Also, Chapter 4 Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria stipulates- “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”, a reinforcement of the significance of freedom of speech to democratic systems and processes within the territorial borders of Nigeria. Extant literature has substantiated the availability of a legislative framework protecting freedom of expression and media at one point or the other including the popular African Media Barometer of Nigeria report published in 2019. Taking a clue from the provision of the UDHR and the Nigeria Constitution, Media Freedom empowers Journalists and Media organizations to go about their duties of receiving and disseminating information of public importance without undue interference.
However, reality has revealed a huge gap between the theory of ideal democratic principles that recognizes media freedom and the praxis of non-interference in the delivery of the mandate of the media profession in Nigeria. Every passing day, the stiffening of the freedom of media is felt by the citizens in different forms including but not limited to: restriction of access to platforms to disseminate and receive information, unwarranted media regulations, harassment and intimidation of journalists among others. Therefore, it becomes highly expedient to examine the incoherency between the theory and practice of media freedom in a democratic society like Nigeria in line with standard practices and recognition of peculiar challenges in a democratic society.
It is imperative to note that the Windhoek+30 Declaration conspicuously emphasized the continuing relevance, legacy, and role of the 1991 Windhoek Declaration to the promotion and protection of freedom of expression, free, independent, and pluralistic media, and access to information around the world. In Specific, the declaration called for countries to create an enabling environment for the protection of journalists and the advancement of opportunities for citizens to exercise their freedom of expression. The Windhoek gathering of critical stakeholders eventually became an historic event that laid the foundation for what is known today as the World Press Freedom Day. Also, the popular Freedom of Information Laws that Countries around the world are enacting are products of the Windhoek Declaration. In 2011, Nigeria joined other countries to pass a Freedom of Information Act. A legislative framework that empowers everyone to request for information whether or not contained in any written form, which is in custody of any Public Official, Agency or Institution, even though activists and media practitioners alike are still battling some Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government on its compliance.
Despite the international and national legislative backing the actualization and sustenance of freedom of the press in Nigeria, the Media system is still faced with a myriad of issues undermining the freedom, pluralism and independence of the Press in the country. Thereby limiting access to platforms to disseminate and receive information on one hand and intimidating media professionals from seeking information of public importance from different channels. Specifically, some of the key media freedom concerns in Nigeria in recent time are as follows:
Twitter Ban: Following the ban of Twitter on July 4, 2021 by the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammad who ordered the Telecommunication companies operating in Nigeria to restrict Nigerians’ access to the Twitter platform, sanctions were promulgated against whosoever circumvent the restriction to face prosecution and imprisonment. The Nigerian Government outlined certain conditions around national security and cohesion; registration of physical presence and representation; fair taxation, dispute resolution; and local content as preconditions to unban the platform. The implication of the ban and the conditions to unban on freedom of expression is that the restriction is an interference to the freedom to receive information and impart ideas in contravention of the provision of the UDHR and the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. The whole Twitter ban saga has set a bad precedence in Nigeria vis a vis the freedom of expression of Citizens.
Harassment of Journalists: More often than not, Journalists in Nigeria face different forms of harassment for coverage and/or publishing of information that are perceived to be offensive to the government or their agents. Recently, Mr Ononiyi Feranmi was arrested by security operatives while reporting on elections, in the last Ekiti State Gubernatorial Election after he had recorded and transmitted an incident of violence among voters to his colleagues in the office. Also, in 2021 another Journalist Mr Obarayese reported being harassed by members of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad while on duty reporting on protests against police brutality in Osun State. He was arrested and denied access to his equipment for recording a divisional police officer, thus he was charged for breach of peace, a case that was eventually withdrawn on the order of the state’s Commissioner of Police, Wale Olokode. The implication of these trends is that Journalists could be pushed to compromise quality and accurate reporting, thereby affecting the efficiency of democratic practices in Nigeria.
Attempts on Social Media Regulation: The role of social media platforms as powerful tools of communication and mechanism to advance the freedom of speech and expression of people worldwide cannot be overemphasized. Meanwhile, Freedom of speech and expression is prescribed that every person has the natural right to express themselves freely through any means without fear and interference. In Nigeria unfortunately, the government and its agents in their attempt to control the media space have time and time again introduced one form of regulation or the other on social media. An example of such attempts is the introduction of the Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries, a brainchild of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) tactically created to criminalize offenses from the violation of the provision of the administrative instrument. Also, in 2015 a Frivolous Petitions Bill, 2015 (SB. 143) was sponsored by Senator Ibn Na’Allah, targeted at regulating the usage of social media platforms in Nigeria. Fast forward to 2019, Senator Muhammed Musa sponsored a similar bill titled “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019 (SB. 132)” also in an attempt to regulate social media among other legislative efforts. Therefore, it is important to note that all these afore-listed efforts are geared towards suppressing the freedom of speech and expression of Nigerians through some unwarranted media regulations.
Odious Sanctions and Penalties on Media Organizations: In Nigeria, the agency responsible for broadcasting regulation, is the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), statutorily empowered to license, monitor content and sanction among others. Studies have shown that in recent times, the NBC has become an instrument of oppression to media organizations by the Nigeria government whereby unwarranted sanctions and penalties are levied on operators for discharging their constitutional responsibility of informing the citizens. Example of those kinds of sanctions are the fine of Five (5) million naira levied on NTA-StarTimes Limited, MultiChoice Nigeria Limited—owners of DStv—and TelCom Satellite Limited for the BBC Africa Eye broadcast by the NBC for documentaries about violence and theft in Nigeria broadcasted by the afore listed media houses. In a similar instance in October 2020, NBC fined the Africa Independent Television, Arise Television and Channels Television between 2 million and 3 million naira each for covering the EndSARS protest, accusing them of playing a part in the escalation of violence across Nigeria. Hence, it became glaring that the NBC is being used to inflict vengeance on the media over the publication and broadcast of what could be referred to as inconvenient truths that is capable of embarrassing the government.
Freedom of Speech and Expression are fundamental rights of citizens in Nigeria backed by the provision of the UDHR and the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. Therefore, the media that serves as a platform for disseminating and receiving information derived its legal backing from the constitution directly and indirectly. On that note, it is safe to say that media freedom is pronounced and protected by extant laws in compliance with democratic principles. However, reality has revealed that there is a vast disconnect between the theory and praxis of media freedom in Nigeria which is escalated by a couple of factors, ranging from harassment of journalists, odious sanctions and penalties on media houses among others. There is no gainsaying in the fact that this article has highlighted some of the negative developments to media freedom in Nigeria since the publication of the last African Media Barometer of Nigeria in 2019. Three years down the line, media freedom has deteriorated significantly in Nigeria. Overzealous security operatives and thugs regularly attack journalists on duty, media houses are constantly influenced by censorship, obnoxious sanctions and penalties among other key media concerns. It is against this backdrop that this piece proffer the following actionable solutions to salvage media in Nigeria from the shackle of repression:
Abdraheem Ismael Opeyemi is a Youth Activist and Researcher with over eight (8) years’ experience in mobilizing resources and grassroot support for youth development and empowerment across different communities in Nigeria, as well as conducting Need Based studies on issues of socioeconomic and political importance to the Youth demography in Nigeria.
The views expressed and conclusions made in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of fesmedia Africa, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), or the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).