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CLAMPDOWN ON THE PRESS

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CLAMPDOWN ON THE PRESS

This is not the best of times for the media sector in Nigeria. There have been desperate attempts to gag the press, a project being vigorously pursued by powerful anti-democratic forces that are afraid of their shadows being exposed by the free press.

Recently, certain prohibitive clauses that deny the freedom of the practising journalists to carry out their constitutional duty of exposing corrupt and bad governance were introduced into the amendment of the Press Council Bill at the National Assembly. That is after failed previous efforts to gag the online media, as well as the civil society organisation (CSOs).

At the same time, the nation’s premier private television broadcast station, the African Independent Television (AIT), raised an alarm that the Federal Government, through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), has been making moves to shut down the station on trumped up charges of violating ethical rules and regulations.

The motive, however, is simply to take AIT out for churning out contents the government consider too critical of its policies and programmes. The management of the station has since confirmed this by alleging that it had turned down unsolicited overtures from government not to see or say anything wrong against this government.

Currently, Mr. Samuel Ogundipe, a journalist practising with the Premium Times, a leading online newspaper in Nigeria with reputation for investigative journalism, is in detention, arrested by the Police.

From media reports, he is being interrogated to disclose the source through which he got the preliminary police report on the DSS siege of the NASS, a highly classified document addressed to the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, published on the newspaper’s website. Later, the Police accused him of violating Official Secret Act and have subsequently charged him to court.

The Editor-in-Chief of Premium Times, Muskilu Mojeed, and a reporter, Azeezat Adedigba, were reportedly briefly detained on Monday under this controversial circumstance.

We strongly believe the arrest of Mr. Ogundipe by the Police was done in bad faith. We condemn his arrest and urge the authorities to release him immediately. The trend in which journalists and media houses that are critical of the government are being harassed and threatened is against the basic creed of democracy, which is freedom of expression, association, etc. It is against the ethics of journalism profession to disclose your source of information.

This same position is being maintained by the Amnesty International. The director of the AI, Osai Ojigho, described the arrest and detention of Mr. Ogundipe as illegal. According to her, “The Nigerian police must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Samuel Ogundipe, who has been in unlawful police detention since yesterday,” the statement read. She added that, “The duty of journalists is not to please the authorities – it is to share information in the interest of the public, and forcing journalists to reveal their sources is illegal”.

The leading opposition political party, PDP, is on the same page demanding the immediate release of the journalist declaring that the present development is “reminiscent of military Decree 4 of 1984 that empowers then dictatorial regime to arrest and detain journalists over reports considered to be against its interest”.

The present government deployed the goodwill of the press to ride into power. It is therefore wrong and unfair to turn the table against it now. We must remind the government in power that it is a difficult task to win the war against the press in a democratic society. Leave the media alone.

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