Media leaders on Tuesday reiterated the importance of free speech to democracy. They reaffirmed the undying spirit of journalism in the face of adversity and described any attack on the media as an attack on democracy and on the country.
“Without free speech, without freedom of expression, there is no democracy”, Prince Nduka Obaigbena, President of newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), who led the delegation of the Nigeria Press Organisation (NPO), said.
The NPAN president is also the chairman of NPO, which is the umbrella body of all media organisations, comprising the NPAN, the Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), and the Nigeria Uion of Journalist (NUJ).
NUJ President Christopher Isiguzo and President of Silverbird Communication Mr. Guy Murray-Bruce of the BON led their respective organisations.
Other members of the delelgation are: Vanguard publisher Mr. Sam Amuka-Pemu, The Guardian publisher Lady Maiden Ibru, Newswatch Communication Co-founder and former NPAN President Mr. Ray Ekpu, Channels Executive Ambrose Okoh, Nigeria Institute of Journalism (NIJ) Provost Mr. Gbenga Adefaye, NPAN Executive Secretary Feyi Smith, Publisher of The Source Magazine Comfort Obi, Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Nigerian Xpress, Steve Nwosu; NUJ Lagos Council Chairman Qasim Akinreti, Managing Director, Radio Services, DAAR Communications, Ambrose Somide and Managing Director of The Sun Onuoha Ukeh.
Others are Editor of Daily Times Mr. Julius Eto, NGE’s Victoria Ibanga and Silverbird’s Patrick Duoye.
They were received by Chairman, Vintage Press Limited Mr Wale Edun; Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief Victor Ifijeh; Editor Adeniyi Adesina and Executive Director Finance and Administration Mr Sunday Adeleke.
Obaigbena said: “We are here in solidarity with The Nation, in solidarity with journalism and in solidarity with free speech. So, whatever we do, no matter the side of the divide we are on, we must always support free speech and as journalists, we will never bow like cowards; we must always pursue truth, report facts, give sound analysis and guide our nation at this time.
“I am very well aware that The Nation, in an editorial, supported the expression by the protesters and the youth. We still support them; we still support what they stand for; we still support the reform of the police; we still support an orderly society and we will continue to support what the youth stand for in bringing back a better Nigeria.
But we don’t support those who seek to use violence to settle political scores. Clearly, the attack on The Nation was a premeditated act. To find some people with guns to shoot at journalists who are doing their jobs in the pursuit of truth, that can never be accepted. No matter how many guns you have, you can never silence the pen.”
The This Day chairman implored The Nation staff to continue to pursue free speech and continue to build a better Nigeria.
He lamented a situation whereby the media were harassed by the regulators and the streets “but we will always stand firm and will never bow.”
The NUJ president said an attack on any medium is an attack on all, saying: “That is why we have not come as different groups, but we have come here together to show you that we are all together in this struggle.”
He said last week’s mayhem also led to the attack on other media house in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Taraba, Adamawa and Plateau where Nigerian Standard of Jos was attacked.
Isiguzo said: “So, it happened across the country and is really unfortunate. This is a clear attempt at putting the media in a pigeon hole and anytime they succeed in silencing the media, it simply means democracy has taken flight because media is central to the survival of democracy. We believe that a responsible government must unmask those behind these dastard acts because we can’t continue to accept this silence. It is a major threat to democracy.
If they kill the media, they kill democracy, they kill Nigerians. But we would not be cowed, no matter the attempt they are making, we would be there. We survived it during the military. This is a democracy, we would also survive it. We are like the barracks – soldiers come, soldiers go, the barracks remain. We assure you that we are with you at this trying time.”
Murray-Bruce described the attack as an act of cowardice.
“We sympathise with you, we don’t encourage this and we don’t believe that any media organisation should be attacked. We are behind you 100 per cent.”
Ekpu said the media in Nigeria had always been an endanger species, either during the military or civilian rule.
He said: “That is why we must always be together and fight together. During the military, it was the media that stood out there and received the bullet on the chest and fought them toe to toe and threw them out.
“Many of the people who are enjoining the democracy today never stood with us in the trenches… And many of them are just benefitting from the freedom that we have. Even if it is quarter freedom or half freedom, that we have it, is freedom.
And amazingly, paradoxically, it’s the media that is being attacked. We are being attacked from all fronts; even the people we are fighting for are attacking us. The system attacks us. I just read yesterday that three media houses (televisions) were fined. This is not how things are done in other countries, if they made a mistake, you say to them you made a mistake, apologise.
There is something called the right of reply. So, you have a system where an institution is the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge. That is unfair. No system works like that. And I think that, as a group, we must fight this course, otherwise, they will damage the media in this country.”
Edun said the attackers came with all manners of deadly weapons.
Their mission, he said, was to silence this voice (The Nation).
“The attack was an assault on the press; an assault on free speech, an assault on the media, and an assault on democracy. A few hours before they came here, Television Continental (TVC) was burnt. Their coming on-air shows their determination,” he said.
“No one sustained a serious injury; the cars, equipment, and other valuables can be replaced. Though people were trapped in the building, they managed to come out safely.”
Edun thanked the delegation for the solidarity visit.
Ifijeh said The Nation was delighted with the visit which would uplift the morale of the staff.
He added: “Our chairman referred to the resilient spirit of the journalist that, no matter what, they would not be cowed; they would continue to do their job.
We know of a newspaper house whose office was burnt in Apapa many years ago, a newspaper house whose printing premises in Abuja was also burnt.
Where is that newspaper house today? It is standing firm, stronger, resilient. We know of newspaper houses that were shut during the Abacha regime. Those newspapers are still standing. That tells us about the spirit of journalism.
“What has happened has happened. I was here when they came and I was telling the armed people here ‘don’t shoot.’ If you cannot scare them, allow them to do their worst, there must not be loss of lives. We don’t want to become the news, that here that was a bloodbath.
We didn’t want that. So, when they came, they had their way, about six people came, about six or so were at the other end, another six were at another end – all fully armed, meaning they knew what they were doing. In case, those who came in to attack us were repelled, others would move in. If that had happened, today, we would not be here. This solidarity visit would not take place.
We told ourselves we want peace, we are happy. We are grateful to the leadership of the NPO for this visit and we thank you.”