Democracy Thrives When Journalists, Truth Protected – NUJ FCT

On the occasion of the 2020 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, the Nigeria Union of Journalists, FCT Council, has stated that democracy, the rule of law, transparency and accountability can only thrive when journalists and truth are protected.

Every November 2, has been set aside by the United Nations for governments across the world to reaffirm their commitments to end impunity for crimes against journalists and to create the enabling environment for the media to operate.

This year’s theme is ‘Protect Journalists, Protect Truth.’

The NUJ FCT in a statement, Monday, in Abuja said that democracy, the rule of law, transparency and accountability suffer when the media operates in an environment of fear, intimidation, harassment, physical assault and even murder.

“On the occasion of the 2020 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, we call on the FCT administration, local authorities and the federal government to end all forms of impunity against journalists and to safeguard the constitutional guarantee of the media to hold government and its officials accountable to Nigerians,” the statement signed by Emmanuel Ogbeche and Ochiaka Ugwu, chairman and secretary of the council, respectively.

According to the duo, it is regrettable that government agencies and officials continue to act arbitrarily and shun lawful requests on issues of transparency and accountability.

“It is worrying that government functionaries are oblivious of the fact that the best defence against fake news and speculations is openness and media access to information and government information.“We align with the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, who said, “If we do not protect journalists, our ability to remain informed and make evidence-based decisions is severely hampered. When journalists cannot do their jobs in safety, we lose an important defence against the pandemic of misinformation and disinformation that has spread online.”

The Council recalled some of the abuses suffered by journalists in the FCT over the past years to include; The brutalities meted out to about eleven journalists who went to cover the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Abuja on January 4, 2005.

The journalists who went to cover the PDP meeting were ordered by Mr. Lawrence Alobi, then Commissioner of Police (Operations), to leave the vicinity of the PDP Secretariat. He then proceeded to supervise the harassment and brutalization of the journalists who sustained various degrees of injuries, some had their cameras damaged and others lost personal valuables including mobile phones.

The then Abuja Bureau Chief of The Punch newspapers, Mr. Yomi Odunuga and a correspondent of Nigerian Tribune newspapers, Segun Jacob Olatunji, were injured. Other journalists who suffered the police brutalities include Gbenga Abiodun, a photojournalist with Daily Independent newspapers; Abayomi Fayese, a photojournalist with The Guardian newspapers, late Kennedy Ebomade of Daily Trust newspapers, Ibrahim Samaila of The Punch, Francis Ojo of Daily Champion newspapers, and Akin Orimolade and Sunday Adah, both of TELL magazine.

In addition, Innocent Okafor of ThisDay newspapers, Monday Emoni of The Comet newspapers, and George Edemevughe of Channels Television had their cameras damaged.
Also, on 9 January, 2007 in Abuja. Two newspapers were targeted, Leadership and The Abuja Inquirer. A dozen SSS agents stormed Leadership’s offices on the morning of 9 January and took away general manager Abraham Nda-Isaiah, editor Bashir Bello Akko and journalist Abdulazeez Sanni. Also Danladi Ndayebo was arrested the next day and was held for 10 hours, in the course of which he was forced to reveal the sources for his story.

On that same day, about 15 SSS agents carried out a similar raid on The Abuja Inquirer, searching its offices for three hours and arresting publisher Dan Akpovwa and editor Sonde Abbah.

When they left, they took with them 81 CDs, a computer, a list of all the newspaper’s staff, 18 copies of the latest issue and seven copies of previous issues.
Similarly, on April 26, 2012, Thisday Newspapers was targeted in Abuja by extremist group Boko Haram and three people were killed in that explosion.

On January 13, 2017, Desmond Utomwen, publisher of FreshNews, was arrested by a detachment of four police officers in plain clothes led by one Anthony Enobakhare and ASP Abubakar Iweafeno for reporting on the fraudulent enrichment of serving customs officer.

On January 6, 2019, armed soldiers in several vehicles laid siege to Daily Trust headquarters in Abuja over a report on army operations in Bornu.
Also, Kuni Tyessi sometime in 2015 was held for several hours by the SSS following a malicious compliant by a politician and university owner over a report she filed in the Leadership.

Recently, Augustine Aminu and several other journalists have either been invited by the SSS or harassed in the performance of their duties as journalists. This cannot continue.
The most telling issue at hand is the continued illegal detention of 73year-old journalist/publisher, Mr. Tom Oga Uhia, by the police over a complaint by the Minister of State, Power, Mr. Jeddy Agba.

Mr. Uhia is being held through a dubious court order procured by the police from a magistrate court in Gurku-Mararaba, Nasarawa state.

“We demand the immediate release of Mr. Uhia who we understand has underlying health challenges.

“It should be noted that the cases mentioned are but a fragment of the several cases of harassment, intimidation, physical and sexual assault and arrest and detention journalists have to endure in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.”

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