It was a sad morning among media practitioners, mid-April this year, in Ikoyi Lagos when the news broke of how a police officer- a member of the State Anti Robbery Squad SARS, made good his threat and like some volcanic eruption, he and a hand full of his alcohol-persuaded colleagues descended on one of the editors of THE NATION newspaper, leaving the journalist with a dozen and half slaps accompanied with various degrees of brutality indescribable in a singular piece as this. In the submission of this career-misplaced police officer, this editor had committed an offense, a very grievous offense. Infact he started committing the said offense the very day he chose to embark on the journey to enlist himself as a member of the fourth-estate. He had been quite unlucky to have committed the offense called journalism.
One year and six months down the line, media professionals the world over are yet to recover from the shock of the brutal murder of one of United Arab Emirate’s finest journalists addressed as Mr Jamal Khashoggi who was reportedly killed after an argument inside the Country’s Instanbul Consulate. Although five workers suspected to be connected to the crime were reportedly dismissed, it did not bring the boisterous, articulate, thorough and fearless Jamal back to life. The journalist had had an argument with some seemingly ‘untouchable’ fellows who threatened him and made good their threat. Jamal was deemed to have committed an offense by these assailants. To them, Jamal had been quite unlucky to have committed the offense called journalism.
It is less than one year now and the news is yet fresh of the brutal, extra judicial and condemnable mishandling of a popular journalist in Imo State simply addressed as Mr Destiny of the NIGERIAN HORN newspaper. Mr Destiny was the victim this time as the immediate past Member representing Ohaji-Egbema State Constituency in the Imo State House of Assembly, Hon. Emma Orie considered it a veritable addition to his performance report-card to enlist the brutalization of the journalist whom he claimed had written an unfavorable report about him. Orie had sought for the opportune time to make good his threat to destroy and maim this stellar journalist who in the consideration of the lawmaker, had committed an offense. Boom! the day landed, one more ‘achievement’ must get into the record books and with wanton impulse akin to happenings in Banana Republic, Hon Emma Orie swiftly descended on this journalist, registering on his face a rainbow coloration of slaps accompanied by sharp combo that can only been seen in a PS-4 Computer game. What was his offense? With his pen and his prying eyes Mr. Destiny had consistently remained resolute in reporting the anomalies of society and community leaders, drawing the attention of stakeholders to the plight of the helpless and circumstantial dependants. However, the more he did this, the higher the degree of his offense grew. Maybe it was Mr Destiny’s destiny. Maybe he should have known to have avoided this offense. Maybe he should not have committed the offense called journalism.
It has dragged on for nearly two years and half now and the case is yet in court between former Chief of Staff to former Imo Governor Rochas Okorocha, Mr Uche Nwosu and the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Community watchdog Newspapers, Comrade Precious Nwadike. The judiciary had to be approached after Executive recklessness that characterized the Okorocha’s administration culminated in the brutalization and mal-handling of this fearless journalist, his office ransacked, staff members harassed and family freedom suffocated. What was Nwadike’s offense? There was a bail-out fund in several millions of naira, Imo’s common wealth which allegedly mysteriously disappeared under the watch of the former Chief of Staff. Community watch-dog newspapers, playing the role of conscience of society, reported the ‘mystery’ and in the process bagged an ‘offense’. Threats were made against the life of this journalist and public fund deployed in vain to scuttle judicial processes that have continued to question the whereabouts of the star witness purportedly held in custody of the police in a manner incompatible with law. Comrade Precious Nwadike had committed an offense called journalism.
2017 was torturous for Frontline Express Newspapers. The Publisher, Amb Shirley Munonye as Vice Chairman of the Independent Newspapers Publishers Association had joined other credible tabloids in the State to demand for public accountability from Government at a time abundant State resources became the exclusive domicile of a few filial associates. Consequently, this fearless woman-journalist, the only female publisher in the State was issued with various degrees of threats from the high and mighty in Government House with Government appointees ordered not to do business with the newspaper anymore or risk being sacked. Her engagement with the office of the Secretary to Government where she performed media consultancy services was also immediately terminated without notice and the canteen she had acquired via due process revoked without explanation or compensation for the hundreds of thousands of naira she had sunk into renovating and equipping the said place. Without recourse to conscience, the powers-that-be in Government House had quickly issued a malicious directive to her landlord who happened to be an APC chieftain at the time, instructing him to eject the woman from his property or risk Executive hammer. What was Shirley Munonye’s offense? She just happened to find herself on the very offense-laden side called journalism.
Recently, another threat has been issued against the life of a Frontline Express staff, a popular journalist of note and erudite scholar with passion for investigative reportage. This time, it is from a popular APC Chieftain from Ideato North who has threatened fire and brim stone because a particular publication which exposed the tortuous, sinister and retrogressive motive of this self-styled ‘community stake-holder’ has been deemed an offense since it unraveled the ills of society and anticlockwise predisposition of leaders against their own people. Although the content of the threat, the salient insinuations, the unholy time it was issued as well as the name of this APC Chieftain have long been lodged with the State Police command in the event of eventualities however it must be established that this journalist like the other members of the fourth estate has committed an offense called journalism.
Section 39 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) provided for the right to freedom of expression and the press. Sub-section one of the same section states that “every person is entitled to freedom of expression, freedom to hold opinions and freedom to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”. Therefore, it is punishable under the law to assault a journalist for expressing his freedom to receive and impart information especially as the law grants him the freedom to do so without interference. Section 252 of the Criminal Code of Nigeria provides that “a person who strikes, touches or moves, or otherwise applies force of any kind to the person or another, either directly or indirectly, without his consent, or with his consent; if the consent is obtained by fraud, or who by any bodily act or gesture attempts or threatens to apply force of any kind to the person of another without his consent, in such circumstance that the person making the attempt or threat has actually or apparently effected his purpose, is said to assault that other person and the act is called an assault. The term ‘applies force’ includes the case of applying heat, light, electrical force, gas, odour or any other substance or thing whatever, if applied in such a degree to cause injury or personal discomfort”. Consequently, he is guilty of a crime, that man who by virtue of his position whether political or otherwise assaults a journalist whether directly or indirectly, either by threat or application of force to cause injury or personal discomfort.
In the light of the above, journalists the world over, must wake up to the realization of these laws. When and where they are infringed upon, the offenders, no matter their position in society, must be exposed by shared solidarity through the power of the pen. There is no singular politician, community leader, civil or military head or traditional ruler who having appropriated to himself or herself the common wealth of the people and subjected widows and children to untold hardship cannot be pulled down and brought under the full weight of the law using the power of the pen just as any man can be elevated from zero to hero with a well pointed pen. If the practice of journalism has been deemed an ‘offense’ by perpetrators of evil and those whose delight is the languishing of their own people, then journalists would rather remain the noble and gallant ‘offenders’.