With Joke Adeniyi-Jackson
I woke up on Friday 15th of November, 2002 without having a premonition of the evil that lurked in wait. I recall humming Jimmy Cliff’s hit song ‘Can see clearly now,’ as I looked forward to a bright sunshine day. But the event of that black November day remains interminable in my memories. The blast of a bomb that tore through the precinct of my office situated along Stadium road, Ilorin, Kwara State, shattered every dream and hope the day held. Minutes after, the building laid in ruins with rubbles littering every available space. Consequently, some colleagues suffered grievous injuries. While I was lucky to have escaped unhurt I lived with the trauma for many years. The bomb attack was the climax to the harassment of staff particularly editorial members of National Pilot. Intimidation, threats and physical assaults by political thugs were precursors to the dastardly act of the ‘black’ Friday. The media house had running battle in the wake of its existence with politicians who were hell-bent on stifling it over reports which they found offensive albeit truthful. Indeed, 2002 will go down as the year Kwarans witnessed the worst political turmoil in which many innocent people bore the brunt.
16 years down the line, there is the renaissance of assault on journalists in the state. Some journalists were attacked in some parts of Ilorin during the recently conducted governorship primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state.
Those attacked are the correspondents and cameramen of Channels, AIT, Core TV, TVC and Daily Trust.
While the electronic media newsmen were attacked at an APC primary’s unit at Ilorin Grammar School, Geri Alimi, Ilorin, the Daily Trust correspondent was reportedly assaulted at a rally organised by the supporters of one of the governorship aspirants of the APC at Sango area, Ilorin. This is no doubt a disturbing development. It is disheartening that journalists are caught in the crossfire of people who see politics as war. It is unfortunate that some politicians devise ways in a desperate means to stop the media from telling the story as it is. This they perceive as an affront on their personalities. They mostly use their thugs to intimidate, threaten and mete out violence on journalists in order to silence or censor them. This is a pointer to the fact that the truth is endangered and incontrovertibly inimical to the strengthening and sustainability of our democracy. It is instructive that an assault on journalists is an assault on the right of all people to the truth.
This despicable development negates the provisions of the Constitution which guarantees press freedom. Section 39 (1) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” This indicates that everyone has a voice and must be able to speak freely and in safety.
One must, nonetheless, state that assault on newsmen will continue unabated if the perpetrators escape punishment. It is pertinent for the law enforcement agencies to investigate the recent harassment of Kwara journalists. The perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted so as to serve as deterrent to others.
The use of callous means to settle issues with journalists is disheartening as laws of the land allow aggrieved parties to approach the court if they feel that they have been wrongly maligned in a report that is deemed to be ‘offensive’.
There have been cases where the highly placed people go to any length to frustrate efforts of journalists in the state. They try to coerce the press to succumb to their whims and caprices and when they are unable to achieve this, they resort to intimidation and harassment.
While the Kwara journalists lived to tell their tales of woes, their ilks in some other places were not so lucky as they have been dispatched to the world beyond. It is for this reason that we should not fold our hands and wait until the situation aggravates. Therefore government at all levels must stem the tide. It behooves governments, societies and individuals to do their utmost to protect and ensure the safety of all journalists.
It is known fact that media practitioners by nature of their job are exposed to various forms of danger, hence the urgent need to ensure a safe environment for them to practice their profession unhindered.
It is important that members of the public adopt more friendly attitude in dealing with media practitioners to get the best out of the profession. This is because the media play critical role in developing the society as true journalists are in the vanguard for democratic change and social re-ordering. People should see the media as partners in progress as done in most advanced countries.
However, journalists as watch dogs of the society should carry out their legitimate duties in accordance to ethics of the profession, which preaches balance reportage. It is also important for media owners to institute insurance policies for their employees considering the alarming risks many journalists now face in trying to carry out their duties. This will give confidence to newsmen in the pursuit of their stories and the assurance that their sufferings in the line of duty will not go in vain .
.One must commend the Kwara State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) for its swift response to the dastardly situation. It condemned in strong terms the attack on members
The council threatened to boycott all political activities in the state if political thugs are not cautioned against attacking journalists in the discharge of their legitimate duties.
The NUJ also asked all politicians in the state to warn their supporters against violating human rights and assaulting journalists.