Today is being observed across the globe as the International Day to End Impunity Against Journalists. The United Nations General Assembly on November 2, 2013 adopted a resolution at its 68th session, urging member states to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity. The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali in November 2013.
The resolution condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers. It also urges member states to do their utmost best to ensure accountability, bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against media workers as well as guarantee victims’ access to appropriate remedies. It also calls upon the members to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference.
The focus on impunity of the resolution stems from the worrying situation over one decade during which more than 700 journalists were killed for bringing news and information to the public. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) revealed that in 2012 alone, 123 journalists were killed. The figure decreased slightly to 91 the following year but still represented the second deadliest year for journalists. Of the 593 murdered between 2006 and 2013, 94 per cent were local journalists, while six per cent were international correspondents. Male journalists accounted for 94 per cent with 41 per cent working in the print media.
According to the latest figure released by the United Nations (UN), more than 1,000 journalists have been murdered across the globe in the last one and a half decades. The latest and most gruesome of the killings was the elimination of the Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. The slain journalist, said to be critical of the Saudi regime, was allegedly strangulated at the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Turkey on October 2, last year, and his body dismembered by his assailants believed to be agents of the state. Khashoggi’s murder, which attracted global outrage, came on the heels of the killing of Sohail Khan in Pakistan and Mario Gomez in Mexico.
Nigeria has had its own dark moments of brutality and impunity against media workers. Apart from the high profile murder of Newswatch’s Dele Giwa in October 1986 via a letter bomb, there have been several gruesome murders of journalists in recent years. They include Bagauda Kaltho of The News magazine, who was killed in Kaduna and labelled a bomber; Tunde Oladepo, Ogun state bureau chief of The Guardian who was shot dead in his bedroom in Abeokuta; Godwin Agbroko, chairman of the editorial board of THISDAY, had life snuffed out of him on Christmas eve in 2006; Samuel Famakinwa of THISDAY, who was found dead in his hotel room in Maiduguri; Abayomi Ogundeji, also of THISDAY, was eliminated in August 2008; Bayo Ohu, a father of five and political reporter of The Guardian was assassinated in his Lagos home on September 20, 2009.
One common trend in all these murders is that the killers have never been found. No one can deny the fact that journalism is a risky profession all over the world. Nigerian journalists are viewed as enemies by overzealous security operatives. The ordeal of the Port Harcourt-based journalist, Jones Abiri, over a period of two years in the hands of the Department of State Services (DSS) before going on trial is the latest example. Devious politicians and top ranking public officers are always on the lookout, not wanting to see contrary viewpoints in print or on the airwaves. Corrupt accounting officers and CEOs of large private concerns and government ministries, departments and agencies as well as fraudsters dread investigative reporters like a plague. The journalist is the most unwanted guest at every location where crimes are being conceived or perpetrated.
But those who hunt journalists down have not succeeded in getting the practitioners to sheathe their pens in order to suppress the truth altogether. Nigeria parades some of the best journalists in the world. As Nigeria marks this event yearly, we urge all relevant professional bodies like the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) to ensure that their members are adequately protected and their welfare well taken care of. Nigerian media practitioners operate under deplorable conditions especially those working in the private media outfits that exploit them.
Aside from poor and irregular payment of salaries and allowances, many are not provided with basic tools to work with and are prone to danger. It is perhaps this deplorable situation that exposes some of them to brown envelop temptations. Very few of them, if any, are covered by life assurance in the event of loss of life or injuries while on duty tour. Nigerian journalism ought to be repositioned so that its practitioners can be given the respect they truly deserve.