Members of the fourth estate are consistently harassed and brutalised, leading to injuries and loss of lives. In this report, CHIKA OKEKE examines the need to protect Nigerian journalists against occupational hazards as exemplified by the United Nations.
On Wednesday, October 13, 2021, an Abuja-based journalist, Mr Tordue Henry Salem was declared missing at about 8 pm on his way from work after the matter was reported to the police.
Salem, a House of Representatives correspondent worked with the Vanguard newspaper.
Irked by the news, journalists protested at the police headquarters in Abuja on October 25 over the continued disappearance of Salem.
They informed the police and DSS to help unravel the mystery surrounding Mr. Salem’s whereabouts.
His corpse was later discovered at Wuse General Hospital, exactly 29 days after the police had said that he was killed by a hit and run driver, who was in their custody.
The narrative unsettled the family, who initially rejected the corpse.
Regrettably, the slain correspondent was laid to rest on Saturday, 11th December, 2021 at Gaado community of Mbayion in Gboko local government area of Benue State.
In addition, an Adamawa-based female journalist, Nefasah Vandi was in August 2022, brutalised by her estranged husband.
The mother of three children works with Adamawa State Broadcasting Commission, Yola while her estranged husband, Mallam Ibrahim Aliyu is a former staff of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).
Vandi was beaten and defaced by Aliyu, a situation that led to dislocation of one of her hands.
Media organisations, regulatory bodies, Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) and religious groups had since condemned both incidence, demanding the trial of the alleged culprits to serve as a deterrence to others.
Salem and Vandi’s predicament are two out of over 160 journalists that were either kidnapped, tortured, attacked, humiliated, arrested and detained in the line of duty between 2020 till date,
Despite the widespread condemnation following each attack, most of the culprits are rarely tried in a competent court of jurisdiction especially in cases involving security agencies.
These left many unanswered questions bordering on safety of journalists.
The UN Plan
Given the widespread attacks against journalists and other media professionals globally, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) led the development of a UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and Issue of Impunity in 2012.
It was adopted in December 2013 by the UN General Assembly.
Information obtained from UNESCO website revealed that the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity was targeted at creating a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers, both in conflict and non-conflict situations, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide.
The plan integrated the establishment of a coordinated inter-agency mechanism to handle issues related to the safety of journalists as well as assisting countries to develop legislation and mechanisms favourable to freedom of expression and information, and supporting their efforts to implement existing international rules and principles.
UNESCO is the lead agency in charge of information and communication within the UN system.
Also, the plan of action recommended collaborations with governments, media houses, professional associations and NGOs to raise awareness on issues such as existing international instruments and conventions, the growing dangers posed by emerging threats to media professionals, including non-state actors, likewise various existing practical guides on the safety of journalists.
But prior to 2012, only two resolutions of UN bodies focused on the issue of the safety of journalists. They are one resolution passed by UNESCO in 1997 and another resolution passed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 2006.
Over the past years, many countries around the world, including in Africa had established national mechanism on Safety of Journalists (SOJ).
On June 29, 2017, UNESCO and the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) convened a global multi-stakeholder consultation in Geneva on strengthening the implementation of the Plan of Action.
One of the recommendations was the need for every UN member state to set up a national mechanism for the safety of journalists. Since then, Africa and other countries took cogent steps to implement the recommendations.
The first was the Eastern African Conference on national mechanisms for safety of journalists held in Nairobi, Kenya.
It was organised on November 13 and 14, 2017 as part of activities to commemorate the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
Participants adopted the Nairobi Declaration on national mechanisms for safety of journalists. In the Nairobi declaration, it was agreed that countries in Eastern Africa should develop national multi-stakeholder coordination systems that would integrate the three arms of government namely: executive, legislature and judiciary.
Other media stakeholders were also expected to be part of the committee, with a mandate to promote and defend freedom of expression, press freedom, access to information and safety of journalists.
The Eastern Africa conference was followed by a conference on safety of journalists and ending impunity for crimes committed against journalists in Africa, organized by UNESCO & FAJ in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on November 15, 2017.
At the end of the conference, participants settled for the Addis Ababa Resolution on the creation of AU working group on safety of journalists and issue of impunity in Africa.
The Addis Ababa resolution also endorsed and adopted the 14 November 2017 Nairobi declaration.. It proposed the establishment of national mechanisms for safety of journalists in African countries as a step towards the implementation of the relevant resolutions & declarations on safety of journalists, likewise the UN plan of action.
In Resolution 468 on the ‘Safety of Journalists and Media Practitioners in Africa’, adopted by African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) on December 3, 2020, the commission advised AU member states to “Investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and other media practitioners.”
Some of the clauses in the declaration includes that: “States shall guarantee the safety of journalists and other media practitioners.”
“States shall take measures to prevent attacks on journalists and other media practitioners, including murder, extra-judicial killing, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, kidnapping, intimidation, threats and unlawful surveillance undertaken by state and non-state actors.”
“States shall take measures to raise awareness and build the capacities of journalists and other media practitioners, policy makers and other stakeholders on laws and standards for ensuring the safety of journalists and other media practitioners.”
“States shall take effective legal and other measures to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and other media practitioners, and ensure that victims have access to effective remedies.”
“States shall be liable for the conduct of law enforcement, security, intelligence, military and other personnel which threatens, undermines or violates the safety of journalists and other media practitioners.”
“States shall take specific measures to ensure the safety of female journalists and media practitioners by addressing gender specific safety concerns, including sexual and genderbased violence, intimidation and harassment.
“In times of armed conflict, states shall respect the status of journalists and other media practitioners as non-combatants in accordance with international humanitarian law.”
Added to this is the establishment of a national committte for the safety of journalists by the United Kingdom in July 2020, with a mandate to guarantee the safety of journalists working in the UK, thereby reducing frequent attacks and threats and at the same time, speeding up justice for attacked journalists.
The committee was subsequently followed with the adoption of a “National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists”, published on March 9, 2021, according to the Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda, Edetaen Ojo.
Àside the UK, other countries such as Colombia, Mexico, Pakistan, Afghanistan, The Philipines, Indonesia, Nepal, Iraq, Guatemala, Honduras, Serbia, among others have different mechanisms.
Nigeria Plan Underway
In order to salvage the media profession from merchants, experts reached a consensus to constitute the Nigeria Plan on Safety of Journalists (SOJ), modeled after the UNESCO plan and Addis Ababa Resolution.
To achieve the target, the International Press Centre (IPC) Lagos in collaboration with Media Rights Agenda (MRA) organised stakeholders roundtable on the establishment of a ‘National Response Mechanism on Safety of Journalists’.
The event was held in Abuja recently with the theme, “Contextualising and Publicising Real Costs & Mobilising Against Increasing Violation of Media Freedom, Journalists Rights and Freedom of Expression.”
With over 30 participants drawn from the media and its regulatory agencies, media professional bodies, Nigeria Police Force and among others, the programme was funded by Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, Luminate, Ford Foundation and OSIWA.
The crux of the discuss was to explore the possibility of constituting a national mechanism on SOJ in Nigeria given the increased attacks on journalists and media professionals.
It also unveiled strategic actions towards mitigating the threats encountered by journalists despite violation of freedom of expression and shrinking of the civic space by the government.
When established, members of the committee would cut across media organisations, security agencies, women organisations, media regulatory organisations, lawmakers, and among others.
Some of them are National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), National Council on Traditional Rulers of Nigeria (NCTRN), National Council of Women’s Societies (NCWS), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), communication and information-related committee at the National Assembly, and among others.
The mechanism is expected to inspire journalists for enhanced service delivery.
About 149 journalists and other media professionals were attacked between 2020 to 2021 while discharging their official responsibilities.
A breakdown of the attacks revealed that about 40 incidents were recorded and documented by IPC on 49 journalists in 2021 alone while over 100 journalists and other media professionals had been victims of surveillance, spying, harassment, threats, violence, assaults, battery, unlawful arrests, jailing, robberies, kidnappings, and murder since 2020.
The assaults were carried out by the state governments and their agencies, Department of State Services (DSS), Rapid Response Squad (RRS), Police Officers, State Police Commands, Nigeria Police Intelligence Response Team, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), unknown gunmen, hoodlums, private organisations and among others.
Speaking on ‘Establishing National Response Mechanism on Safety of Journalists: An Examination of Global Trends’, the Executive Director of IPC, Mr Lanre Arogundade said that its useful to examine trends around the world and implement what would work in Nigeria.
He enjoined the President of Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Mrs Ladi Bala to appraise the gender dimension on attacks against journalists, saying that most of the documented attacks by IPC dwelt mostly on female journalists.
Citing an example of the female journalist in Adamawa battered by her ex-husband, Arogundade was hopeful that the mechanism would not only respond to attacks but prevent molestation of journalists especially as the 2023 election inches closer.
He said that in the last election, many journalists accredited by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were still molested by security agencies, describing it as one of the reasons that Nigeria needs a national mechanism.
The executive director called on the federal government to respect its commitment and uphold the right to freedom of expression as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Peoples and Human Rights.
Absence Of Legislative Backing
The absence of legislation to protect journalists against assaults and brutality especially by security agents have continued to dominate major discuss involving journalists and other media professionals.
Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda, Edetaen Ojo said that crime against journalist is multi-faceted since they are perpetrated by different actors.
On establishing national response mechanism on safety of journalists, he faulted the absence of legislation to protect journalists from brutality, rating the performance of SOJ in Nigeria as zero.
Ojo kicked against the failure of the government to monitor attacks against journalists, noting that government’s don’t condemn attacks against journalists since they are mostly the perpetrators of the attack.
He frowned at the inability of the government to set aside resources towards the prosecution of attacks against journalists.
Closure Of 52 Broadcast Stations
Few weeks back, the media space was choked with news on how the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) ordered the immediate shutdown of African Independent Television (AIT), Silverbird TV and 50 others over expired licences.
Also, the broadcasting regulator revoked the licences of the affected radio and television stations over their failure to offset the licensing debt amounting to N2.66 billion.
After the announcement, the IPI engaged with thevMinister of Information & Culture; Special Adviser to the President on Media & Publicity; Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission; Executive Secretary of the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) and some affected stations.
The NBC later rescinded its decision and mandated the affected stations to pay up their debts latest by 6PM on Tuesday, August 23, while those unable to pay would be shutdown at 12AM on August 24.
In his presentation titled, “Response Mechanism on Safety of Journalists: Experience and Lessons from Engagement with Security Agencies and Government”, President of International Press Institute (IPI) Nigeria, Mr Mojeed Musikilu was optimistic that the engagements compelled the government to suspend the closure of the stations and give more time for dialogue and compliance since most of the private stations are broke.
On safety of journalists, he said that IPI also engaged with the Inspector General of Police (March 31, 2022); Minister of Information & Culture ( April 12, 2022); Director-General of the SSS (May 11, 2022); South African High Commissioner to Nigeria (June 10, 2022); Canadian High Commissioner to Nigeria (June 27, 2022) and British High Commissioner to Nigeria (June 30, 2022).
Musikilu, who is also the Editor-in-Chief of Premium Times Nigeria lamented that most government officials are ignorant of the law and implications of their atrocities against the media and journalists.
He said that engagements provided a better understanding of the burning issues, citing an example with the Bayelsa blogger Vs SSS, as well as the Kogi blogger that published fake news against an individual.
According to him, “By constant engagement, we can dissuade government and lawmakers against passing draconian laws, we may end up building up a network of allies and partners necessary at critical times of need, and law enforcement officials may better understand their limits while the media too can understand its limits.”
Musikilu stated that their engagement with UK High Commission, South African High Commission and among others led to the removal of Mr Lanre Arogundade’s name from the State Security Service (SSS) watchlist for the past 38 years.
In the same vein, President, Guild of Corporate Online Publishers, Maureen Chigbo kicked against the impunity displayed by the broadcast stations for failing to renew their licences.
Chigbo, who is also the Publisher of Realnews, an online news platform, harped on the need for journalists and media workers to know their limitations in order to operate in a very complex and dynamic environment.
She said that its historic to form a committee that would protect Nigerian journalists from all forms of attacks, modeled after the African Union on safety of journalists.
No Insurance, Poor Welfare
The absence of insurance cover for journalists has further worsened journalism seen as a noble profession. Journalists that died while covering crisis or taken down by strange illness left behind zero financial backing for the immediate family.
In addition, poor renumeration of journalists by media owners and non-payment of salaries poses serious threat to the profession.
The Publisher of Benny Okeke’s blog, Ms Chika Okeke faulted the absence of insurance cover for journalists, non-payment of salaries and non-remittance of pension by media owners as some of the issues taunting the industry.
She stated that overtime, journalism has been bastardised as a result of poor renumeration, adding that the national mechanism would restore the lost glory of the profession
Musikilu faulted media organisations for not remitting Value Added Tax (VAT) and deducted staff pension to the appropriate agencies, lamenting the absence of insurance cover for journalists.
But Mr Ojo insisted that the mandate of the national mechanism was solely on prevention, protection, monitoring and reporting complaints and not welfare of journalists.
He said that its the prerogative of the NUJ to address issues bordering on welfare of journalists.
Ojo cited an example with one of the cases handled by Media Rights Agenda (MRA), involving some media organiations and its workers, adding that they proceeded to the court to declare the organisation bankrupt since they were unable to pay salaries.
He said that the organisation adopted out-of-court settlement and paid the backlog of salaries and arrears.
Lending her voice, the Director of Research/Documentation, Nigerian Press Council (NPC), Mrs Stella Jibrin stated that part of the mandates of the council centres on safety and protection of journalists.
Jibrin said that the council had carried out massive capacity building for journalists, noting that the Police and DSS representatives also participated in the programme alongside the journalists.
— Chika Okeke is a journalist with MOC and the Publisher/ Editor of Bennyokeke.blogspot.com, an online news platform.
She joined the services of LEADERSHIP Media Group in 2008 as a Reporter where she rose through the ranks as a Senior Reporter to Deputy Editor Daily, Deputy Editor, LEADERSHIP Sunday and Deputy Editor, LEADERSHIP Friday.
During her sojourn in LEADERSHIP Media Group, she had covered the activities of FCT Area Councils, Ministries of Tourism and National Orientation, Works & Housing and Environment.
With over one decade in journalism, she was able to explore various reporting and writing techniques such as feature writing, editing, investigation and editing, with over over 300 publications to her credit.
She has covered workshops and conferences, both in Nigeria and abroad.
She is currently the Treasurer, Environment Media Correspondents Association of Nigeria (EMCAN) and a member of Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ).