The success of any democracy lies first in the hands of the people and next in the hands of the fourth estate of the realm, which constitutes the members of the press.
The media is the voice of the people whose words and visuals can combine to force the leaders of the people to comply, in the event of non-compliance.
Also, media activities go a long way in ensuring that stake holders in the leadership of the people do not negate the promises they made to them.
As stated by the Minister of information, Labran Maku, the presence of the media is a vital tool in distinguishing between a free democracy and a dictatorship system of government
Overtime, the press in Nigeria have been up and doing in their quest to ensure accountability of public officers. Most often than not, the media especially the print uses the aid of catchy headlines to pass across facts about happenings in government in such manner that most public officers have found quite unsettling.
On various occasions, the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, decried the unfriendly nature of the Nigerian print and other media saying they were good at propagating the message of hate.
During the recently concluded meeting of West African Journalists Association, (WAJA) in Abuja, the minister noted that: “The media in Nigeria, like all other free media across the world has its own headache. You can lose one or two people from a bad doctor or medical practitioner, but you will lose a whole nation from a bad media seeking to propagate hate. Lack of control is evident greatly in the way we report terrorism, economic political and other issues in the country. There is the need for the Media associations to organise a mechanism for the enforcement of professional media ethics in the line of duty. This is the channel for growth that is required of the media, both in Africa and in the world at large”.
A critical analysis would reveal that the Information Minister had spoken out of concern or worry for the growing freedom of media practitioners in Nigeria.
A couple of days back, a set of media practitioners were attacked while covering events from the ongoing rally by the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group, asking the government to ensure a safe return of the girls, abducted in Maiduguri on the 15th of April 2014.
The event which was witnessed by security operatives was reportedly not calmed by their presence as they were said to have acted as onlookers, while thugs attacked journalists and BBOG group, threatening to stop them from pointing their focus at government in the struggle to ensure the return of the girls.
The members of the BBOG group have since gone to court and sought redress for the way they were attacked, while no member of the press seems to bother about what had happened to them on that fateful day.
While these could mean that the media is somewhat selfless in its discharge of its duties, it could also go a long way to explain that media practice in Nigeria is as vulnerable as it has been before a mass of attackers in a battle field without protective helmets.
During a training program organised by the international center for investigative journalism, in Abuja recently, a member of the board of ICIR had this to say about journalism in Nigeria:
“I think insurance is something that every member of a work force needs.
It is something that addresses the work balance. When things get difficult as, they invariably can, because it is the nature of the terrain, often times the family or the individual is left to pick up the effect of the development”.
“Yet what we do is very important because it has a resonance with the way society views itself.
It has a very important import for the way the state responds to the citizenry.
Most often than not the journalists have to seek insurance measures themselves, but nothing says the employer cannot do that. There are various forms of insurances, that can be beneficial to workers, in the field of journalism
When we protect the people who do the difficult work, they are able to work longer and we are able to see their work for a much longer period.
So it’s a logical thing to try to protect the lives of journalists but unfortunately, most countries in the world neglect the issue of insurance for workers. Certainly the work of media practitioners can at times become more difficult than anticipated.
A case of a difficult scenario for journalists is the incident that engulfed the country on the 7th of June, when media practitioners from the print media were attacked in various states across the federation, by Military operatives who seized their papers and detained some of the media men.
Shortly after the start of the incident that day, the Nigerian military defended its confiscation of copies of the national newspapers.
A statement released by the military spokesman, Major General Chris Olukolade, said the military would not deliberately infringe on the freedom of the press without cause.
He said that intelligence indicated that materials with grave security implications were being moved across the country through newsprint related consignments.
Thus the next step to ensure security was a deliberate attempt to scare the carriers of “Materials with grave security implications”; hence the sudden attack and harassment of media workers.
Yet as stated by the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) Femi Adesina: ‘’the media do not bear arms; rather, we bear information, which sheds light on darkness, no matter how seemingly impenetrable the darkness is.’’
‘’Let no one accuse the media of any flimsy and nebulous security breach, and hide under that umbrella to traumatise us.’’
But unfortunately, the scene of trauma for media workers did not stop, after the said explanation by the Military. Instead it continued unabated the following day.
Although it was needless to have any one make this known to the Military, as they were supposed to have themselves been aware of it, the Nigerian Union of Journalist, through its leader, Mohammed Garba said about the incident that: “We feel that if there was anything that constituted a security threat and was going to pass through any media , the management of such media organisations should have been notified for the necessary adjustment and correction, rather than total seizure of its publications”.
The Military more than any other stake holder in the fight against terror should understand that the fight against terror cannot be won in isolation of the support of the media administration.
The report from the Military even went further to explain that the action was part of a routine effort to check security threats in the state; But as aptly noted by a Media Rights, Executive Director in Nigeria Mr. Edetaen Ojo “There is nothing routine in such widespread and systematic violation of the rights of media workers.
An act which amounts to a flagrant breach of Nigeria’s international obligation to respect and uphold the rights of its citizens, including the media”.
The group stated further that it was ironic that the Federal Government, which already faces severe and virtually unanimous public criticism for its incompetent response to the dire security situation in the country, chose to further alienate the media and the general population by using the excuse of fighting terrorism to harass innocent citizens and violate their rights under the Constitution and under international Law
The Federal government and certainly all those who played part in the untold attack should remember that Nigerians are not at all persuaded by the Federal Government’s excuse that the action of its security forces in obstructing the operations of media was in good faith.
At this point in time when the security operatives need the cooperation of the media to fight insurgency, an attack on the media from the same security operatives is unnecessary.
The major actors in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria will forever include the media. The security operatives understand that they cannot win the fight against terror without the media, so they should focus on redeeming the confidence of Nigerians in their effort to stem terror, rather than anticipate intimidating the Nigerian press in the quest to attain an objective that they even they cannot explain.