Sunday, November 6, 2016

Stop violence and impunity against journalists!

I pay tribute to the courage of all media personnel who put their lives on the line for the sake of truth, and I call for immediate action to secure justice in cases where journalists were attacked, harassed or killed.” -  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the 2016 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

Did you know that November 2 of every year has been declared by the United Nations as International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists? Did you know that there have been 827 known killings of journalists over the past 10 years and that of this number only eight per cent of perpetrators have been held accountable? Did you know that 2012 is the deadliest year for journalists with 123 journalists murdered in cold blood? Did you know that 2015 is the second deadliest year for journalists with 115 journalists assassinated including the 10 media workers murdered in the unprecedented attack against the French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris? Did you know that the majority of killings (36.5 per cent) occur in the Arab States, largely due to ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya? Did you also know that it’s been 30 years since the renowned Nigerian journalist, Dele Giwa was murdered in his home in Lagos and that his killers are yet to be found and brought to justice?

According to information garnered from the website of the United Nations;  worried by the growing incidences of crimes against journalists, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/68/163 at its 68th session in 2013 which proclaimed November 2 as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ (IDEI). The Resolution urged Member States to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity. The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on November 2, 2013.

This landmark resolution condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers. It also urges Member States to do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability, bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against journalists and media workers, and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies. It further calls upon States to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference. 

The Paris Declaration of the 2014 World Press Freedom Day conference held at UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Headquarters states: “the continuing high level of killings of journalists’ calls for intensified action by international organisations, governments, media and other actors to give heightened attention to strengthening the safety of journalists and to bringing their killers to justice.” According to UNESCO, “In addition to killings, journalists are kidnapped, arbitrarily detained, tortured, intimidated and harassed, both on and offline. Freelance journalists are more vulnerable, as they often work without adequate protections that large media outlets provide. While the overwhelming majority of journalists who are murdered are men… women journalists face additional risks: gender-based threats, harassment, intimidation, violence and rape.”

Nigerian journalists have had their fair share of repression and oppression. One such incident happened in 1973. Minere Amakiri, then a reporter with Nigerian Observer, the old Bendel State owned newspapers had his head shaved with broken bottle on the orders of Alfred Diette-Spiff, the then Military governor of the State. His “crime” was that he dared to report on July 30, 1973 the plight of teachers on a day that fell on the birthday of Diette Spiff, who was then 31 years old. On October 19, 1986, Newswatch editor, Dele Giwa was murdered with a parcel bomb in his Ikeja home.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, (CPJ) between 1992 and 2013, ten journalists had been murdered in Nigeria with motive for their elimination confirmed while nine others were killed without clear or confirmed motives. Those who were killed with motives include:  Enenche Akogwu of Channels TV who was murdered on January 20, 2012, in Kano; Zakariya Isa of Nigeria Television Authority killed on October 22, 2011 in Maiduguri; Sunday Gyang Bwede and Nathan S. Dabak of The Light Bearer who were both stabbed to death on April 24, 2010 in Jos.

Other victims include Bayo Ohu of  The Guardian who was assassinated on  September 20, 2009 in Lagos; Samson Boyi of  The Scope who died on November 5, 1999 in Adamawa State; Sam Nimfa-Jan of  Details magazine who was killed on  May 27, 1999 in Kafanchan; Fidelis Ikwuebe a Freelancer who was murdered on  April 18, 1999  in Anambra State; Okezie Amaruben of  Newsservice who was shot by police on September 2, 1998 in Enugu  and Tunde Oladepo of  The Guardian who was killed on February 26, 1998, in Abeokuta.

The nine with unconfirmed motives include: Ikechukwu Udendu of Anambra News killed on January 12, 2013 in Anambra State; Nansok Sallah of Highland FM murdered on January 18, 2012, in Jos; Edo Sule Ugbagwu of The Nation who was assassinated on April 24, 2010, in an area outside Lagos, and Eiphraim Audu of Nasarawa State Broadcasting Service who was murdered on October 16, 2008 in Lafia. Others are:  Paul Abayomi Ogundeji of ThisDay killed on August 16, 2008 in Dopemu, Lagos State; Godwin Agbroko also of ThisDay who was assassinated on December 22, 2006 in Lagos; Bolade Fasasi of National Association of Women Journalists murdered on March 31, 1999 in Ibadan; Chinedu Offoaro of The Guardian killed on May 1, 1996 and Baguda Kaltho of TheNEWS who was assassinated on March 1, 1996 in Kaduna. “Because no one has been convicted of the murder of the journalists, Nigeria is ranked 13th on the CPJ’s 2015 Global Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where the killers of journalists walk free.”

Even though there is still violence against journalists under the present civilian administration, the worst era for media practice in Nigeria was during the 29 years of military junta. In the hey days of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) when pro-democracy forces coalesce to demand for return to civil rule after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections, many newspaper houses were proscribed and journalists hounded into exile. Some were even jailed. These include people like Kunle Ajibade of TheNEWS and Chris Anyawu of The Sunday Magazine (TSM). Alifa Daniel, a journalist with The Concord newspaper then had his face bathed with acid in Kogi State.

Even under this democratic rule, several journalists had been molested, arrested and detained while carrying out their official duties. Charles Eruka, a senior correspondent with Channels Television was stabbed while covering political campaign in Okrika, Rivers State in the lead up to the 2015 general elections. Some newspaper houses had also been attacked by the Boko Haram insurgents in Kaduna and Abuja with the most prominent one being when the Abuja office of ThisDay was bombed on April 26, 2012. Also in June 2014, Nigeria military blocked distribution of some newspapers and indeed seized thousands of copies of some others under the guise of acting on security threat.

Section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution says “The Press, Radio, Television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives……. and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people” It would seem from the above analysis that performing this onerous responsibility is tantamount to embarking on suicide mission for Nigerian journalists who not only suffer physical violence in the course of their duties but are psychologically and structurally assaulted both by their employers and the society at large. This must stop forthwith!

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.