The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has condemned the recent siege on the office of Premium Times, an on-line publication based in Abuja and the arrest and detention of its publisher, Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, and his colleague, Ms Evelyn Okakwu, describing it as unwarranted assault on the freedom of the press and undue interference.
Mr. Olorunyomi, Publisher of Premium Times, and Ms. Okawu, a Judiciary correspondent of the publication were arrested by the Nigeria Police in Abuja on Thursday, January 19, 2017, in connection with a report that the Nigerian Army considered offensive and libellous, but were later released.
We are reliably informed that the police were acting on a criminal complaint filed by Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, Chief of Army Staff, who alleged that Premium Times had defamed him by its coverage of military operations against Boko Haram.
The NGE is concerned about the growing clampdown, intimidation and frequent harassment of journalists by the police and other law enforcement agencies in the course of doing their lawful jobs and expressed its displeasure and disappointment over the conduct of the officers concerned who are supposed to protect them from harm at all times.
It is important to let overzealous security agencies know that harassment of media practitioners is inappropriate and capable of creating tension in an already tensed nation. It is an unkind reminder of the dark days of military rule, which witnessed concerted efforts to gag the press through unlawful detention of journalists without trial. Wielding the big stick and raiding newsrooms at will in a democratic setting are conducts of poor judgment and sad ways of reminding Nigerians of those days they would rather forget.
May we also remind all security agencies that what ought to exist between the media and security is a symbiotic relationship that would promote peace and help both parties do their jobs effectively. This country belongs to all of us and we all must work hard to protect the integrity, peaceful co-existence and all that binds us together as one entity.
The NGE is aware of the enormous responsibilities and functions of the media as an institution and would like to note that media practitioners are not above the law. Media practice is guided by rules and regulations and laws. There are options for any aggrieved person to seek redress if a media practitioner offends and libels him or her. Arrest and detention never end well. They only lead to strained relationship.
It is important to tread cautiously and nurture Nigeria’s democracy for the benefit of all. Journalists should not be subjected to inhuman treatment for exercising their Constitutional right to freedom of expression and doing their jobs.
We seize this opportunity to thank all those who caused the release of the affected journalists. As law-abiding citizens of Nigeria, we will continue to defend our democracy within the confines of what is right and legal and we implore all media practitioners in the country to continue to emphasize those things that unite us rather than things that divide us.