The Head of Media Rights Agenda’s (MRA) Legal Department, Ms Chioma Nwaodike, has said that attacks against journalists and the media have increased during Nigeria’s democratic dispensation, far above the levels recorded during military rule, with no single one of the incidents being seriously investigated or any of the perpetrators arrested or prosecuted.
Chioma disclosed that MRA is seeking to reverse this situation by undertaking robust litigation to challenge attacks on journalists. She said MRA is providing legal assistance and litigation support to journalists in Nigeria whose rights are threatened or violated to protect their rights and combat the culture of impunity for such attacks.
These revelations were made known in an interview conducted by Idowu Adewale, MRA’s Communications Officer, with Chioma on MRA’s project titled Ensuring the Safety of Journalists through Litigation.
Chioma said one of the things MRA does is monitoring attacks against journalists and the media and that data that it has gathered from carrying out this exercise over a period of many years, shows clearly that the issue of the safety of journalists is now a huge one as the situation is getting worse and that in fact, it will be fair to say that the situation is getting out of hand.
Buttressing her point, she said findings from the data that MRA has gathered shows that between October 19, 1986, when the late editor-in-chief of Newswatch magazine, Mr. Dele Giwa, was murdered through a parcel bomb that was delivered to him on that day at his breakfast table by still unknown persons, and May 29, 1999, when civilian democracy was restored in Nigeria, about seven journalists were killed in Nigeria. This, she said happened in a period of 14 years, a period people classify as among the worst times that Nigerians have experienced in terms of violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens, including the right to freedom of expression and media freedom.
Ironically, she pointed out that “looking at the period since then, that is the period between May 29, 1999 and now, which is about 22 years and a time when Nigeria has supposedly been under democratic rule, MRA has recorded at least 17 journalists murdered either in the line of duty or as a result of their work.”
This, figure she said shows that the rate at which journalists are killed has evidently risen very sharply far above what we experienced during military rule.
She added that: “In addition, over the years since 1986, there have been hundreds of other crimes committed against journalists and other media workers. These crimes include kidnappings and abductions, forced disappearances; torture, degrading or inhuman treatment; arbitrary arrests and detention; assault, battery and other forms of physical violence; raiding of the homes and offices of journalists; as well as other forms of intimidation, threats and harassment. Some of these attacks have also been directed at family members and loved one of journalists.”
This sort of situation, she pointed out, obviously sends a wrong message to the perpetrators that they can kill journalists, brutalize them and violate their rights in any other way and that there will be no adverse consequences for them.
Chioma stated that in all cases, since 1986 and possibly earlier, law enforcement and security agencies have never conducted any serious investigation into any of these incidents or held anyone accountable for these crimes against journalists and other media workers and that in many of the cases, law enforcement and security agencies as well as other government institutions and officials have been the perpetrators of the attacks against journalists.
MRA, she said plans to reverse this situation firstly, by letting the government and government officials, at the Federal and State levels, “to know and be constantly reminded that they have a responsibility to protect journalists and the media in general to make the atmosphere conducive for media practice so that media professionals can continue to perform their duty of upholding the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people, as the Nigerian Constitution enjoins them to do.”
In addition, she said MRA wants those who threaten or undermine the safety or wellbeing of journalists and other media workers to know that there will be consequences to them for their actions and that they cannot continue to act with impunity.
This realization, together with the consequences that flow from MRA’s interventions, the organization expects, will contribute to bringing about an end or significant reduction in the spate of attacks against journalists and the media.
To achieve these objectives, Chioma disclosed that Global Media Defence Fund (GMDF) through UNESCO are supporting the project by providing MRA with some resources to enable it undertake robust litigation to challenge attacks on journalists. She said as a result of this, MRA is able to provide legal assistance and litigation support to journalists in Nigeria whose rights are threatened or violated to protect their rights and combat the culture of impunity for such attacks.
MRA is doing this using various legal mechanisms or instruments at the national or regional level she said, adding, MRA’s preferred approach is to use national courts and mechanisms or instruments and, where they are not available or they are ineffective, take advantage of available mechanisms and instruments at regional and international levels as well as the protections and remedies that they offer. Expatiating further, she said MRA is using institutions like the ECOWAS Court and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to defend and ensure the safety of journalists.
Concluding, Chioma said “Part of our strategy is that in every case we undertake on behalf of media victims of attacks, we will bring the full weight of relevant national, regional and international instruments and mechanisms to bear on the perpetrators, regardless of whether they are government officials, law enforcement and security agents, or if they are private citizens.