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Attacking journalists threatens democracy, says coalition on quizzing of Fisayo Soyombo

Attacking journalists threatens democracy, says coalition on quizzing of Fisayo Soyombo
December 15
23:30 2021

A coalition of media and civil society organisations has cautioned the federal government and security agencies against “harassing” journalists.

The coalition — which TheCable is a part of — in a statement issued on Wednesday, listed several instances in which journalists were “harassed” by government officials — including the recent quizzing of Fisayo Soyombo, founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ).

Soyombo, the pioneer editor of TheCable, was questioned at the force headquarters on Monday over a story published by FIJ about a police camp project approved in 2018 and scheduled to be completed in 14 weeks.

The coalition advised the government to see the media as partners rather than “adversaries”, adding that such actions targeting journalists are against democratic values.

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“The Coalition for Whistleblower Protection and Press Freedom, CWPPF, condemns, in the strongest terms, the growing trend of attacks on journalists and media houses which have published investigative reports about corruption allegedly perpetrated by government officials. It is a dangerous trend that threatens the vibrancy of the country’s media and its democracy,” the statement reads.

“It is, indeed, shocking that the Nigeria Police, the institution called to account in the investigative report, and its leadership, would be more interested in defending an officer fingered in a corruption allegation instead of investigating the allegations against him.

“In arresting and claiming to be investigating a case of criminal defamation and cyber stalking against Soyombo, the Police wants to play the ignoble role of being a judge in its own case.

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“It is equally shocking that the Government of President Muhammadu Buhari, which came to power ostensibly to rid the country of corruption, is condoning such abuse of state power and resources by those accused of corruption to victimise media practitioners who are performing their constitutional duty of upholding the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.

“It is particularly astounding that the police authorities have chosen to abuse their powers by using strong arm tactics against the media when the police officer alleged to be complicit in a monumental act of corruption has offered no exculpatory evidence or explanation in rebuttal of the allegations made against him.”

The coalition also cited the case of Rufus Egbegba, director-general of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), who allegedly “attempted to use institutions of the state to intimidate and harass the International Centre for Investigative Reporting for a report on contract inflation at the agency”.

The coalition also gave the example of Lukas Binniyat, a resident of Kaduna, said to have been arrested “for the publication of a story about the massacre of innocent citizens in southern Kaduna”.

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“These recurring arrests and harassment of Nigerian journalists by state actors is an indicator of the unwillingness of the government to accept and appreciate the role of media in a democracy,” the group said.

“We see the work of the news media, particularly investigative journalists, who expose corruption by state institutions and officials, as complementary to the Government’s stated policy of fighting against corruption.

“In exposing corruption in government, the news media is playing its constitutional role of holding the government and public office holders to account on behalf of the people. For this reason, the Government should see the news media as partners and not adversaries and define itself through support and protection to enable this accountability obligation.

“As it is, allowing government officials accused of corruption to use state power and resources as shields from scrutiny, amounts to undermining the government’s credibility and supposed anti-corruption war. We call on the Federal Government to take measures to put an end to these attacks on the critical media and protect journalists from corrupt government officials who have been exposed by journalists through their investigative reporting.

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“We would like to warn that if allowed to continue, this trend of public officials attacking journalists for their critical reporting, will embolden others and would soon pose a really grave danger to journalism practice and freedom of the press in Nigeria, which are very critical pillars in building and sustaining democracy in any society. In fact, this trend, if not immediately checked, will pose a very serious risk to Nigeria’s fledgling democracy.”

Members of the coalition include Premium Times, OrderPaper Advocacy Initiative, TheCable, Daily Trust Newspaper, International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism,  Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), and Civic Media Lab.

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Others are Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), International Press Centre (IPC), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Paradigm Initiative, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), and HEDA Resources Centre.

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