The Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria at its meeting held yesterday July 16, 2013, in Abuja, among other important national issues, examined the state of press freedom in Nigeria.
The Association notes, with concern, that there is a clandestine move to revive the moribund Press Council, which is usually an official tool to gag the press. During past military dictatorships, unsuccessful attempts were made to use the Council against press freedom.
Since we have a democratically elected government in place over the last 14 years and counting, we do not expect our elected leaders to follow the tried and failed tactics of past dictatorships in Nigeria.
Recent moves by some undemocratic elements in the Federal government, indicate that there are still persons in the government who will rather not have a free and fair press but prefer to take steps to abridge the freedom of the press and the right of the people to have unfettered access to information.
The NPAN particularly views with concern, the surreptitious move by these officials to bring back, through the back door, the Nigerian Press Council, which a court of competent jurisdiction had declared unconstitutional three years ago.
Specifically, the Association wishes to recall that on Thursday, February 25, 2010, the Federal High Court, Lagos, Presided over by Justice A. M. Liman had in Suit NO FHC/L/CS/1324/99, filed by the NPAN against the President, the Attorney General of the Federation, the Minister of Information and the National Assembly, ruled that the Press Council was unconstitutional.
We call on the Federal Government to respect the reasoned judgment on The Press Council, and help deepen our democracy by encouraging the full and complete implementation of The Freedom of Information Act signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan himself in a signal to the nation and the world that he would run an open government anchored on a free press.
In the light of that, we also appeal to the Federal Government to stop forthwith the ongoing trial of the journalists of LEADERSHIP Group Limited, who were recently re-arraigned, after the same government had withdrawn the case against them and the company during the celebration of the Freedom Day. Their continuing trial is consistent with the spirit of our collective democratic journey and unhelpful in the circumstances.
The government should realize that the press has an important constitutional role to play in our system of democracy, which includes holding it accountable at all times.