Freedom of expression, human rights shrinking in Nigeria, says Otufodunrin

Executive Director of Media Career Development Network, Lagos, Mr Lekan Otufodunrin, has called on the media in the country to pay attention to the shrinking space for freedom of expression and fundamental human rights in Nigeria.

Mr Otufodunrin made the call in Ibadan Friday while delivering a lecture entitled ” Roles of the media in building a virile democracy” at the maiden NUJ South West Zonal Lecture/award programme held at the Oyo NUJ Press Centre, in Ibadan. 

According to the Executive Director of Media Carreer Development Centre, there is the need for the media to rise to the task ahead by being the watchdog of the society, saying, “if our democracy is to endure and become firmly rooted to ensure good governance, free and fair elections and much more, the media must not fail in its role of being the watchdog.

“We cannot afford to allow politicians to mess up the country and tempt the military to ever think of making a comeback like we have had in some countries. It’s important to pay attention to the shrinking space for freedom of expression and fundamental human rights despite the fact that we are supposed to be under a democratic government”, he said. 

Mr Otufodunrin added, “we are witnessing some systematic crackdown on individuals which may soon be extended to us if we don’t speak up now.”, saying, “so crucial is the role of the media in building democracy that without a free and unshackled media, democracy cannot thrive, just as without democracy, the media will not be able to perform not only the roles of informing, educating and entertaining the public, but holding the government accountable to the people as provided for in our constitution.”

He emphasized that “If democracy is indeed the government of the people, for the people and by the people, it is incumbent on the media to ensure that the democratic principles are upheld in various aspects of the overall governance of the country”, saying, the media must not take its role for granted in ensuring the kind of democratic environment we need to have in the country by now. Just recently The Punch had to symbolically declare its intention to prefix the name of President Muhammadu Buhari with his military title of Major General in protest against abuses of fundamental rights and the rule of law by the federal government.

“For whatever it was worth, the unprecedented decision of the media and others which supported the move was a clear signal to politicians that the media will not only  bark when its sees erosion of the spirit and letters of the democratic administration we are supposed to have, but will not hesitate to bite, however mild, as long as the government is forced to take necessary action like it did in the case of the Publisher of Sahara Reporters Omoyele Sowore and former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki who were suddenly released on bail after initial refusal to yield to right counsel.”

Mr Otufodunrin stressed , “for our media to effectively play their role in building a virile democracy, we must all have a clear understanding of our roles and live up to the expectations of the framers of the constitution who provided that we should be the guardian angel of democracy.

“Journalists must be well versed in the provisions of the Constitution and other legal provisions to know what to demand from political office holders and appointees. When democracy is being violated in anyway, including the disregard for the independence of all arms of government and other infractions, the media must insist on the due process being followed. What is apparent in some instances is that some journalists don’t know enough of the limits of the powers of government officials and appointees so they are not held as accountable as they should.”

Mr Otufodunrin said, “we allow them to get away with poor performance when we don’t hold them accountable to the high demands of their office. Some of our reporting are so patronising that elected officials don’t think they are accountable to the electorates who should decide the right persons for any political post”, adding, “I understand the economic situation in the media, but we must realise that we have an important role to play in ensuring that we continue to have a country where the citizens are entitled to good governance and not where corruption and other forms of mis-governance thrives while we look away or not as discerning as we should than the ordinary citizen who feels helpless about the situation.

“We must remain the voice of the voiceless when their rights are denied them and maintain the trust of the people who rely on us to always speak truth to power based on the principles of truth, fairness and justice.”

At the annual lecture and award day, 12 journalists including Commissioners for Information in Oyo state, Dr Wasiu Olatunbosun, Donald Ojogo, Ondo state, and Mrs Funke Egbemode, Osun state, were honoured in the professional award while the Nigeria Union of Pensioners , Oyo state, its Chairman and Secretary were honoured in the corporate cadre.

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