The Coalition for Whistleblowers Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF) in Nigeria says it is alarmed by the rapidly deteriorating press freedom in the country as occasioned by unrelenting attacks on Nigerian journalists and media institutions.
In a statement issued today (Thursday), the coalition said it worried by the cynical way the judiciary had been co-opted into acting against journalists.
“Indeed, it has never been this bad since the return of the country to democratic rule. This trend must be halted.
“The office of Civic Media Lab, which houses SaharaReporters, was invaded and cordoned off ostensibly on the account of the planned protest over the unjust incarceration of the founder, Mr. Omoyele Sowore. This meant that journalists, other media professionals as well as non-media staff of the organisation were barred from performing their legitimate duty.”
The coalition cited another example of the latest rash of attacks involving Mary Ekere, a journalist working with The Post, a local news platform in Akwa Ibom State and covering the state house of assembly.
Ekere was arrested on the 16 September 2019 for taking pictures of officials of the Akwa Ibom government task force who were conducting a raid on a popular recreational spot, Ibom Plaza, in Uyo, the state capital.
She was consequently molested, arrested, charged to court and detained.
Ekere was released after two nights in jail.
The group said further, “There is the case of Agba Jalingo, a journalist and publisher of Cross River Watch, who was initially hounded for criticising the state governor and who after being apprehended was slammed with terrorism charges under which he is now being held, while his health deteriorates.
“His, indeed constitutes a vivid example of abuse of laws using trumped-up criminal offences to suppress the press for holding the government accountable.
“Since his arrest on 26 August, 2019, he has been charged with “acts of treason, treasonable felony, and threatening through various publications on crossriverwatch.com and social media, using malicious publications, and instigating the people of Nigeria to stage protest for the removal of the Governor of Cross River State.”
The statement also recalled Tony Okafor, a Punch correspondent, who was harassed over the newspaper’s reports on a suspended senior lecturer at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Dr Peter Ekemezie.
The reporter was picked up by policemen at aroma junction, a meeting point for journalists in Awka.
More recently, Femi Adeshina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, issued a verbal threat against a State House correspondent, John Ameh (Punch Newspapers).
“All these attacks have occurred in just one month of September. The Press Attack Tracker has recorded 70 attacks on the media in 2019 alone, the implication of which is that an average of two journalists have experienced some form of attack every week since January 2019.
“This figure is baffling and highly reprehensible and it would come as no surprise at all if Nigeria falls even further down in the Press Freedom Index for 2019.
“The government, security agencies and quasi military forces at all levels are complicit in this increment of press suppression, with their posture suggesting lack of concern for democratic values, fundamental human rights and the primacy of the constitution,” the statement said.
It added, “If anything, the state of press freedom is indicative of a country walking backwards and dancing dangerously on the precipice of a dictatorship with zero tolerance for dissent.
“The Coalition for Whistle blowers Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF) calls on the federal government of Nigeria to take a stand for press freedom, and by implication democracy, by unambiguously condemning these attacks against journalists and pursuing the course of justice for the journalists who have been unjustly victimized.
“CWPPF also calls on members of the National Assembly – the Nigerian federal parliament – to undertake a review of press laws in Nigeria and amend or out rightly repeal those that are anti-press freedom while constituting relics of the military era.”
The coalition reiterated that for democracy to survive in Nigeria, it needed a strong.