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.”
…Urges Ondo Gov To Shelve N2bn Gov’s Lodge Project
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has advised the Ondo State government to shelve its plans to build a new governor’s lodge at the cost of N2 billion in the interest of the state.
Mr Fatai Adams, the state PDP Chairman said this when he spoke with newsmen at the state party secretariat in Akure, yesterday.
Adams expressed concern over mass resignation of doctors in the state due to poor remuneration.
“We are seriously alarmed by the unfortunate resignation of over 109 doctors from the state public service over the inability of the government to pay their due salaries and hazard allowances as at when due.
“I’m sure you will all recall that Ondo State was the destination for medical tourism in the South West because of the first class service delivery found here under the PDP administration.
“According to the Nigerian Medical Association records, no medical house officer has been employed by the state government since 2019, a situation that is responsible for the poor services rendered in the hospitals.
“The present administration has a backlog of unpaid salaries of workers, it is proposing to build a N2 billion new governor’s lodge in Akure. This is not only ridiculous but the surest evidence that the government has completely lost direction,” he said.
Adams added” “Dr Olusegun Mimiko, Oluwarotimi Akeredeolu’s predecessor built a very befitting governor’s Lodge in 2013, a few years before Akeredolu assumed the reins of government.
“To spend N2 billion of tax payers money on another lodge at this time is the height of callousness and wastefulness,” he said.
Senators Rate 9th National Assembly High
Senators on Wednesday at plenary commended the 9th National Assembly at the mid-term assessment of its performance in the last two years.
The lawmakers, who spoke during a special session to mark the second year anniversary of the 9th Senate, commended the various legislative interventions of the National Assembly, especially on security, economy and governance.
The lawmakers, who spoke included the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi (APC-Kebbi); Deputy Leader, Ajayi Boroffice (APC-Ondo); Deputy Whip, Aliyu Sabi (APC-Niger), and Adamu Aliero (APC-Kebbi).
Others were Yahaya Oloriegbe (APC-Kwara); Gabriel Suswam (PDP-Benue); Chukwuka Utazi (PDP-Enugu); Solomon Adeola (APC-Lagos), Olubunmi Adetumbi (APC,-Ekiti), Ibikunle Amosun (APC-Ogun), and Suleiman Umar (APC-Kwara).
The rest were Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo (APC-Bayelsa); Nicholas Tofowomo (PDP-Ondo); Istifanus Gyang (PDP-Plateau); Sam Egwu (PDP-Ebonyi); Teslim Folarin (APC-Oyo); Nora Daduut (APC-Plateau); Jibrin Isah (APC-Kogi); Abdullahi Adamu (APC-Nasarawa), and Francis Fadahunsi (PDP-Osun), amongst others.
Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, in a speech delivered at the special session, said 742 bills were introduced by the ninth Senate in the last two years.
According to him, out of the total number of bills introduced during the two sessions of the Assembly, 58 have been passed, while 355 bills have gone through first reading.
Contributing, Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, said the realignment carried out on the budget cycle by the National Assembly was to insulate businesses and the economy from going into recession.
Deputy Whip, Sen. Aliyu Sabi, said: “As we celebrate two years, we are guided by the legislative agenda.
“The unity of purpose which we have worked for, has enabled us to achieve those great strides.
“The Production Sharing Contract (PSC) is a testimony on how the National Assembly has been able to work in unity in the interest of the nation.
“We need to work together to find common grounds to problems that beset the country,” Abdullahi said.
In his own remark, Sen. Garbriel Suswam, said: “Inspite of challenges and shortcomings, the 9th Assembly had taken major steps to achieve some of its legislative agenda.”
He said that the executive has been intransigent in implementing the resolution of the National Assembly.
He appealed to the Senate President to ensure that the Electoral Bill presently before the National Assembly was passed transparently, while accommodating provisions for the use of electronic card readers and electronic transmission of results during elections.
Senator Chukwuka Utazi, on his own part, described Executive-Legislative relations under the ninth Assembly as a good one.
The lawmaker, who called for the introduction of State Police, to curb rising insecurity in the country, also advised that the constitutional review exercise, be used to bring the South East region at par with other parts of the country.
Sen. Solomon Adeola similarly said that the Senate had on two occasions rescued Nigeria from a looming economic crises when it slid into recession.
He added that such a prompt response was extended by the National Assembly to the issue of insecurity amid its recommendations to the Executive arm of government, which were aimed at tackling the spate of insecurity faced by the country.
PDP Inaugurates E-Registration Committee
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Wednesday inaugurated e-registration Committee to facilitate electronic registration of its members nationwide.
The committee is Chaired by the Governor of Edo, Mr Godwin Obaseki, while Gov. Ahmadu Fintiri of Adamawa State is the Vice Chairman.
The party’s National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, at the inauguration of the committee in Abuja, said that the e- registration was a project dear to the party and had been on the card since 2010.
Secondus said that the party decided to digitalise its membership for proper database, due to its size, reach and to move with time.
“When we say that PDP is the largest party in the continent, we are not grandstanding but stating the obvious.
“There is no nook and cranny of this country that you won’t find PDP members.
“In 2019 general elections, the PDP was the only political party that fielded candidates in all the positions: Presidency, Governorship, Senate and House of Representatives and in all the 36 states’ Houses of Assembly.
“Even in states where we are not in power, our members still out number even the ruling party in such states.
“We are the only party since inception in 1998 that has been consistent in name, motto, manifestos and logo,” he said.
Secondus said that reports available to the party across the country showed that many more Nigerians want to join PDP and that the exercise would provide them such opportunity.
Secondus advised members of the committee to use their wealth of experience to deliver on the mandate assigned to them.
“In appointing you as the Chairman of this project, the party took into consideration your background and your love for data and record keeping.
“We have absolute confidence that you and your team will deliver in this assignment that is expected to update the database of our party across the country.
“Membership registration into our party is a continuous programme, what we are embarking on is to digitalise it for proper analysis of issues.
“The place of women and youths in our party cannot be over-emphasised and this programme is going to help toward proper planning in our party,” Secondus said.
Obaseki, in his remarks promised that the committee would reach out to PDP members across the nation.
He promised that the exercise would be all inclusive to the men and women, especially youths who were living in the digital world.
Obaseki said the committee would leverage on the existing platform of the party and produced a membership register that the party would be proud of .
“It is very worthy that our party being a big party has decided to digitalised membership and position the party to take over in 2023,” he said.
The party’s National Organising Secretary, retired Col. Austin Akobundu is the Secretary to the Committee, while the National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan; Agbi Emmanuel, Prof. Wale Oladipo, Sani Kutigi, Cyril Maduabum and Hon. Austin Opara will serve as members.
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