Nigeria needs free media to guarantee ‘freedom after speech’ [Pulse Contributor’s Opinion]

Nigeria needs free media to guarantee ‘freedom after speech’  [Pulse Contributor’s Opinion]

<p class="">A free media is important for the good of all Nigerians.</p>

<p class="">Freedom of speech is a right every Nigerian should have. However, evidence shows that while there may be freedom to speak, freedom after the speech is uncertain for the average person. Successive Nigerian governments have over the years made many decisions that question their sincerity towards the people they lead. Rather than adjust these decisions and policies when the people speak up against them, they react with violence against those that spoke up.</p>

<p class="">In recognition of the media’s role as watchdog of society and mouthpiece of the people, most people go through them – television, radio, print and electronic platforms (blogs) – when they desire to register grievances. Unfortunately, the uncertainty of freedom after a speech in Nigeria is a reality for the media as well. There are many instances of media and media workers suffering the wrath of powerful people for carrying out their functions.</p>

<p class="">Very recently, Agba Jalingo, a journalist and publisher of Cross River Watch spent 170 days in prison for criticizing Cross Rivers State governor Ben Ayade. He was arrested for exposing the ills of a political leader in his capacity as watchdog and ‘mouthpiece of the people’. Similarly, investigative journalist, Fisayo Soyombo, had his fair share of post free speech drama. Following his October 2019 undercover investigation which exposed the rot in the Nigerian prison system, police brutality and corruption of the justice system, his freedom was threatened. Instead of applause for being an effective watchdog he was denied freedom after speech, forcing him into hiding and sparking a national outcry.</p>

<p class="">Freedom of expression has therefore become a hoax in the Nigerian context because the watchdogs are now the ‘watched dogs’. There too many cases of human rights activists, investigative journalists, and broadcasters get caged for daring to be brave. Journalists are arrested in the course of their duty. Some are harassed,as in the Femi Fani-Kayode vs Charles Eyo of Daily Trust Newspaper case, for simply speaking or acting on behalf of the people whose voice they represent. Others like critic Abubakar Idris Dadiyata just go missing for months and years without trace. They have become prey to predators trying to cover-up injustice, financial misappropriation, maladministration and other crimes.</p>

<p class="">Despite all of these challenges, the media are still watching the government, and the general society, on behalf of the people. They are still clearly the last resort of the average Nigerian. More often than not, respite only comes the way of the oppressed and the unjustly-treated when the media intervenes. A typical example is the Human Rights Radio (101.1fm) Brekete Family radio talk magazine that has helped many citizens fight injustice. This implies that the place of media in social justice must not be threatened.</p>

<p class="">Freedom of speech is therefore a right and a need that must be provided without condition. This is the reason for the increasing influence of freelance journalism. Enabled by online platforms like blogs and social media, independent freelance journalists use their platforms to disseminate useful information and express opinions boldly. The fact that digital media platforms are harder to control than traditional media organisations with physical addresses has made them effective for speaking up for the people.</p>

<p class="">Interestingly, sections of Nigeria’s Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc) Act and the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019 already exist to block these outlets for free expression. This is not good for our democracy because the populace loses confidence in a leadership that stifles their voices, especially one that claims to be a democracy. The government must realise that media play important roles and must have total freedom to carry out their duties, rather than struggle with an atmosphere of direct and indirect gagging and oppression.</p>

<p class="">This is for the good of all.</p>

<p class=""><strong><em>—–</em></strong></p>

<p class=""><em>Pulse Contributors is an initiative to highlight diverse journalistic voices. Pulse Contributors do not represent the company Pulse and contribute on their own behalf.</em></p>

<p class=""><strong><em>—–</em></strong></p>

<p class=""><strong><em>About the author</em>: <em>Blessing Ese Enenaite is a Nigerian writer and fashion entrepreneur. She is the author of the self-help book ‘9 Keys to Successful Living’. Blessing is presently a content writer for a Lagos-based media firm.</em></strong></p>

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