What Hope For Nigerian Journalists As The Elites Become Threat To Press Freedom?

By Isaac Asabor
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It is not an exaggeration to say that Nigerians have in the recent weeks witnessed public figures who literally blew off their “short fuse” to the amusement of everyone; including those that once looked up to them as their idols. The reprehensible scenario which is unarguably becoming a commonplace has exposed some public figures who refer to journalists in a contemptuous, insulting, and defamatory manner thereby violating the principle of freedom of information and drawing attention to the terrible pressure to which media personnel are often subjected to just for doing their job.

Recently, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, a former minister faced heavy criticism for calling Mr. Eyo Charles, a Daily Trust Newspaper Reporter ‘stupid’ during a press conference in Calabar, the Cross River State capital. In a video that went viral on social media, Fani-Kayode is seen giving the Daily Trust reporter a dressing down for asking him a “stupid question”. The journalist was said to have asked Fani-Kayode who bankrolled his recent tour of several southern states. However, the former minister, who was infuriated by the question, said the journalist was stupid. He said, “I am saying this on live TV. What type of stupid question is that? Bankrolling who? Do you know who you are talking to? I will not take any questions from this man. What type of insulting question is that? Which bankroll? To do what? Who can give me money for anything? Who do you think you are talking to? Go and report yourself to your publisher? Please don’t insult me here. I don’t want to take any questions from this man. “I could see from your face before you got here, how stupid you are. Don’t ever talk to me like that. Who do you think you’re talking to? Bankroll who? You think I am one of those ones you… from who, when, how? You have a small mind, very small mind. Don’t judge me by your own standards.”

The Nigeria Union of Journalists expectedly condemned the former minister while the management of Daily Trust also threatened to report to the police if any harm came to its reporter. Notwithstanding what transpired and consequently an opinion article published in Daily Trust, in my personal opinion, what happened has become a bygone as the minister has apologized.

As if the venom spewed against Eyo, and by extension the journalism profession by the former minister was not enough, Pastor David Ibiyeomie, the presiding pastor of Salvation Ministries, in a now-viral video from his Sunday service, threatened to “arrest and kill” an on-air personality, Ifedayo Olarinde, popularly known as Daddy Freeze over his critical stance of David Oyedepo’s Sermons, the presiding bishop of Living Faith Church. The cleric had also described Freeze as a “bastard Somalia-born half-caste”. “Somebody that is a broadcaster, does he have a good job? I will never be alive to see someone insult my father. You’re not born! I’ll kill, arrest him,” he had threatened. Ibiyeomie’s threats to the OAP had sparked a heated debate on the Social Media, where users registered their different opinions.

Seen from the foregoing perspective, there is no denying the fact that Journalism; both from print and broadcast aspects of the profession has become a dangerous job in Nigeria so much so that journalists who ask irritating questions or become critical in the course of their duties now find themselves the targets of anger from eminent Nigerians that paradoxically rode to stardom on the back of the media. Against the foregoing background, it is now very clear that some elites in the country are temperamental or rather “short fused” as not even the least debate from Journalists will make them to rule over their temperament. Others routinely identify any expression of doubt as an act of opposition.

When the case of the former minister and Eyo was brewing, not a few Nigerians took side with the minister as they tried to find fault with the question he was asked. Unfortunately, most of them were ignorant of the fact that provocative questions are deliberately used by Journalists to gather facts on an issue. Surprisingly, while the somewhat conspiracy against the press is ongoing, the governments are not saying anything because they already have such an effective system of censorship that there is never any need to issue reminders to already compliant media.

As it is at the moment, a threshold has been crossed when a former minister, and now a pastor that are respectively wired politically and divinely to exercise restraint, particularly by virtue of the societal positions they occupy now make public utterances that portrayed them to be “Short fused”. In reaction to the unprogressive situation, not few Nigerians are at the moment asking “How can journalists function well with the elites they usually interact with in the course of sourcing for stories as they are now the ones fighting them. In the same vein, “If the people that are supposed to guarantee their safety are the ones holding them up to contempt, bullies them and threatens them, opening the way to abuses against the media that go unpunished, ” what hope awaits them in the profession?

The recent attack of Nigerian journalists; both in the print and broadcast segments of the Journalism profession has brought into focus the deterioration of press freedom. Across the country, fundamental freedoms of association, expression, and assembly are under threat. A recent report has it that twice as many Journalists live under repression today as a year ago. At this juncture, it is expedient to join voice with Amnesty International (IA) which has for the umpteenth time emphasized through its slogan that, “Journalism is not a crime”. Most organizations that agree with IA in its slogan firmly believe that Freedom of expression has been sustained as increasing attacks against journalists persist. In fact, if there is any incident that would compel anyone to compare journalism practice and soldiering as sharing the same level of risks, it is the increasing rate of unreported hostility against Journalists.