In performing its functions of informing, educating and entertaining, the media in Nigeria has contributed in no small measure to national development and the entrenchment, growth and sustenance of democracy.
No doubt, it is for the very crucial role of the media in the society in teaching, sensitizing and mobilizing the people via information dissemination, that the freedom of the press is equally fully granted in the constitution, besides the freedom of speech enshrined as part of the basic fundamental human rights of citizens.
However, it must also be noted that the said freedom of press does not give media organizations and practitioners in the industry the leeway to unnecessarily malign or mar the reputation of any individual, group or government through their publications and contents.
Where of course such situation occurs, the appropriate thing for the affected person, group or government to do is to seek redress through the constitutional means of instituting a legal action against the media house.
It is on this note that I condemn in its entirety the unwarranted clampdown on the media by the Nigerian military, which reportedly confiscated newspapers and impounded distribution vans of media outfits, acting on a supposed intelligence report.
I do not think it is proper for the Army to launch this kind of onslaught against the media, no matter where the directive may have come from. Rather than this offensive attack and needless intimidation of the media, what the Nigerian Army as a key security agency ought to do is to continue to ensure a very smooth relationship with the press.
As a matter of fact, soldiers are supposed to see themselves as partners in progress with media organizations in the fight against terrorism, which is seriously hitting us in the face at the moment. The deadly activities of the Boko Haram sect have reportedly claimed about 12, 000 lives since 2009 and the terrorist group is currently holding captive about 300 innocent schoolgirls for almost two months now.
The rescue of these girls is what we should concentrate on now and not the terrorization of newspaper firms. I recall in one of my most recent articles captioned: “Jonathan’s plea for emergency rule extension”, how I enjoined Nigerians to put aside their religious, ethnic and political affiliations to combine effort with the military and government in the battle to stamp out terrorism from our dear country, Nigeria.
In the said piece, I also urged the Senate while it was trying to dilly-dally to concur with the resolution of the House of Representatives that had already approved the request of Mr. President for a six-month extension of the emergency rule in the troubled Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. Many had used the media to vent their views for and against the extension of the state of emergency, but at the end of day it was granted.
It is annoying therefore to see the military taking such a preposterous action that is capable of giving wrong impression about the Nigerian media, when they are supposed to be working with the press to achieve a better result in the struggle against insurgency. I do not think that the purported order could have come from the Presidency, as some may want us to believe. But I think the President as the Commander- In-Chief has a duty to call the military to order to stop this unjustified harassment.
Major General Chris Olukolade, the Director of Defence Information last Friday confirmed that soldiers were indeed given orders to ransack newspaper distribution vans for “materials with grave security implications”, stressing that the exercise had nothing to do with the contents or operations of the affected newspaper outfits or their staff. The statement reads in part: “The Defence Headquarters wishes to clarify that the exercise has nothing to do with content or operation of the media organizations or their personnel as it is being wrongly imputed by a section of the press.
The military appreciates and indeed respects the role of the media as an indispensable partner in the ongoing counter-insurgency operation and the overall advancement of our country’s democratic credentials. As such, the military will not deliberately and without cause, infringe on the freedom of the press. The general public and the affected media organizations in particular are assured that the exercise was a routine security action and should not be misconstrued for any other motive.”
This explanation by the military spokesman did not hold water for many Nigerians who were equally shocked by the sudden crackdown on the media, which continued for three consecutive days, from Friday, June 6, 2014. For instance, President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Okey Wali (SAN), described it as “strange to democracy”.
The NBA president picked holes in the explanation offered by the Defence mouthpiece, Olukolade, maintaining that “Clampdown on newspaper distribution is not and cannot be a language in a democracy and we do not understand what the defence spokesman and the Presidency are saying. We expect clarification from the government. This, they must do as soon as possible. We are waiting.”
•Michael Jegede, a journalist and commentator on national issues writes from Abuja (07065574368)
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