The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, at the weekend in Abuja, made a robust case for freedom of the press and asked the Judiciary to step-up the plate and give consequence to citizens liberty through courageous and independent pronouncements and decisions.
Mr Dogara was speaking as a special guest at the conference on “Press Freedom in Nigeria, Rule of Law, Media and Violent Extremism,” to mark the 2019 World Press Freedom Day.
The conference, which held at the at the Chelsea Hotel, was organised by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism in partnership with the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption program of the British Council. It was funded by the European Union Mission to Nigeria.
“We need the judiciary to be truly independent and have the courage to make bold pronouncements if press freedom will find ground in our democracy. lawmakers can only pass motions which the executive can always ignore but if a judicial pronouncement is flouted, an independent judiciary can always enforce compliance,” he said.
In assessing the current state of government-press relations in Nigeria, Mr Dogara ran hard knocks on the government saying it is “anything but banal” adding that “we are all witnesses to recurring examples of coercion, threats, brutality, arrests, incarceration and media shut down perpetrated by the state against journalists and their establishments.”
He pointed at instances of what he characterised as “draconian measures adopted by State actors abound during the recent elections held in parts of the country and the General Elections” and remarked that such “attacks on the independence of the Press greatly inhibit effective media practice and does not augur well for good governance and democracy.”
Comparing Nigeria’s records on government-press relations to other democracies, the speaker said “governments’ efforts must never be to make our citizens docile and obedient” because, as he puts it, “that’s what repressive regimes do best, but our goal must be to keep our citizens active and informed with the skills to questions the questions and question the answers if they so wish.”
Democracies are built by refusing to censor the free press Mr Dogara asserted, stressing that “Ours cannot be different.”
Commenting on the expanded meaning of press freedom, Mr Dogara said “press freedom is not negotiable and direct violence to journalists is not the only threat. Those who attack the media as “fake news” or “enemy of the people” in order to erode the credibility of the press are as dangerous as those perpetrating violence against journalists.”
He isolated media outfits that uphold the ethics of fairness, objectivity, truthfulness and patriotism in their journalism as distinct and deserving the support of the legislative arm of government but he frowned at hate speech which he said is “not free speech and must not have a place in a democracy.”
Mr Dogara argued that while “speeches that elicit debates are welcome …speeches that incite to violence must be punished,” and with that, he took a guided review of the debate on how to regulate hate speech and the social media.
He said: “The amount of falsehood and incitement to violence unleashed daily in the Social Media may lead to unmitigated disruptive disaster one day if not checked. I guess the time is ripe for us as Nigerians to have a frank conversation on this issue.” But he rejected the view that this was the responsibility of the legislative arm of government.
“Maybe the solution and the debate should be led this time by the Media and Civil Society Organisations,” he said, laying a template upon which such debates will be conducted. “We must be honest enough to admit that there is no freedom without responsibility,” Mr Dogara stressed.
However, Mr Dogara pointed out that a debate to regulate hate news and misinformation must be erected on the vision of an independent judiciary and an independent media regime, in line with the spirit of the May 2016, Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Countering Violent Extremism proposed by the United Nation in Helsinki, Finland, which proposed that:
“Restrictions on freedom of expression must be subject to independent judicial oversight, [since] Anywhere democracy struggles, it will be because of a weak Judiciary.
“A key part of any strategy to combat terrorism and violence should be to support independent media and communications diversity.”
Huge Cost Of NASS Maintenance Worries TUC
Rivers State chapter of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), has called on the Federal Government to reduce the costs of governance in the country, noting that it cost the country billions of Naira to maintain the National Assembly alone.
The State TUC, chairman, Austin Jonah who spoke when he appeared as guest on a live Radio programme in Port Harcourt monitored by The Tide stated that the cost of governance in Nigeria is very expensive and not attainable.
Jonah further said the federal government will have enough funds to pay the minimum wage when they reduce the salaries and allowances of political office holders.
“Look at the welcome pack of the National Assembly members. N4.6 plus billion for accommodation and furniture. A Senator is going home with about N10million, while the member of House of Representatives is taking N9million plus.
“If you calculate with 360 persons in the House of Reps, plus 109 in the Senate, that is about 469 people and they have severance gratuity. They have so many things they are going home with plus their salary. You see, if you look at governance and cut down expenditure in governance this money, they have already taken the money that are talking about.
“They have taken it in the sense that they want to increase communication tax, such as that every call you make you pay tax, sms you pay tax, data you pay tax and even cable Television,” Jonah lamented
The State TUC chairman said what the labour union negotiated with the Federal Government was not the minimum wage but consequential adjustment.
“What we were negotiating was the consequential adjustment. Now from N18, 000 to N30, 000, the difference is N12, 000, which is 66 per cent. That 66 per cent was what we negotiated. By right we are not supposed to negotiate.
“If you trace the history of minimum wage in Nigeria, it started in 1981 during the Alhaji Shehu Shagari Government. Whenever you finish with minimum wage, the consequential adjustment is based on the percentage of the difference.
“The first minimum wage presented by the NLC was N300, but at the end of the day N125 was agreed,” he said.
NASS Promises Better Funding For Nigerian Army
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume and his House of Representatives counterpart, Mr Abdulrazak Namdas, have promised to ensure adequate funding for the Nigerian Army in the 2020 budget.
They made the promise on Saturday in an interview with newsmen during the Passing Out Parade (POP) of 78 Regular Recruits Intake at the Depot Nigerian Army, Zaria, Kaduna State.
They said that the army needed to be adequately funded to be able to effectively tackle the prevailing security threats in the country.
Ndume, who agreed that the N100 billion proposed for the defence in 2020 budget was inadequate, said that the committee on army was looking at how to help to enhance the funding.
He said that the national assembly was aware of needs of the army that needed to be provided to enable its personnel to perform their duties effectively.
“We are going to do something despite the fact that the resources are scarce but security is first and everybody has agreed to that.
“We are looking at the budget critically to place our priorities right so that the right things will be done first.”
Namdas said that the joint committee had embark on fact finding tour to army formations across the country and realised that the army had challenges.
According to him, they are really on ground, they have done so much and now that the National Assembly is considering the budget we can appropriate for the army.
“We will see how we can be able to adjust and see how that can be able to cope with the challenges at hand,” he said.
Namdas also disclosed that a motion to provide for special funding for the armed forces was currently being considered on the floor of the House of Representatives.
He added that the armed forces could not be adequately funded only by the budget, adding that there was need to look beyond the budget to finance the operations of the armed forces.
“That motion has been taken and we are looking to it and by the special grace of God, even after the budget we will look for special funding for the armed forces generally,” he said.
The Depot Nigerian Army on Saturday graduated a total of 4832 regular recruits who would be deployed to various formations of the army.
Similarly, the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin, urged the graduating soldiers to always uphold the oath of allegiance they had taken to defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria.
Olonisakin also tasked them to display total loyalty while pledging that the prevailing security challenges would soon be over through the commitment of the military.
APC, Party For Notorious Liars – Ayade
Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State has described the All Progressives Congress (APC) as a group of persons notorious for lies, especially in his state.
He said the assertions credited to the APC chairman in the state, John Ochala, over his return to school to pursue a Master’s degree in law at UNICAL were as laughable and pathetic as the party itself in the state, adding “the party in the state is notorious for lies.”
Ochala is reported to have said that Governor Ayade returned to school because of idleness and laziness and that he (Ayade) lacked ideas on how to govern the state.
But the Governor in a statement by Mr. Christian Ita, his chief media adviser, said it was “funny that a party like APC which prides itself as a major opposition cannot engage the Governor on governance issues but chooses to lie to score cheap political points.
“If they didn’t see anything wrong with Governor Malam Nasir el-Rufai returning to school in 2017 in faraway Netherlands for his PhD, what,then is wrong if Governor Ayade returns to school to add to his numerous degrees within Calabar, the state capital?” he asked.
The statement reminded the APC that Chief Whip of the Senate and member of the APC, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu was an undergraduate student while serving as Abia State governor.
“The timing of Governor Ayade’s decision to return to school is unequivocally perfect. Unlike APC members, the governor, despite all the resources at his disposal didn’t choose any foreign university, he decided to do it locally thereby boosting the reputation of Nigerian universities at a time tertiary institutions in West Africa are under attack,” he said. Ayade said to attack his quest for more academic degrees shows that APC in the state was weak as opposition party and could not be able to distract him.
Friday Nwagbara, Calabar
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