It was late President Thomas Jefferson of United States of America, who, once famously said:” Were it left for me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to chose the latter.”
Jefferson, the third President of US, author of the US Declaration of independence and one of the founding fathers of the country, uttered that statement centuries ago, yet more than two hundreds years after, it is still resonating as if it was only made yesterday.
In that crisp treatise ,he not only succinctly captured the primary importance of the Press to every human society, but, impliedly, made it clear that no society can survive without it.
The Press was instrumental to the founding of Nigeria as a country, and from then it has kept up its Watchdog role to the best of its ability.
Sadly, in the process of discharging its constitutional role the Fourth Estate of the Realm in the country continues to contend with myriads of life threatening challenges.
Prominent among these risks is the recurring decimal of attempts to gag Journalists by those who stumbled on to power.
In the era of the military jackboots, especially during the era of Decree 4 which is still seen as the most repressive Media law in the country’s history, and the time of late dictator , Sani Abacha, using force of intimidation, harassment, assault and in extreme cases death to, shut up the press, was a common place.
However, when democracy returned in 1999, the Nigeria Press and indeed, the country’s citizens heaved sigh of relief, believing that a new dawn had come.
However, it appears they were grossly mistaken going by the unending mistreatment of journalists under the present Federal Government.
For those who may be tempted to doubt the claim that Pressmen are working in a hostile environment presently, the ongoing mindless clampdown on journalists ,their ancillary staff and Vendors in Imo State, more than tells the story.
The war ostensibly being waged to stop them from writing, publishing and selling IPOB stories began like one off thing last week Tuesday ,May 4, with the arrest of Mr Chris Ugwuibe, Imo Sales Representative for the New Telegraph Newspaper. Ugwuibe’s arrest, however, did not really ring the alarm or bell because it was thought he was picked for reasons not connected with his professional duty. All that thinking however changed on Monday this week when it dawned on all that the Media was under attack following a mass arrest of Vendors and distributors or Sales Representatives.
Reports had it that not only did agents of government, specifically, operatives of the Intelligence Response Team, IRTof the Inspector General of Police, IGP arrest over eight persons, they also beat up those arrested,blue black.
To say the least, that gestapo like operation was provocative, lawless and condemnable. To begin with chapter iv of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria, as Amended, expressly provided among other fundamental rights, the right to freedom of expression. Chapter 11, section 22 of the same document also spelt out the duties of the press.
There is also the Freedom of Information Act, FOI, as enacted in 2011, which further deepened and strengthened the work of journalists.
So, given the fact that journalists are engaged in their legitimate duty, what is expected of governments and their agents when they feel they have erred in the discharge of their duty is to resort to the law in trying to address the perceived wrong.
That is how it is done in founded democracies all over the world and that is the way it should be done here. Therefore, rather than using crude force or resorting to lawlessness to try to get the Media to do their wish, those in power should learn to be law abiding by following due process in addressing alleged wrongdoings of the press.
Otherwise, they would not only worsen the problem but, ultimately lose because in global history no government has ever fought the Press and emerged unscathed.
It played out in Nigeria during the various military dictatorships. Most recently, it is strongly believed that the Press contributed largely to the ousting of former President Donald Trump of the US.
If this is a democracy as our leaders claim then the ongoing unnecessary and needless clampdown being unleashed on the Media in Imo should stop immediately, because it poses serious risks to democracy, accountability and good governance.
Worse, it is portraying the Muhammadu Buhari adminstration as a dictatorship and painting the country in very bad light before the global community.