Reprieve for journalists as Reps caution security agencies

Leah TwakiJuly 11, 20244 min

Nigerian journalists get the backing of the House of Representatives on media freedom as parliament issues a strong warning to law enforcement agencies over incessant arrests and detentions

Free Speech: Reps back journalists, caution law enforcement agencies

The House of Representatives has taken a decisive stand against the unlawful arrest and detention of journalists by law enforcement agencies in the country.

This is as the House issued a strong warning to security operatives who are responsible for the unlawful arrests, emphasizing that protecting media right is crucial for democracy and free speech.

The House also urged the Nigerian Police to follow Section 24 of the amended Cybercrime Act 2015 which mandates that individuals including journalists be charged in court if they violate the law, rather than unlawfully detaining them.

The resolutions were handed down on Thursday July 11, 2024, following a motion of urgent importance presented by Rep. Clement Jimbo (APC, Akwa Ibom) on the “need to curtail on the incessant and unlawful arrest and detention of journalists by law enforcement agencies”

Press Freedom as a Cornerstone of Democracy

In his motion, Rep. Jimbo emphasized the fundamental right to freedom of the press, as enshrined in Section 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). He noted that a free press is essential for holding the government accountable and ensuring transparency, describing journalism as the “fourth estate of the realm.”

Rising Threats to Journalists

Jimbo expressed concern over the increasing number of journalists being unlawfully arrested, detained, and harassed under the guise of cyber-stalking offenses within the Cybercrimes Act, 2015.

ALSO READ : World Press Freedom Day: CSOs task FG to ensure media freedom and safety of journalists 

He said: “In recent times, between 2015 and 2024 there has been incessant unwarranted arrest, unlawful detention and several other forms of harassment and intimidation meted on at least 25 journalists in the course of their duty, which is threatening the very fundamental pillar of democracy, and culminating into a breach of their constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech.” 

He recalled that earlier this year 2024, the President signed the amended Act with a substantial adjustment on section 24, which listed what constitutes cyber-stalking and provided the punishment for such. The law enforcement agents,e he said, neglected this aspect and continued their clampdown on journalists and free speech, adding regrettably, that at least 10 journalists have been arrested in the past one year and 15 of them in the previous regime.

The Akwa Ibom state lawmaker worried that continuous clampdown of journalists will lead to a worsening climate for investigative and independent journalism in the country’s media space, and that the fourth republic democracy will be impugned by her admirers due to the excesses of those perpetuating this act of arbitrary clampdown on the press.

Rep. Jimbo said these actions could lead to international concerns, noting that the arrest of Mr. Daniel Ojukwu in March 2024, just 43 hours after the World Press Day, drew significant criticism. Such actions, he stressed, have contributed to Nigeria’s reputation as one of West Africa’s most dangerous places for journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

He therefore urged the House to pass laws to bolster press freedom and media protections as well as conduct inquiries into recent cases of journalist detention while engaging in diplomatic efforts to pressure the government to respect press freedom.

The Speaker of the House, Rep. Tajudeen Abbas (APC, Kaduna), who presided over the session, after putting the question, referred the motion to the committee on national security to ensure compliance.

STAR Check: Nigerians, particularly, constituents of Abak/Etim Ekpo/Ika federal constituency, can keep tabs on the legislative performance of Rep. Jimbo throughout the 10th House of Representatives here

 

Leah Twaki

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