During this year’s celebration of World Press Freedom Day, the federal government assured Nigerian journalists that it would not tamper with the freedom of the press. The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, stated this at a press briefing organised by his ministry, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), to commemorate the 2024 World Press Freedom Day, in Abuja.

The minister also stated that “the President recognised the importance of responsible media coverage in enlightening, informing, and educating Nigerians and the world.” He pointed out that through credible and timely information citizens will be well-informed, and the media can serve as a valuable tool for fostering transparency and accountability.

Speaking on the theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, “A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the face of the environmental crisis, Idris acknowledged the increasing global environmental crisis characterized by climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and resource depletion, and called for decisive action toward public mobilisation and sensitisation.

“It is our conviction that press freedom is not just a fundamental human right, it is also essential for environmental sustainability. Without a free and independent press, we cannot hope to address the complex environmental challenges we face,” the minister observed.

Similarly, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, has posited that the freedom of the media to discharge their functions without inhibitions is crucial for good governance in any country. The lawmaker, who stated this in a keynote address at the Press Freedom and Good Governance Awards organised by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Abuja, said the 10th House recognised the importance of a free and responsible press in the society.

According to him, “Press freedom and good governance are intricately linked, forming a symbiotic relationship that is essential for the functioning of a healthy democracy. Press freedom ensures that the media can operate independently, holding those in power accountable, and serving as a watchdog for the public interest.”

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The role of the media to hold the government to account is clearly stated in the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. Section 22 states that “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.”

In the same vein, Section 39 (1) is very clear on the right to freedom of expression when it states that “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” On no account should these constitutional provisions on press freedom be breached.

Despite the government’s position and the guarantee of press freedom by our constitution, it is unfortunate that the freedom of the press is daily been muzzled and suppressed by the agents of the government in various forms. Even in a democratic government as we have now, the intimidation of the press has been strident and brazen. The recent detention of former editor of FirstNews online, Segun Olatunji, and Daniel Ojukwu of Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) by Nigerian security agencies does not suggest that the government is willing to promote press freedom.

The avoidable and unfortunate detention violates their rights to freedom of expression and carrying out their duties as journalists. No matter the alleged offences of the journalists in question, there are legal channels to seek redress. Without exhausting these channels of redress, it is immoral for the government to literally abduct, detain and torture journalists on flimsy excuses. The government should, henceforth, respect the rights of the journalists to serve as the watchdog of the society and hold the government to account.

We condemn the harassment of Nigerian journalists in the course of their professional duties and urge the federal government to show much commitment to ensuring the freedom of the press and allow journalists to do their work without molestation. The government should promise to end the incessant harassment and arrest of journalists and other media workers.

Without a vibrant press, our democratic march will be stalled. Any country without press freedom will witness dictatorship and other ills of authoritarianism. We call on the federal lawmakers to commence forthwith the review laws and practices that restrict press freedom and the ability of the media to carry out their constitutional role effectively.

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