World Press Day: The Price and Dividends of Freedom

“Those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”. These are the words of Benjamin Franklin.

It is another United Nations World Press Freedom Day. 3rd May in every year is set aside to remember and celebrate journalists and pressmen all over the world, especially those whose lives have been cut short in the course of duty. The world is polarized. Wars and counter wars have been the norm for time immemorial.

Looking at the democratic dispensation in Nigeria, it is important that one is not quick to forget that it was never this rosy. Blood was the supreme sacrifice especially in the 80’s and 90’s. In that period, it was a taboo to form an opinion with regards to the policies and actions of government. It was treated by the military as a clear rebellion for which the punishment was death sentence. This greatly hindered press freedom and freedom of information generally.

A peep at history would reveal the mysterious death of Dele Giwa, a journalist, the editor and founder of Newswatch Magazine, who was given a letter bomb at his residence on the 19th of October 1986. Since no one has clearly taken responsibility and no one was brought to book for it, it is safe to conclude (though not true) that he disappeared. Of course I am being sarcastic. Everyone knows what happened to Dele Giwa. According to Franklin rosevelt, “we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression-everywhere in the world…..”. The gruesome murder of Dele Giwa proved the above saying wrong.

Another gory incident we all remember with tears and bitterness of soul was the mindless execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and the Ogoni Elders by the Sani Abacha led military administration. The panel that sat over his case appeared to have only one mission, which was to find him guilty at all cost. That case was heavily debated both locally and internationally even though nothing significant was eventually done about it. One of the members of the team that carried out the execution order of the Ogoni elders is currently holding a political position in this present administration. Persistent calls to reopen that case and carry out a proper investigation have fallen on deaf ears. History seem to have forgotten so soon. Activism was suppressed under the military era. One cannot help but wonder how Nigeria survived.

Fast forward to 1999, Nigeria formally adopted the democratic system and created a constitution that governs normal life. It looked like normalcy was restored. This became a breakthrough for journalism and press freedom. One can argue that the breakthrough is not total and significant yet when compared to what is obtainable in more civilized and liberal democracies of the world, talking about countries like the United States of America, United Kingdom and the rest. But in all fairness, there have been what I love to describe as a progressive leapfrog. But when compared with what was obtainable, it is only fair to give credit to what is presently obtainable

In 2011, the Freedom of Information Act was passed into law by the Goodluck Jonathan led administration after much hassle. The Act was meant to strengthen the access to information in all public offices especially for pressmen and shield workers from the adverse consequences of giving out certain information. That Act have also been fraught by many irregularities. One would want to think that Nigeria is just repulsive to proper civilization. Till date, one cannot say precisely a serving senator earns in Nigeria, how much more the president.

Today we remember our fallen pressmen, those who also lost their lives whilst covering war zones and terror prone areas especially areas ravaged by terrorists and extremists. Freedom lies in being bold and we must all stand for the truth and good conscience. We console pressmen all over the world with the words of Bob Marley where he said “Better to die fighting for freedom than to be a prisoner all the days of your life”. Liberty with danger is always preferable to peace with slavery. As we continue this journey to true freedom, it is our hope that the price for levels of freedom we seek has been paid by heroic men who stood for the truth irrespective of the circumstance.

Credit: Chinonso Nwote (cheepowersblog)

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