By Kayode Ketefe
When the history of the present rulers of Nigeria is written, one of the episodes that would certainly go to the dark pages of history is the eccentric onslaught on the Nigerian media commenced by the Nigerian soldiers last Friday in which the newspaper distribution centre in Abuja was autocratically shut down while thousands of copies of newspapers of diverse titles were seized.
This repressive operation which continued the next day was executed in more comprehensive fashion. Reports had it that after the Abuja onslaught, there have been repeat operations in major cities across the country including Ilorin, Oshogbo, and Benin. In each of these places the soldiers besieged the main distribution centre and either prevented the agents and vendors from receipt and circulation of the papers generally or specifically seized thousands of copies of some specific newspapers.
It is noteworthy that this unprovoked war on the media happened a few days after the ill-fated attempt to gag the #Bringbackourgirls protesters when the Commissioner of Police in Abuja, Mathew Mbu placed a ban on all protest relating to the case abducted 230 Chibok girls in the Federal Capital Territory.
The authorities beat a hasty retreat when it dawned on them the development would alienate their international allies, like the United States, United Kingdom and France, who are already collaborating with them to solve the insecurity, especially in relation to liberation of the abductedgirls.
The said foreign countries would certainly not want to be part of a project featuring blatant repression of a globally recognised human right.
But after that incident cometh this fresh attempt to gag and cow the media.
Without mincing words, the mass seizure of newspapers and shutting down of strategic distribution centres, constitutes certainly, atavistic resurgence of the dictatorial military era and an unfortunate detraction on the little democratic gains we have made over the years.
One laughable rationalisation from the officialdom that is been brazenly peddled is that the clampdown was not meant as a war on free speech neither is it a war against the Nigerian journalists but just a routine security precautionary measures.
At least that appeared to be the statement credited to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe. In the statementOkupe had said it inter-alia, “The reported incidence of checks being carried out by the Military on major Nigerian roads and cities is not targeted at Newspaper vans because of the contents of the publications as insinuated in the reports. Rather, the Military had explained that those routine checks were being carried out following intelligence reports on the possibility of some elements within the society using such vehicles to convey ‘materials with grave security implications across the country’” imagine that!
Well, the truth is that the issue of insecurity had been invoked ad nasueam to always justify wanton violation of human rights. It would be recalled that the reversed order placed on the protest in Abuja by Mbu as stated above was also rationalised on the need to ensure security. To me, it still amounts to bad governance if you always have to trample on people’s rights before you can provide, nay, claim to provide security.
Another claim by the authorities that it was not the brain behind the unconstitutional onslaught is outright laughable, that is if you still have the fortitude to exercise your mirth faculty in the face of all the calamities in the land. If soldiers embarked on such a serious operations on their own without proper authorisation from the Commander-in-Chief of armed forces of Federal Republic of Nigeria, that is tantamount to usurpation of authority and proper sanction should follow.
But now, nobody is being sanctioned; everything is justified all in the name of security. Is it also the issue of security that made the soldiers to specifically demand for some newspapers and examined the contents before they decided whether or not to allow their circulation? Well, may be security they are speaking of is the security from being embarrassed by the truth contained in those newspapers!
The 1999 Constitution itself gives the media the power to operate with unfettered professional latitude within the confines of law when it provides in its section 22, thus, “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people” Furthermore section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution provides “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”
In the light of the above, there cannot be justification for the unprovoked war on the media. It is may be seen as purely dictatorial attempts to cow, dispirit, demoralize and gag the fourth estate of the realm ahead of the election period when truth “peddlers” would constitute insufferable nuisance.
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