On the occasion of today’s commemoration of the 2023 World Press Freedom Day, the Nigerian National Committee of the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) is asking the new government that will be inaugurated in Nigeria on May 29 to commit to creating a better operating environment for journalists and media organisations.
In the past few years, cases of media and journalists’ harassment have been rampant. These violations include arrests, physical attacks, denial of access, threats, equipment damage, equipment seizure, lawsuits and high-handedness and arbitrariness by some agencies of government.
Nigerian journalists are in perpetual danger, and we are urging the incoming government to embrace a new attitude by deliberately improving the operational environment of journalists and the media. There are still a number of oppressive and media-unfriendly laws, such as those on criminal defamation and cybercrime, that need to be amended. The government should also begin widespread sensitisation of its security operatives, who must understand that journalists and the media are key elements of democracy.
While state actors, especially state governors, must end intimidation and harassment of journalists, Nigerian politicians and political parties should also desist from the use of online trolls to attack journalists and media organisations for performing their constitutional duties of upholding the people’s right to know and holding governments, individuals and organisations accountable.
The incoming administration, to be led by Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, must also take deliberate steps to help the sustainability of media outlets while respecting press freedom and freedom of speech.
IPI Nigeria is also concerned that as laudable as the passage of the Freedom of Information Act is, journalists have not been able to fully utilise the law to hold public officials accountable because government officials continue to play pranks to deny them the information they seek.
Section 2 (1) of the Act states, “A public institution shall ensure that it records and keeps information about all its activities, operations and business”. This provision is not being complied with. Specifically, sub-sections 2–4 mandate public institutions to publish public records in different accessible forms for information seekers. This is also not being complied with.
Sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution provide for Freedom of Expression and the Press.
Section 22 states that: “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”. Section 39, which is closely related to Section 22, provides that: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”.
IPI Nigeria demands that the incoming government commits to the total implementation of the FOI Act. This is because the free flow of information is essential to the survival and growth of democracy. Misinformation and disinformation thrive more robustly when authorities withhold information that ordinarily should be made available to the public.