The release of the Premium Times’ reporter last week by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), though with a whooping sum as fine from court, is heartwarming. At least the journey to letting him off the hook completely has begun.
The sin of Mr. Samuel Ogundipe is the publication of the letter of the IGP to the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, then acting president, in respect of the police investigation on the DSS siege on the National Assembly. The friction was compounded by his refusal to disclose his source of information.
We in The Lens salute the swelling solidarity, courage and resilience of the media (NUJ, journalists – TV, Press, On-line), civil society groups, activists and other discerning Nigerians in condemning and demanding for his immediate release. This extraordinarily inspiring effort fast tracked his eventual release on bail.
Just to put it in historical perspective, the worrisome thing in all of this is that we are in democracy, unlike during the military regime that suppressed freedom of the press and jail journalists on trumped up charges. The two Guardian journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor were jailed in 1984 by the dreaded decree 4 of the then Buhari led dictatorial government.
The Freedom of Information Act enacted by the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, on May 28, 2011 has released substantially restrictions on classified government informations. The Act make public records and information more freely available, provide for public access to public records and information et cetera. The details are as contained in the relevant sections in the FIA.
We now live in such a fast pace world where the secrecy of information has seemingly lost its exclusiveness. Or else what can one make of a high tech society like the United States where some classified information’s in the pre-2016 US presidential election was leaked. The back and forth accusations of Russia’s complicity in the hacking incidence of U.S. 2016 presidential election is still lingering. And as at today, some high profile individuals are still undergoing scrutiny of their involvement in the perceived cyber attack by Russia.
Justice is said to be a constant struggle. For us in The Lens, aside securing the total freedom of Mr. Samuel Ogundipe, we think we need to broaden the discussion beyond the usual ritual of arrest and release of journalists. A contraption like an institutional framework for example should be put in place to contain and more importantly, checkmate reoccurrences of these serial abuses of journalists by security agencies of government.
The media is the pillar of democracy meaning democracy cannot thrive in the true sense of it without a credible and vibrant media. The referral to the media as the fourth estate of the realm underscores its importance in governance. There is need for the government of the day to deliberately allow a leveling field for the media to function as stifling the media is invitation of anarchy.
Published in maiden edition, Lens Newspapers Vol. 1 No. 9.