A notable Nigerian journalist couldn’t have been more exact in his description of journalism in the Nigerian situation, as a profession (and not a practice), so unrewarding and mostly attended with grave risks. He asserted to this in “Journalists Hangout”, a popular television talk-show. Interestingly, the three other discussants, who readily agreed that “the fourth estate of the realm”, though termed one of the noblest of professions, is nevertheless one of the world’s dicey.
The discussion emphasized the obvious roles of journalism and its watchdog tag and how it could effectively police all and sundry, to bring about not only a Nigeria, but also a world replete with fair-play, freedom and justice to the peoples. The free-flow chat and moderation envisaged that “the average journalist has to be equipped and empowered with the needed tools to fostering a society laced with free and human enterprise order.
By and large, while journalists in Nigeria are mostly seen as inept in their assigned professional duties, that is not to say that the profession in the country is not one of the world’s most vibrant, as per the pursuit of objectivity and fearlessness, by most of its practitioners. Even though Nigerian journalists work in the meanest conditions, without livable wages and unpaid salary arrears owed them, which sort of weighs them down, they still appear to be in the highest aggregate of committed and patriotic ones amongst the country’s professionals.
An average Nigerian journalist is the one whose call to the profession is akin to one “signing a death warrant”. He is loathed by all, who sees in him a latent disdain to society’s iniquitous doings, which a journalist is ever prone to expose. Whether those in government, private life or individuals about their personal affairs, a journalist is a “busy body” who must be kept away or silenced when he attempts and has made guided secrets an open-secrets. Indeed, a journalist walks the lonely street and gives his cold cup of water to others, while he swallows saliva.
In Nigeria’s media history, the love-lost for journalism and the precarious existence of its professionals came strong-headed in the late 1980s, with the dastardly assassination through a letter bomb of Dele Giwa, the critical Editor-in-Chief of the Newswatch magazine, purportedly by the military government of his time. Ever since, the Nigerian journalists have known no peace, with the continuous killing, maiming, hounding and persecution of ‘the gentlemen of the press’. IFEX, Freedom House, Journalists Without Boarders and some other safeguard global media charities and their Nigerian counterparts continually appraise the situation, with periodic reports on the assaults and killing of journalists and gagging of the press.
With the palpable fears of clampdown and untimely deaths, many a journalist flees to ‘safe havens’ and “forced exiles”, where they may not have to face dangers. It nevertheless, aggravates brain-drain, where solid professionals, instead of contributing their very best to their countries of births, lament away in exile.
This would bring one to the very plight of Thompson Okaisabor, a journalist and Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of the IMPACT, a Nigerian based magazine. For his principled stand on investigative and objective reporting of events in his state and region, his life was said to be threatened by some powerful individuals who are the butt of his reportage. Okaisabor is one among journalists and activists, who are on the run and are homesick.
In 2017 alone, the reported violence and impunity visited against hapless journalists and the press in Nigeria resulted as the highest, in recent times. These repressions had been more from government, with few others emanating from non-state actors. For instance, Journalist Tony Ezimakor of the Daily Independent newspaper epitomizes many others unjustly detained and later released for various alleged offences, like failure to disclose their sources of information.
Ikechukwu Onubogu, a professional with the Anambra Broadcasting Service, according to the Premium Times, was shot dead by unknown gunmen. Same with Lawrence Okogie, a reporter with the Nigerian Television Authority, Benin City, Edo State! Also on April 16, 2017 at his residence in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Famous Giobaro of the Glory FM was severally shot in the stomach and killed by unknown gunmen.
In the last general elections held in the country, outright condemnations came from around the world against reported attacks on journalists and other media practitioners by security men and political thugs. In Ebonyi state, capital of Abakaliki, Charles Otu, a reporter with the Guardian newspaper, was reportedly attacked by armed political thugs, who beat him mercilessly on account of the news reports he earlier made.
Around the world, reported killings, repression of journalists and hounding of the press are escalating, thus serving as bad examples for an increased spate in Nigeria. For instance, Saudi Arabia journalist and writer, Jamal Khashoggi, was found butchered while visiting a Saudi Consulate in Turkey, where he fled to, amid crackdown on dissents, by the Saudi authority, who earlier accused him of seditious publications.
Saudi is a bad case of repression and killings of journalists and critical voices. In April 2018 alone, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) received a list of at least 13 names of activists confirmed to have been arrested in the country. This and other new waves of arrests involved journalists, writers and bloggers, for mere involvement in public discourse on reforms.
For government’s principals and private individuals, who publicly profess to the sanctity of the rule of law and respect for the rights of fellow humans, the persecution and killings of journalists and critical persons exposes the inhumanity in them, and that they only feign righteousness. Otherwise, the freedom and liberty they would wish themselves, actually starts from what they do to others, especially journalists, whose only ‘wrong doing’ is the safeguard with objective and fearless reporting of a society they love passionately.
. Jwan Alechenu, a public affairs commentator, writes in from Benue State.