The President elect of Nigeria in a move that critics say has just given Nigerians a glimpse of his old dictator self, banned the media house African Independent Television (AIT) from covering his activities. AIT reporters were escorted off the premises of Defence House where Buhari presently lives pending the transition. He was due to meet with the Cuban and Swiss Ambassadors when the incident took place. This move by the retired General and president elect Muhammad Buhari (GMB) has stunned even his most ardent supporters. His spokesperson said this was as a result of some security and family matters.
“You can quote me that I said that we have asked them to step aside and that we are resolving the the issues of ethics and standards with them.” GMB confirmed
Ethics and standards, security and family matters, these seem like censorship. Freedom of press is an incredibly essential ingredient for Nigeria’s democracy, indeed any democracy. Censorship and any kind of heavy handedness are equally bad for our democracy. For all the criticism leveraged against it, GEJ’s government was the most criticised and it took it on the chin, sometimes responding on social media platforms through the presidential spokespersons. Are we then off to a bad start with GMB?
World Press Freedom Day arrives in a week. Nigeria cannot go back to the time when its press was unable to investigate stories and criticise the polity. At last year’s world press day May 3, 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, released a statement.
“Journalism provides a platform for informed discussion across a wide range of development issues – from environmental challenges and scientific progress to gender equality, youth engagement and peacebuilding. Only when journalists are at liberty to monitor, investigate and criticize policies and actions can good governance exist.”What exactly does Recalling the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”
In 1991, when Nigeria and many other African countries were going through some of its worst times with dictatorships and human rights abuses, the UN declaration of Windhoek was adopted and included the following regarding the press:
Recalling General Assembly resolution 59(I) of 14 December 1946 stating that freedom of information is a fundamental human right, and General Assembly resolution 45/76 A of 11 December 1990 on information in the service of humanity,
Recalling resolution 25C/104 of the General Conference of UNESCO of 1989 in which the main focus is the promotion of “the free flow of ideas by word and image at international as well as national levels”,
1. Consistent with article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development.
2. By an independent press, we mean a press independent from governmental, political or economic control or from control of materials and infrastructure essential for the production and dissemination of newspapers, magazines and periodicals.
3. By a pluralistic press, we mean the end of monopolies of any kind and the existence of the greatest possible number of newspapers, magazines and periodicals reflecting the widest possible range of opinion within the community.
4. The welcome changes that an increasing number of African States are now undergoing towards multi-party democracies provide the climate in which an independent and pluralistic press can emerge.
The world-wide trend towards democracy and freedom of information and expression is a fundamental contribution to the fulfilment of human aspirations.
5. In Africa today, despite the positive developments in some countries, in many countries journalists, editors and publishers are victims of repression-they are murdered, arrested, detained and censored, and are restricted by economic and political pressures such as restrictions on newsprint, licensing systems which restrict the opportunity to publish, visa restrictions which prevent the free movement of journalists, restrictions on the exchange of news and information, and limitations on the circulation of newspapers within countries and across national borders. In some countries, one-party States control the totality of information.
6. Today, at least 17 journalists, editors or publishers are in African prisons, and 48 African journalists were killed in the exercise of their profession between 1969 and 1990.
7. The General Assembly of the United Nations should include in the agenda of its next session an item on the declaration of censorship as a grave violation of human rights falling within the purview of the Commission on Human Rights.
8. African States should be encouraged to provide constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press and freedom of association.
9. To encourage and consolidate the positive changes taking place in Africa, and to counter the negative ones, the international community-specifically, international organizations (governmental as well as non-governmental), development agencies and professional associations-should as a matter of priority direct funding support towards the development and establishment of non-governmental newspapers, magazines and periodicals that reflect the society as a whole and the different points of view within the communities they serve.
There have been reports from AIT which many argue are one-sided and target the opposition. If this is the case, isn’t that what the courts of law are made for? Is GMB out of touch with the times? Does a president in a 21st century democracy arbitrarily send off the press or play pick and choose? Or does the president sue for defamation or you prosecute for whatever grievance it may have? How about some finesse then; write AIT a letter and have the security agencies investigate whatever this is?
This move is certainly ill-advised and the world will be watching keenly to see if this is extended to corruption and all who plundered the nation’s treasury. The world will be watching to see if the soon to be president of Africa’s largest economy and the world’s most populous black nation will have respect for the rule of law in the first democracy won by the opposition.