Nigeria’s Democracy ‘ll remain a mirage till media freedom is guaranteed – Prof Ananaba, SAN

Says about 2000 Journalists killed since return to civil rule in 1999

As Spaces for Change ends workshop for At-Risk-Journalists

By Chidi Emeagi

A Professor of law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Paul Ananaba has stated it emphatically clear that Nigeria’s democracy would remain a mirage unless journalists are allowed to fully and freely exercise their freedoms and powers as encapsulated in the 1999 constitution as amended.

Ananaba submitted that as far as media practitioners are always hounded, hunted and sometimes killed for writing or speaking the truth about ill-happenings, bad governance and all manner of atrocious acts, the nation will continue to remain on the ground zero level in global democracy index and ratings.

Prof Ananaba who stated this at one day Legal Clinic for AT-RISK-JOURNALISTS held on Wednesday 9th June, 2021 at M-SQUARE Hotel Ikeja, Lagos revealed that about 2,000 journalists have been unfortunately killed in the line of duty since the return of democracy in Nigeria in 1999.

He lampooned the nation’s judiciary for not being alive to it’s responsibility of checking the excesses of the Executive and Legislature but had rather aided the executive in suppressing the wills and democratic freedoms of the Nigerian people. He added that courts are extremely corrupt to the extent that they usurp INEC duties by declaring candidates that never won elections winners whilst the authentic winners groan and weep.

The Senior Advocate in his paper entitled: “Media Practitioners and the Law” told participants at the workshop to always be fair, objective and professional in their reportage and investigations. According to him, truths and facts are sacred and stand their test till eternity no matter how government operators tend to water them down.
“Stand your ground all the time, death may come but truth shall set us free. One journalist was able to save the entire Judiciary in Ghana, and I think we have better journalists here in Nigeria. Don’t play into their hands, be careful not to mention names in your reports and comments to avoid libel and defamation.
Fair comments are not defamatory. Instead of saying Governor A is corrupt, say that his government is, and it’s activities do not show good governance.”

Prof Paul Ananaba used the medium to inform journalists that SEDITION is no longer part our laws , as such no media person should allow the Government or Police prosecute him or her leveraging on the provisions of the already non existent law.

In her opening Paper, entitled “The Closing Database” the Executive Director Spaces For Change (S4C), the international NGO that organized the Legal Clinic, Mrs Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri said her organisation would continue to track restrictions, attacks on journalists and Nigerians, crackdown and clampdowns on the civil space. According to Ibezim-Ohaeri, the press freedoms, access to information, right to dignity of life among others are non negotiable globally and Nigeria must not operate in isolation.

The S4C Executive Director said rights are consciously violated by those in authority because they don’t want to be challenged especially in the legislative houses. She said CAMA bill that the National Assembly wanted to enact recently was aimed at suppressing CSOs, NGOs , etc so that they could continue to lead Nigeria without any checks and balances.
Mrs Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri singled out Kaduna and Lagos as the states in Nigeria with worst and most worrisome records of civil space crackdowns, rights abuse and intolerance of public opinions. She added that down south, freedoms are laughably restricted by arresting those involved and charged with terrorism while up north, same persons are unimaginably charged with blasphemy, immorality, using religion when their alleged offences had nothing to do with religion.

She urged media practitioners to always partner Non Governmental Organizations in order to effectively check the excesses of those in authority.

A Retired Commissioner of Police and one time Force Public Relations Officer during the reign of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Mr Frank Odita in his paper: “Security Awareness and Safety for Media Practitioners” counseled participants to avoid being at the right place at the wrong time.
Odita informed that in the face of the current state of precarious insecurity, journalists are endangered species and must avoid being in the right place at the wrong time.

He argued that heros are always those that went to war and came back alive and not necessarily those at war fronts but killed by stray bullets due to their carelessness.
He advised journalists to do in-depth risk assessment before embarking on any journey in today’s Nigeria.

“Even after your risk assessment, and you still encountered these murderous hoodlums on your way, try not to be a hero by arguing with them, comply with their orders, and possibly answer strictly only the questions posed to you. For instance, if they ask you, what is your name? Don’t tell them your name is John and your wife’s name is Caroline or that you are a journalist. You may end up giving them information that will arm them to kill or injure you.”

CP Frank Odita urged participants to be dispassionate, truthful, investigative, and avoid putting monetary considerations above professionalism.
Other resource persons at the workshop included Mr Habib Adebisi, Ehizefua Edeh and Zikora Ibeh.

Whilst Adebisi spoke on “Waging War against Cyber Attacks and Cyber Terrorism” where he revealed that the war against cyber terrorism is unwinnable but journalists can reduce cyber terrorism by protecting their devices and applications with latest security principles, Ehizefua Edeh discussed the possibility of journalists linking up with local and international human defenders that will assist them get justice over abuses and rights violations.

The conference which was described as impactful and timely by participants who poured encomiums on S4C for organizing such, was attended by journalists drawn from crisis-torn states like Borno, Kaduna Imo, Zamfara, Oyo, Abuja, Lagos, etc, and were selected from the print, electronic and online media platforms.

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