments to protect journalists and to strengthen and maintain press freedom, which is essential for a future of peace, justice and human rights for all, Bolaji concluded.