Fred Itua, Abuja

The introduction of stringent guidelines for journalists and media organisation wishing to cover the inauguration of the ninth National Assembly has drawn the ire of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE).

The NUJ described as satanic, the guidelines, which among others require media practitioners to tender certificate of incorporation and two-year tax certificate to qualify for accreditation.

National President of NUJ, Mr. Chris Isiguzo, told Daily yesterday that a 24-hour ultimatum has been issued to the management of the National Assembly “to rescind the satanic decision or face the wrath of the union.”

Similarly, the Guild attacked the action of the management of NASS.

To the editors’ group, it is “primitive, undemocratic and blatantly anti-press and anti-people” the NUJ dismissed it as satanic and issued the NASS a 24-hour ultimatum to withdraw it.

“The Guild finds this vexatious, disrespectful and Draconian. It is a scurrilous attempt to gag the press in a democracy and it cannot stand,” a statement issued by the General Secretary, Mary Atolagbe, said.

The Guild called on all media houses across the nation to rise up and reject what it called “this medieval intrusion into the media space in the 21st century, much more in a democracy which Nigerian media doggedly fought for and for which some journalists paid the supreme price.”

The statement read: “These guidelines run contrary to the grains of reason, democratic ideals and they are a clear affront on the letter and spirit of the Nigerian constitution which empowers journalists to freely practice their profession without any gag, muzzling and restriction.

“The NASS guidelines negate the constitutional principle of freedom of expression and run contrary to the African Charter on fundamental rights and the right of the people to know. The Guild strongly objects to these guidelines in their entirety as they serve no public good except the myopic interest of its chroniclers and purveyors.

“The Guild is disappointed that the same eighth National Assembly which benefited immensely from free press in its moments of trial has turned round to put the same press in shackles and chains. We reject this crude abrasion of our constitutional rights to freely disseminate information. It cannot stand.”

He said if the ultimatum is ignored, more punitive measures would be taken to drive home the union’s points.

Under the latest arrangement announced by NASS, journalists detailed to cover the June 11 inauguration of the two chambers of the ninth National Assembly (NASS) are expected to scale a high hurdle to  qualify to access the National Assembly during the inauguration of the next Assembly.

Director of Information in the National Assembly, Mr. Agada Rawlings Emmanuel, in a statement in Abuja, yesterday, said the existing accreditation of journalists will not be recognised during the inauguration of the ninth Assembly.

As part of the new measures, which observers and stakeholders have described as open declaration of war, journalists are expected to provide evidence of payment of tax for at least three years and code of certification from the National Library for the media organisation

Evidence of certificate of incorporation of each media organisation must also be tendered before journalists could be accredited.

The guidelines read: “Journalists must provide evidence of certificate of incorporation of the media organisation. There must be evidence of membership of professional bodies for media organisation.

“Journalists must submit proof of membership of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) with registration number.

“There must be a functional Bureau in Abuja (staff strength not less than five editorial staff and daily circulation of 40,000 copies for the print media with evidence to support the claimed circulation figure.)

“Media houses must be publishing daily and on weekend (Applicable to Online Media).

“Re-certification form must be signed and endorsed by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the media organisation Bureau Chief, City Editor as the case may be.

“The media organisation concerned must have experience of covering proceedings of the National Assembly for at least two (2) years before applying for permanent accreditation.

“All media organization will submit a copy of its income tax return for the last two years.

“All online media must have at least 5000 viewership per day, the site must have been in operation for 5 years and provide satisfactory evidence to this effect with clippings of the news utilized (especially parliamentary news).

“Only television stations with national coverage and specific independent producers with current running programme on the National Assembly will be allowed access into the Chambers on a permanent basis (All the production crew will be accredited as entity).

“All correspondents must attach photocopy of letter of appointment of the media organisation on whose behalf request has been received for grant of accreditation.

“It is only journalists and correspondence whose media organisations meet the above requirements for permanent accreditation that will be entitled to carry National Assembly Identity Card/Membership of the respective Press Corp

“All other media organisation who do not meet the above requirement will be captured under the Temporary accreditation status and they will not be entitled to carry National Assembly Identity Card/Membership of the Press Corp of the Senate and House of Representatives.

“All permanently accredited journalists/correspondents shall submit recertification letter from the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of their media organisation on a sessional basis failure to which accreditation shall be withdrawn forthwith.”

Already, journalists have been barred from covering activities of the Senate from the gallery. They have also been evicted from their press centre by the management of the National Assembly.

Apart from frequently harassing journalists and denying them access to the complex, security officers attached to the Assembly have also barred journalists from parking their vehicles in the allotted spaces inside the complex.

National leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has endorsed Ahmad Lawan  and Femi Gbajabiamila to succeed Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara, as President and Speaker of the Senate and House of Representastives.

The decision to micro-zone the principal offices, has, however, sparked controversy in the NASS, leading to accusations and counter-accusations.