The President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr Christopher Isiguzo, has called on journalists to engage in more advocacy to prevent passage of the Social Media Bill before the National Assembly.
Isiguzo made the call yesterday in Lagos at an interactive session on “Promoting Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression in Nigeria’’.
It was organised by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in Lagos.
“We need to engage in more advocacy, because from what I have heard, the leadership of NASS is bent on seeing the bill through,” he said.
According to him, this is only possible if Nigerians fail to be vigilant in their opposition to the bill, which seeks to curtail their freedom of speech.
He said that at the recent public hearing on the bill before the Senate, more than 95 per cent of memorandum received rejected the bill.
“We feel that this bill constitutes an unnecessary distraction to our democratic space, and should be thrown out,’’ the NUJ president said.
Isiguzo noted that there were several factors militating against the freedom of the press in Nigeria, apart from obnoxious legislation.
He said these included poor remuneration for journalists, refusal to pay salaries, ownership interest, harsh working environment and self-censorship.
The union president said that as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, the media should continue to hold governments at all levels accountable in the overall interest of Nigeria.
Also, Deputy Director of SERAP, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, said at the Public Hearing on the bill before the Senate that only two groups, out of 67, spoke in favour of the bill.
According to him, this means that majority of Nigerians were against it.
“Despite this, there are still fears that the Social Media Bill might be passed. We should not forget the impact of the bill on our work as media professionals and Nigerians.
“There is also the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Bill, which is still before the National Assembly.
“These legislations can have big impacts on our work, if passed and signed into law, as it will curtail the freedom of expression in Nigeria,” he said.
The Guest Speaker, Mr Richard Akinnola, a veteran journalist, said that Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, gave media the obligation to hold government at all levels accountable.
Akinnola stated that Section 39 of the same Constitution granted the freedom of expression to all Nigerians, noting that this was, however, being hindered by obnoxious laws by government.
According to him, press freedom in Nigeria in the last 15 years, has been on a downward spiral.
He said that journalists and mass media houses had been facing various attacks by both Federal and State Governments, as well as public officials.
Akinnola flayed the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) for the incessant clampdown on television and radio stations in the country.
He said that such attacks were impeding them from carrying out their constitutional responsibilities.
“There is no doubt that many public officials have not imbibed certain democratic norms, which include accepting criticisms.
“Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution is explicit, wherein the media was given a responsibility to hold the government accountable.
“Quite a number of these infractions are committed by the police and the army, which have exhibited lots of intolerance, even under a democratic setting.
“It is also worrisome that many state governors govern their states as fiefdoms, where criticism is seen as an anathema,” Akinnola said.
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A former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George has urged federal government to relax the lockdown it imposed on Lagos State as a result of COVID- 19 pandemic.
George, who made the call in a statement in Lagos, yesterday said the lockdown imposed since March 29 was adversely affecting livelihoods and bringing up security challenges.
He said though government intended to curb the spread of the virus with the lockdown, the directive had left many Nigerians hungry at home without palliatives.
The PDP chieftain noted that there must be a balance between curbing the spread of the virus and protecting livelihoods and asked the government to relax the lockdown while putting safety measures in place.
“Everywhere in Lagos is now locked down. The markets, banking halls, the local grocery shops, the supermarkets, the transportation services are all halted, frozen by the federal government directives since March 29.
“On the surface level, the federal government’s position is to ensure safety, prevent communal spread of the virus and banish this scourge from our shores.
“Lagosians have been staying at home for about a month now. In a largely informal economy where most of our people depend on daily wages, the burden of lack of income is devastating.
“There is a natural growing anger in Lagos as the most vulnerable are ravaged with hunger,” George said.
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