Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

US Report On Nigeria’s Freedom of Expression: Lessons, Prospects & Challenges

0 422

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

The “2017 Human Rights Report” for Nigeria issued by the U.S. Department of State had accused Nigeria of restrictions to Freedom of Expression, especially the unrepentant persecution of journalists and persons with dissenting views critical of the government of the day.

This is however, in addition to calling out the country on gross violation of other human rights and continued lack of transparency in government, but how much have we learnt from it in enhancing our democratic practice?

The author, Uchechukwu Ugboaja

Citing various cases of victimisation of journalists, the Report said “the Security Services increasingly detained and harassed journalists, sometimes for reporting on sensitive problems such as political corruption and security.

Security Services including police occasionally arrests and detain journalists who criticized the government,” the report reveals.

In Section 2 titled: Respect for Civil Liberties, the Report indicated:

“Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government frequently restricted these rights,” citing the Freedom House’s annual survey of media independence, Freedom of the Press 2017 which described the press as “partly free,” the report said a large and vibrant private domestic press frequently criticized the government, but critics reported being subjected to threats, intimidation, and sometimes violence.

The ongoing trials of independent online media practitioners and bloggers, publishers of elombah.com, Mr. Daniel and Mr. Timothy Elombah vividly illustrates the above point.

After being arrested and detained for about 25 days by a special Police unit known as Special Anti-Robbery Squad aka SARS on the 1st of January, 2018, the Elombah brothers have remained embroiled with several litigations with the Nigeria Police and its leadership.

Some of the cases involving them are; Tim Elombah versus IGP and 3 others FCT High Court, Zone 2, wuse, Abuja suit no: FCT/HC/CV/0580/18, the case between the Commissioner of Police versus Daniel and Tim Elombah being heard at the Federal High Court, Abuja with Suit No: FHC/CR/01/2018 still persists.

Meanwhile, one other case involving Daniel Elombah and 2 others versus the IGP has been ruled in the favour of the accused and the honourable Court awarded 5 million naira damages to be paid to the Elombah brothers which is yet to be obeyed by the Police authorities, when there is another case instituted in Awka against the IGP over the abuse of fundamental human rights, that is ongoing.

The requirement of Libel/Slander Laws “limited the circumstances in which media defendants could rely on the common law legal defence of “fair comment on matters of public interest,” and it restricted the right to freedom of expression,” the Report said.

Noting that Defamation remains a criminal offence in Nigeria, carrying a penalty for conviction of up to two years’ imprisonment and possible fines, it cited as an instance the police raiding of Premium Times in 2017 due to the newspaper’s refusal to retract stories regarding the army and its operations which the Chief of Army Staff’s Office reportedly found defamatory.

It said: “Allegations of libel are also used as a form of harassment by government officials in retaliation for negative reporting.”

A notable critic and advocate of Press Freedom, Prof. Rotimi Olatunji during the World Press Freedom Day memorial Lecture held at the Lagos State University (LASU) stated:

“In Nigeria, in spite of the sustenance of the nation’s democratic process since 1999 when the Fourth Democratic Republic was instituted, Press Freedom is daily threatened, voices of opposition are muzzled, working conditions of journalists are daily compromised, many journalists are exposed to hazards in the coverage of the hydra- headed spate of violence, conflicts, warfare in the North-East, North-Central, South-South, South-East, and even South-West.

“No place is safe for the Nigerian journalist.

For him, “Press Freedom is the freedom of all and freedom for all. Press Freedom is the fundamental rights of all humans. It is upon the foundation of a free, democratic, open, unfettered press that the rights of all members of the society revolve,” he said.

Although the United States report noted that there were few government restrictions on access to the internet, the Report emphasised the concerns that have been expressed by civil society organizations regarding the broad powers provided by the Cybercrimes Act of 2015.

In its Section 4, the Report also chides the Nigerian Government on its unrepentant corruption and lack of transparency.

“Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity,” it said, adding that, “massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the Security Services.”

The Report also assessed Nigeria on other human rights issues including extra-judicial and arbitrary killings; disappearances and arbitrary detentions; torture, particularly in detention facilities, including sexual exploitation and abuse; use of children by some security elements, looting, and destruction of property; civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy evidence; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on assembly, and movement; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting and sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; and forced and bonded labour.

Finally, in view of the forth coming 2019 general elections and the hysteria surrounding its possible outcome in relations to the orgy of violence associated to the unresolved farmers/herders crisis in many parts of the country, some analysts hold the view that the electioneering processes further exposes the Nigerian journalist to needless danger, harm and deprivations. It is as it was when the struggle for human liberty began, “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains”.

By Uchechukwu Ugboaja – Abuja

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.