Home Point Blank FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION REMAINS A MIRAGE UNDER NIGERIA GOVERNMENT

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION REMAINS A MIRAGE UNDER NIGERIA GOVERNMENT

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BY ORJI JEFFERY

Section 22 of the Nigeria 1999 amended Constitution states that the Press, Radio, Television, and other agencies of 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. But this is far from the reality in the most populated African country. The country has continued to be described as that of the world where people are censored, demoted, imprisoned, and beheaded, simply because they have opened their mouths, flapped their lips, and vibrated some air.

Freedom of expression which is one of the fundamental human rights is being muzzled. The intimidation and harassment faced by journalists, bloggers, writers, and critics of the Nigerian Government are becoming Alarming. The most populous country in Africa (Nigeria) is at a breaking point and soon to become a failed state with an alarming rate of crime and insecurity. There seems to be no confidence in President Muhammadu Buhari and his allies led Government. No vision and direction to helping the country out of her economic woes. Utah Phillips philosophy argues the situation as a two-edged sword that “the state can’t give you free speech, and the state can’t take it away. You’re born with it, like your eyes, like your ears. Freedom is something you assume, then you wait for someone to try to take it away. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free.”

Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, once described press freedom as a “sound Democratic ideal”. At the time he was on the presidential campaign trail, keen to prove himself a Democrat and to jettison the baggage of his 20 months as military ruler in the 1980s. He told bosses of media companies that if elected, he would uphold the constitution and respect freedom of speech but his administration has seen much more press intimidation than any other government in the entire history of Nigeria. Let us quickly look at these case studies.

OMOYELE SOWORE
Nigerian Human Rights activist OMOYELE SOWORE was arrested on August 3, 2019, by the Department of State Services (DSS) despite two court orders to grant him bail. SOWORE was arrested after calling for a nationwide protest tagged #Revolution Now. DSS officials, wielding guns, stormed a Federal High Court in the capital of Abuja where he was facing trial for treason and attempted to “forcefully arrest” him and take him out of court and Nigerian Police custody.

Sowore, a Presidential Candidate in the last election, said the protest was against President Muhammadu Buhari’s bad governance and accountability to the people. But the Nigerian government ordered his arrest and subsequently charged him to court for a treasonable felony, money laundering, terrorism, and plotting to overthrow Buhari. During his arraignment, the court on two occasions ordered Sowore’s bail but was denied by the DSS for undisclosed reasons. After being detained for 126 days and tortured in detention, Sowore was granted bail on December 24 2019. The Court awarded N200, 000 damages against the DSS payable to SOWORE for frivolous reasons for the adjournment.

AGBA JALINGO
He is a journalist and human rights activist, a strong critic of the Cross River’s State Governor, Prof Ben Ayade. Jalingo was arrested on August 22 2019, in his Lagos residence. He was charged with felony, terrorism and attempt to topple the Cross Rivers State government. Critics say the government of masterminded jalingo’s arrest due to an article he published. He was arrested weeks after he published the article. JALINGO, in the article, queried the whereabouts of the N500 million allegedly released for floating the Cross Rivers Microfinance Bank which the state government had continually denied. JALINGO was granted bail by a Federal High Court in Calabar February 13 after Cross Rivers State Government reverted to the initial Charges of terrorism and conspiracy to remove elected governor from office.

STEVEN KEFASON
KEFASON, a freelance Journalist and a strong critic of the All Progressive Congress (APC). He was arrested on May 8, 2019 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State by Operatives of the State Investigation (DSS) for 5days. He was re-arrested again by the Kaduna State command of the Nigerian Force and jailed in the Kaduna prison by the Kaduna State government over a Facebook post for defamation and cyber stalking. Kefason’s arrest was pursuant to many petitions written against him ranging from insulting persons and institution, injurious falsehood, inciting disturbance as alleged. He spent approximately 162 days in prison.

JONES ABIRI
Abiri is the publisher of Bayelsa state-based weekly newspaper, weekly Source. He was arrested by Operatives of Nigeria’s State Security Service in July 2016 and detained until July 2018 without trial. The government accused him of pipeline vandalism and crude theft, including militant activities in the Niger Delta and alleged economic sabotage and terrorism.
The Bagels- based Journalist denied all allegations against him stating that he was being targeted for some of the reports he published that spotlighted the illegal conduct of oil companies and the Nigerian Government in the Niger Delta region. He was released in August 2018 and re-arrested in May 2019. ABIRI was released on bail in October 2019.

DADIYATA ABUBARKAR IDRIS
This man popularly known as DADIYATA is a strong critic of the Nigerian government. He is a Lecturer at the Federal University Dutsinma, Katsina State, and supporter of former Kano State governor Rabiu Kwakwanso, a critic of the All Progressive Congress and APC governor in Kano State Umar Ganduje.
He was abducted on August 1, 2019, from his home in Barnawa, Kaduna State. The Opposition Party, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) described Dadiyata’s disappearance as an “apparent desperation to intimidate, suppress and silence public opinion and free speech in Nigeria as well as further entrench a siege mentality on our citizenry. PDP accused the DSS, a unit of Nigeria’s State Security Service, of being responsible for the Dadiyata’s abduction. Up to date the whereabouts of DADIYATA is yet unknown.

JEFFREY ORJI
A freelance writer, a supporter of the sovereign State for Biafra, and Member of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) living in the diaspora has in the past been targeted and continued to be trailed by Security operatives for his activism. The political class has eaten away the future and destinies of over 200 million Nigerians. The reason why they are living in affluence today is the same reason why over 90million Nigerians live in poverty. The DSS representS failed institutions managed by unscrupulous people who have failed to respect the codes of conduct guiding their respective offices. They live for their selfish interests and they bend the rules to suit their nefarious purposes. They represent the cankerworms eating up the security architecture of Nigeria- the society made them. They represent the bandits, Boko Haram, kidnappers, hoodlums, and other outlaws making lives uncomfortable for innocent people in Nigeria.

Little wonder why George Bernard Shaw said “All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”