SERAP urges NASS to uphold press freedom

National Assembly

National Assembly

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has told the National Assembly (NASS) to take steps to uphold press freedom by repealing obnoxious sections of the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act, 2015.

SERAP said that Sections 24 and 25 of the Act violated all international and regional treaties on human rights to which Nigeria is a party as well as the provisions of Sections 1(3) and 39 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the rights group made the call on Wednesday while presenting a 76-page report on press freedom.

The report is entitled: “A Downward Spiral: How Federal and State Authorities are Tightening the Screws on Media Freedom in Nigeria.”

Presenting the report, Mr Richard Akinnola, a veteran journalist, said that Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution as amended gave the mass media the obligation to hold government at all levels accountable.

Akinnola added that Section 39 of the same constitution granted the freedom of expression to all Nigerians, noting that this was however, being hindered by obnoxious laws by government.

He said that in the past 15 years, press freedom in Nigeria had been on a downward spiral as journalists and media houses had been facing severe attacks by both the federal, State Governments and public officials.

According to him, among journalists, who have been victims of repression of the press in recent times are four journalists from Leadership Newspapers, detained for refusing to name the source of a story.

Akinola named the journalists as Chinyere Fred-Adebulugbe, Chucks Ohuegebe, Tony Amokeodo and Chibuzor Ukaibe, summoned to the police headquarters in Abuja in April 2013.

He listed others, who were also arrested recently as Musa Azare, Chika Chika, Abubakar Usman, Musa Krishi, Ebere Wabara and Agba Jalingo, currently being tried for alleged terrorism.

Akinnola also flayed the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) for incessant clampdown on television and radio stations in the country, noting that it was impeding the stations from carrying out their constitutional responsibilities.

“There is no doubt that many public officials have not imbibed certain democratic norms, which include accepting criticisms.

“Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution is explicit, wherein the media was given a responsibility to hold the government accountable.

“Quite a number of these infractions are committed by the police and the army, which have exhibited lots of intolerance even under a democratic setting.

“It is also worrisome that many state governors govern their states as fiefdoms, where criticism is seen as an anathema,”Akinnola said.

He recommended that apart from repealing the obnoxious cybercrime laws, NASS should also hold regular public hearing into allegations of intimidation and attacks on media practitioners.

Akinnola called on President Muhammadu Buhari to publicly condemn attacks on journalists and issue a clear statement to all government and security officials prohibiting acts of intimidation and arbitrary arrest of media practitioners.

He also called for media freedom to enable the NBC and other regulators operate without political interference.

Akinnola further urged the Nigerian Guild of Editors and the Nigerian Union of Journalists to work closely with non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders to carry out systematic monitoring and reporting of freedom of expression abuses throughout the country.