According to Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), freedom of expression is suffering in Nigeria. The organization's most recent Press Freedom Index 2009 categorizes freedom of the press in 175 countries and Nigeria ranked 135, right above Mugabe-controlled Zimbabwe. The only question is whether this categorization by RSF is accurate - Is Nigeria's press free or not?
According to this ranking, Nigeria fell behind many other African countries such as Ghana (27), Mali (31), South Africa (33), Namibia (35), Cape Verde (44), Burkina Faso (57), Botswana (62), Liberia (63), Malawi (64), Tanzania (66), Togo (67), Benin (72), Seychelles (73), Central African Republic (80), Comoros (82), Mozambique (83), Uganda (86), Senegal (89), Guinea Bissau (92), Kenya (96), Zambia (97), Lesotho (99), Guinea (100), Mauritania (102), Burundi (103), Cote D'Ivoire (104), Cameroon (109), Sierra Leone (115), Congo (116), Angola (119), Morocco (127), Gabon (129), Chad (132), Madagascar (134).
It is useful to note that according to this ranking, countries like Guinea (100) which is controlled by a military dictator whose soldiers raped and assaulted various protesters, has a 'freer press' than Nigeria.
DOES THE INDEX ACCURATELY REFLECT THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS IN NIGERIA?
With every ranking that includes Nigeria, there is great discussion as to whether the index is accurate and how such an index was generated. In this case, it seems RSF considered certain attacks against Nigerian journalists in recent months. For instance, given recent attacks on journalists, it seems it is open season on them. Bayo Ohu, a reporter for The Guardian was shot dead on September 20th, 2009 as he prepared to go to Church. Reaction from civil society was swift and condemnation came in from across the world with demands that his killers be found. During the recent political fracas in Ekiti as a result of elections, the beating of journalists and election observers was caught on film. But such violence against journalists has been going on for years. In 2006, Journalists Against Aids founder, Omololu Falobi was murdered and that same year, THISDAY newspapers lost Godwin Agbroko and then, Abayomi Ogundeji less than 2 years later. In 2008 alone, Channels TV was shut down, armed men raided and arrested journalists from Leadership newspapers and citizen journalists, Emeka Asiwe and Jonathan Elendu were arrested and unlawfully detained under order of President Yar'Adua. Additionally, it has been over 20 years since the assassination of journalist, Dele Giwa, and still his killers are yet to be found. These realities are a damning statement.
However, although some journalists have lost their lives specifically because of their profession and the stories they may have been investigating, it must be said that historically, Nigeria has been known to have a free press. As far back as 1960, TIME magazine described the Nigerian press as "the freest and most responsible press in black Africa." Undoubtedly, things are not exactly the same almost 50 years later, but still the country has a history of writers and journalists who have used their words to frame public debate and expose many a scandal involving those at every level of the social hierarchy. Unfortunately, that freedom to chase down and report the tough stories also requires certain protections for the press that are clearly lacking and these possibly contributed to Nigeria's poor showing in the RSF ranking.
What is lacking in Nigeria is the enforcement of the legal protections that will limit attacks on journalists and of course, a system that ensures that those who have a hand in those attacks will be swiftly brought to justice. That might be a more accurate and balanced description of the state of the press in Nigeria, and this description is missing when one simply looks at the RSF rankings without context. Unfortunately, a more balanced review of the freedom of Nigeria's press will not change the fact that journalists still face attack, and many citizen journalists and bloggers feel compelled to hide their identity for fear of reprisal as they have witnessed such against others.
No democracy can ever truly develop and thrive in a country where the press is shackled in its duty to report the very news that is crucial to the populace. Consequently, any nation in which the rights and lives of journalists are not protected is doomed to lack truly engaged citizens who are empowered with knowledge to decide their future. Thankfully, many Nigerians are engaged in debate over a variety of issues and rely on the traditional press and increasingly, new media in the form of blogs, such as Nigerian Curiosity, to not only get news, but have passionate discussions about issues of import to them. Regardless of the accuracy or inaccuracy of the RSF Free Press rankings, it is clear that Section 22 of Nigeria's 1999 Constitution provides that "the press, radio, television and other agencies of the 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". Many of Nigeria's journalists are doing just that, and some pay the ultimate price, but as all citizens pay the price for a shackled press, Nigerians must in turn not allow those who attack and threaten the work journalists do to get away with their schemes.
So what do you think. Is Nigeria's press free?
To see a complete list of murdered Nigerian journalists, since 1992, please visit Commitee to Protect Journalists.
Thanks, as always, to Webround for sending in this information.
Related Articles of Interest:
- Yar'Adua To Sue Nigerian Newspaper
- Channels TV Shut Down By Yar'Adua
- Yar'Adua And The Continuing Heath Issue
- The Consequences of Yar'Adua's Mysterious Health
- Suppression In A Democratic Regime
- Nigerian Blogger Arrested
- Turning Away from Democracy