FIC Report (Abia State) – The Rector, Abia State Polytechnic, Aba, Associate Professor Harglar Okorie has tasked the Federal Government to address factors militating against Freedom of Expression for Media Practitioners.
Prof Okorie who made the call as Guest Lecturer during the 2023 edition of World Press Freedom Day organised by the Abia State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists in Umuahia.
He identified challenges on the right to Freedom of Expression and the Press under the Nigerian legal regime to be the non- absoluteness of the right as provided for by the 1999 Constitution as amended and maintained that such rights are curtailed by the provisions of section 45 of the Constitution.
According to the Don, the sum total of section 45 is that it expressly permits the breaching of the enshrined rights contained in sections 37,38,39,40 and 41 of the Constitution under certain circumstances.
“Therefore, on account of defence, colony,public safety,order, morality, peace and health, the right to freedom of expression and the press in particular may be capitulated as a result of the derogation clause contained therein.
Prof. Okorie noted that the Offences Publication (Proscription) Degree as one of the laws that threatened media freedom, and added that “Under this law, any publication that was likely to derail the transition programme or democracy or disturb public peace and public order was prohibited”.
He posited that section 2 of the law contains an oyster clause which excludes any judicial inquiry and review.
The Abia Poly Rector also identified State Security (Detention of Persons) Degrees, which several journalists were jailed, as factors militating against the freedom of expression for Media Practitioners.
“The degree contained an oyster clause which allowed prohibited detainees from challenging their cases in a Court of Law.
“Treason and Treasonable Offences Degree imposed death penalty on any person who “uttered any word, displayed anything or published any material capable of “breaking up” Nigeria.
“Reported cases and mostly unreported cases of arrested journalists in Nigeria even under democratic dispensations have been major challenge facing freedom of expression in Nigeria.
“State restrictions and Police brutality remain challenges to the press. There have been raids of editorial offices and employees arrested from 1999 till date”.
According to him, between 1999 to 2003, Police have raided The News, The Observer and Daily Independent, “and these were carried out under democratic dispensations.
“The Police action was claimed to be due to press publication considered to be critical of the government in power. These curtailing actions against the press has had it’s effect on socio-economic development of Nigeria.
“The Nigeria situation of arrests, torture and detention of journalists, their family members and organizations are among the terrible cases of press repression in the World” he observed.
Prof Okorie however, posited that in democratic setting, freedom of expression happens to be a vital tool of rule of law. “So, freedom is a means to achieve good governance, transparent and accountable governments, and respect for human rights in the Country”.
Former Secretary to the State Government and Veteran Journalist, Pastor Ralph Egbu commended the State Council for organising the World Press Freedom Day despite the current situation and challenges facing it.
He challenged the National and State Leadership of the Union to use every statutory and instant laws to run out fakes in the practice.
In his remarks, the co- Chairman of the occasion, Sir Chimdi Oluoha, a retired Permanent Secretary in the State, noted that Press Freedom is essential to democratic process.
The State Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists, Comrade Victor Ndukwe described the freedom of the Press as being vital to harmonious existence in the society as it is synonymous with free access to information.
He therefore urged government, through its legal instruments and the society to ensure that freedom of expression as well as other germane freedoms thrive for “evaluation of an egalitarian society”.
Highlight of the event was the presentation of goodwill messages from the Assistant Inspector of Police, Umar Sanda, represented by DCP Chukwuemeka Ihebom who felicitated with media practitioners and called for synergy between the media practitioners and security agencies within the zone.
He said; “We do not take it lightly with human rights abuses by our men and officers and that is why we have reprimanded some of our erring officer against human rights and Infringement of their rights”.
Other security agencies represented during the event include, the Department of State Security (DSS) and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC).