….the United Nations sets aside November 2 every year as an International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists…. the endless culture of violence against journalists, and its attendant imperilment of press freedom and professional advancement of media men.
As the world celebrates the International Day To End Impunity For Crimes Against Journalists’ every November 2, it is pertinent to critically examine the ugly trend of endless violence against journalists across the world, especially as the trend has taken a trajectory that casts members of the press up as endangered specie. Endangered species by dictionary definition are those species of organisms that are at the risk of going into extinction. In other words, they are very likely to stop existing unless urgent steps are taken to preserve them. By this definition, journalists are not any less endangered species, since the unwholesome activities that are been perpetrated in the milieu within which they operate are not just inhibiting their practice but subject them to indignities and even untimely deaths. It is stated that everyday, at least 10 journalists are at a very high risk of been harassed, beaten up or even assassinated.
Records have shown that over the last decade, violence against journalists may have doubled, if not tripled, for reasons that are not unconnected with their precarious job of making governments accountable to the people and exposing sundry ills in the society. The primary work of the press is to hold the government accountable to the people, and to educate, inform, entertain and set agenda. Journalists are often exposed to the worst kinds of dangers, just in a bid to inter-alia, give voice to the voiceless and ensure that things are in their right order.
Again, there seems to be a widespread disdain for journalists which stems from the fact that human naturally abhor and resist criticisms and corrections– tools that are never lacking in the journalist’s kitty. It is very common for people to shudder when a journalist introduces himself in public. This goes to show that the journalist is not seen as a threat by only those who have real reasons to be afraid of him, but also by those who for no real reasons or by default, cannot just stand the virtues he represents. For governments, their abhorrence of the press which is designated as the ‘Fourth Estate of the realm’, can be understood. For one reason, the press plays the pivotal role of the watchdog that oversees government’s activities and cries foul when there is need to. This makes journalists the natural enemies of the ruling class.
Journalists are also in great jeopardy in places where the remote monitoring of criminal and inhuman activities is strongly abhored. In Iraq for instance, where the ISIS holds sway and perpetrates all manner of heinous crimes, close monitoring of the sect’s activities can prove very dangerous to the journalist who is interested in doing so. More journalists are killed and abducted in the regions where activities of insurgents and Islamic extremists are rife.
A recent report by the International Press Institute (IPI) revealed that over 40 per cent of the 168 journalists’ deaths recorded in Africa between 1997 and 2015, occurred in Somalia, a perpetually war-torn country, while Nigeria accounted for 22 per cent of the total figure. Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Congo-Brazzaville, Madagascar, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Mozambique, and Uganda each accounted for one per cent of the figure. Countries with the highest figures of journalists’ deaths are those in the Middle East. Iraq stands as the most dangerous place to practice remote journalism, while Philippines, Mexico, Pakistan, and Syria follow in the order.
Many more journalists will continue to be at the risk of losing their lives and property in so far as governments around the world continually relent in their obligation to the press. The irony of it all is that governments, which is supposed to create a safe haven for the press to effectively perform its function have turned around to become the press’s worst nightmare. This is one reason why the United Nations on the World Press Freedom Day of this year, harped on the need to ease the practice of journalism for stakeholders in the media industry.
The call was further accentuated by Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations, who in his speech on the World Press Freedom Day, made the remarkable statement that, “Journalists go to the most dangerous places to give voice to the voiceless. Media workers suffer character assassination, sexual assault, detention, injuries, and even death. We need leaders to defend the free media. This is crucial to counter prevailing misinformation. And we need everyone to stand for our right to truth. On World Press Freedom Day, I call for an end to all crackdowns against journalists because a free press advances peace and justice for all. When we protect journalists, their words and pictures can change our world.”
Guterres’ message aptly captured the essence of the commemoration of the very important international date, which is to draw the attention of world leaders, stakeholders and all those concerned to the rising trend of the unwillingness of governments and prosecutorial authorities to follow up on cases involving the harassment, brutalization and murder of journalists, and bring the culprits to book.
In Nigeria, instances abound of cases involving the murder of journalists that have remained unresolved – the most familiar being the assassination of veteran journalist, Dele Giwa, in October 19, 1986, through a parcel bomb. Giwa’s resoluteness in vocalizing his disdain for the disorderly system that was in place, earned him the admiration and respect of both the Nigerian and foreign media stakeholders. He was a trailblazer in the media industry, and he achieved several unprecedented feats during his lifetime. The circumstances surrounding his death which were shrouded in mystery at the early stage of investigations, were eventually unraveled, yet the culprits fingered in that crime are yet to be turned in for interrogation, and neither has the state taken any serious steps to prosecute them nor condemn them. Giwa’s death was to serve as a deterrent to other dauntless journalists who might want to toe his path.
Bagauda Kalto, then a fearless journalist with The News during the military era was abducted from his hotel room in Durbar Hotel, Kaduna and murdered during General Sani Abacha’s regime.
On August 17, 2008, Abayomi Ogundeji, a journalist with ThisDay was murdered. Bayo Ohu, a reporter with The Guardian was on August 31, 2009 murdered mysteriously. This year, Famous Giobaro, a journalist with Bayelsa Radio Corporation, Glory FM 97.1, Yenagoa was also murdered
On the September 6, 2014, the news of Dimgba Igwe’s death filtered into the public domain. Dimgba who until his death was the vice chairman of The Sun Newspaper, had made his mark in the pen-pushing profession after having worked in a couple of defunct media outfits including The Concord Newspaper, which was owned by the late Chief MKO Abiola. The veteran journalist was knocked down by a hit-and-run car while jogging on that fateful Saturday morning, along the road to his house in Okota, Lagos.
Circumstances surrounding his death revealed clearly that he was assassinated, contrary to the popular report that his death was as a result of an accident. Further investigations revealed that the car that knocked him down had its glasses tinted, and had no number plate, and that the driver deliberately left his lane and swerved into the pedestrian lane where Dimgba and the other pedestrians were jogging, and crushed him gruesomely, avoiding very carefully those who were even very close to him. That was another sad episode in the series of journalists’ deaths. Investigations so far carried out by the police into Dimgba’s death has not yielded any tangible outcome, and the matter has since been swept under the carpet.
Many Nigerian journalists, too numerous to mention, have also come under the heat of severe criticisms, harsh censures, mob actions, outright abduction, and other forms of attacks in the line of duty. In many cases, governments summarily give orders for journalists who supposedly pose a threat to their cause to be dispensed with. There is the case of Midat Joseph, bureau-chief of LEADEWRSHIP Newspapers in Kaduna who was on April 20, 2017, arrested at the behest of Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, is another one that readily comes to mind whenever the issue of unfair treatment of journalists is raised. El-Rufai had ordered the arrest of Joseph because the latter had released a publication that the state government considered ‘very critical and capable of bringing the government to disrepute’. Joseph’s case was one of the seven cases of victimization of pressmen by Governor el-Rufai.
Oludare Richards, a reporter with The Guardian newspaper, was on August 16th 2017, attacked viciously at the Wuse Market in Abuja by hoodlums who staged a counter-protest to the “Resume or Resign” protest led by right activist, Charly Boy, to compel President Muhammadu Buhari to return to the country from his medical vacation in the United Kingdom, and face his duties as president or resign his position. Richards narrowly escaped with his life after sustaining very life-threatening injuries from the stones hauled at him and other members of the group. His case is one among so many cases a where journalist narrowly escaped been lynched; he also lost so many of his sensitive working gadgets during the attack.
Another very popular case of violence against journalists was the arrest and unlawful detention of Friday Ogungbemi, who was arrested in Kogi State on November 30, 2016.
Recall that in Oyo State this year, LEADERSHIP Newspaper’s correspondent, Adebayo Waheed was physically assaulted during the state government’s event by an aide of the governor.
In East Africa, Kenya is one country where journalists have routinely been assaulted and also killed. In a recent report published by The Star, a Kenyan online news portal, Dennis Otieno was last year, shot dead in his home at Kitale, at about 11:30pm. Reason for his murder was that he was in possession of a certain photographs that was of huge interest to his assailants. Such gruesome murder has been the lot of so many hapless journalists who were found by their detractors to pose threats to their interests.
The list of journalists who have met their death while in the line of duty is inexhaustible. Many of these deaths were orchestrated by persons or groups who felt threatened by the activities of the press.
Worse is that many at times when journalists die in the course of their job, no compensations are awarded to their families, and no investigations are duly carried out to identify their killers and take up proper legal actions against them. Thus, it has become a pastime to harass, maim, assault or even murder a journalist. There is indeed for an urgent need for governments around the world to set up structures that would see to the security of the press.
The press, being the fourth arm of the realm, is one branch of government whose role can never be overemphasized. The press is the interface between the government and the people. The press plays the crucial role of educating, entertaining, enlightening, informing and exposing the ills of the society. It is the mirror that reflects the true image of the society. A world without the press is like a body without the eyes.
Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States of America, couldn’t have said it better than, “The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter.”
In those profound words, the scholastic gentleman laid it up straight on how much value he placed on the press, and how essential is its role in any society.
The society that values the press towers over and above the one that treats it with disdain. There is ample proof that nations that have successfully conquered their challenges and lapses have been able to do so by partnering seamlessly with the press.
The role of the press in nation building cannot be over-emphasized. As partnering with the press helps a nation to shoot up to relevance, so also does neglecting the press hasten its fall to its nadir. The growth of any nation is directly proportional to its involvement with the press. The press’s role in nation building is sacrosanct–it can be done by it alone.