Military Repression Of Press Freedom

In the first installment of our reflection on the emerging dangerous scenario of attempts by 'khaki boys' to return Nigeria to the infamous periods of oppressive witch-hunt against media practitioners which got to a crescendo with the jailing of two journalists Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor by the General Muhammadu Buhari's military dictatorship.

We were able to establish without a shadow of doubts that the extent of rot that would follow the sinister attempts by the military to muzzle the press is that government of the day may have given authorization for the institutionalization of impunity, lawlessness and the resort to self -help and this goes a long way to give further weapon to the evil practitioners of jungle justice.

What will the Federal Government tell all those in the riotous crowd of irrational public who take delight in lynching any suspected criminal? If section 6 so validates the constitutional supremacy of the law courts as the only independent arbiter in all disputes, why then will the government stand by and seek to justify these acts of infamy and injustice against the media? Again, as I had written above, the actions of the Nigerian Military in stopping media houses from reaching their readers with their newspapers and at the same time bring up some irrational and spurious arguments to justify these outrageous and primitive acts of mischief is like the action of the serial rapist who while committing the atrocity of rape and sexual violation of the victim may be thinking that he is deriving maximum pleasure from this infamy not until he is either called to order by subjecting his to the heavyweight of the law or he may as well continue in these atrocious acts believing that might is right.

It is in the self enlightened interest of the current Federal administration that everything is done to preserve, promote, protect and project fundamental freedoms and especially the essential elements of media freedoms and freedom of speech. Under the obligation to fulfill, States such as the Nigerian state are required to take positive action to ensure that human rights can be exercised. In respect of the right to free speech, government must enforce all legal and policy frameworks to enhance the lawful activities of media workers to be able to carry out their constitutional duty of enlightenment, education, entertainment and providing quality information to the citizenry because these are some of the measures to promote and preserve good governance and liberal democracy [section 22 of the 1999 constitution,as amended].

Those who should know have severally documented voluminous body of knowledge to let us into the most essential fact that Article 2[3] of the international covenants on civil and political Rights states that States parties undertake to ensure that among others, any person [including legal entity such as the Nigerian military] claiming such a remedy for any of their rights violated shall have an effective remedy and that persons claiming such a remedy must have their right thereto determined by the competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State, and to develop the possibilities of judicial remedies. The Nigerian State has already codified legal mechanism for seeking legal remedy for any abridgement of rights. The Nigerian Military is obliged to respect the constitutional provisions by avoiding the trappings of embarking on self help measures such as confiscating forcefully, printed newspapers whenever the officers perceive that certain materials injurious to their persons or offices are published.

Manfred Nowak, an internationally respected human rights scholar has a message for the Nigerian military especially in these periods of counter terrorism war and it goes thus; " Our response to terrorism, as well as our efforts to thwart it and prevent it, should uphold the human rights that terrorists aim to destroy. Respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law are essential tools in the effort to combat terrorism-not privileges to be sacrificed at a time of tension". These words printed in one of the works of Manfred Nowak were the precise thoughts of the erstwhile Secretary General of the United Nations Mr. Kofi Anan in his speech during a special meeting of the Security Council's counter terrorism committee with international, regional and sub-regional organizations on March 6th 2003.

The Nigerian Government must stop justifying acts of irrational attacks against the media by the military because the implication is that if they succeed in muzzling the press which is a strategic tool for sustaining the current democratic experiments then they will go for the jugulars of the civilian administrators of Nigeria who were democratically elected. Section 22 and section 39 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 [as amended] as I said are very clear on the fundamental freedoms guaranteed to both the media and the citizenry regarding freedom of information.

The most interesting dimension of all these acts of treachery by the Nigerian Military is that these criminal acts are all happening right under the nose of these same civilian leaders who were elected by the people in line with the constitution which is now being raped by the Nigerian Military. The Military is also an institution and a creation of the constitution and so I am shocked that in this twenty first century Nigeria, that the military seeks to take us back to the medieval period whereby the emperors elevate their selfish interests to the supreme laws of their respective constituencies.

The Nigerian Government must caution these military operatives to stop taking the laws into their hands and to seek for legal redress if they perceive that the media has violated any of their legal interest but it is certainly not against national security interest for the media to focus on some acts of suspected corruption that may have happened in the military since no institution in Nigeria is above the law.

As my Igbo people use to say please let President Jonathan remove the hands of the monkey from the soup before they change to human hands. The media must be given heir fundamental freedoms to carry out their constitutional duty by check mating those who are put in public offices who should discharge their respective duties in line with the tenets and letters of the law and the constitution which is the grund norm of the land and which must be respected by all and sundry.

President Jonathan must guard jealously his administration's legacy of becoming the first government to have signed and begin the enforcement the Freedom of Information Act. It is also to the credit of Jonathan that the National Human Rights Commission became independent during his government. So why is he allowing these soldiers under his command to mess with his records of service to freedoms?

Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head; Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and blogs;

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Articles by Emmanuel Onwubiko