Press Freedom Under Attack! Resist!! Resist!!!

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The All Progressives Congress (APC), like most parties of the bosses when they are in power, is averse to the truth. Its sustained attacks on press freedom, in utter disregard for the ‘rule of law’ and ‘freedom of the press’ of capitalist democracy, is a further suggestion of the gradual slide into authoritarian rule, bringing back memories of the dark days of military dictatorship.

The arrests and detentions of Samuel Ogundipe and Jones Abiri, and the demolition of Yinka Ayefele’s Music House are stark examples of unbridled exercise of state power.

The release of the two journalists, in the wake of mass outcry, however, also demonstrates that we can defeat such attacks with our collective resistance.

Ogundipe and Abiri: mass action lead to release

Samuel Ogundipe, Security Correspondent of Premium Times, a leading online newspaper was arrested on 14 August and secretly arraigned before a magistrate two days later. He was charged with “criminal trespass and theft of a police document”, because he refused to divulge the source of a story.

The police document referred to is the five-page interim report of the Inspector General of Police to Vice President Yemi Osibajo, who was then acting President. The report covered the invasion of the National Assembly complex by armed and hooded operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS). Incidentally, there was nothing new in the badly written report that was not already in the public domain.

Ironically, Ogundipe’s arrest (along with two of his colleagues who were released the same day) was carried out by the rebranded anti-robbery squad FSARS (rebranded after the #EndSARS campaign won public support due to the squad’s notoriety). Ogundipe was denied access to his family, colleagues and lawyers.

The relatively speedy release of Ogundipe on bail, was no doubt because of the mass protest organised in front of the police headquarters two days after he was arrested.

It took two years before Jones Abiri, publisher of the Weekly Source, was released. He was arrested by armed operatives of the Department of State Security on 21st July 2016, in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. His offense was to republish a story earlier published by the online Point Blank News suggesting there could be a military coup in the offing.

In response to earlier calls for the release of Abiri, the DSS claimed that it was not holding any journalist. According to them, he was a militant, the leader of the Joint Revolutionary Council of the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force. Challenged to prove this allegation, the secret police could provide no evidence whatsoever. Meanwhile, Abiri was also denied access to his family, colleagues, doctor and lawyer. The DSS even said it had no idea where he was incarcerated!

A groundswell of calls for the release of Abiri led to his being formally charged to court and released on bail, only on 15 August 2018.

Demolition of Music House: Oyo State intolerant of critical views

As if these wanton demonstrations of impunity in repressing press freedom by the Federal Government were not enough, the Oyo State Governor, equally showed how dastardly ruling class politicians could be. The Music House of the musician, Yinka Ayefele, which houses his Fresh FM radio station was pulled down in the early hours of Sunday 19th August.

The initial claim of the Oyo State Government was that it acted within the ambit of the law. The building, it claimed, was constructed in contravention of urban planning regulations and the Music House management had been served a demolition notice.

But behind this seeming respect for its own questionable rule of law lies the heart of a vindictive government. Several commentators and analysts on Fresh FM had been critical of the state government over the years. Officials of the government had also repeatedly called on the radio station to tone down its scathing reportage of the rascally government’s misdemeanours.

The threat of demolition was first invoked against Music House in 2012, barely one year after Mr Isiaka Ajimobi was sworn in for his first term as Governor. About four plots of land were seized, and the question of irregular construction apparently laid to rest.

Four years later, in 2016, Ajimobi featured on Fresh FM and whilst on air, said: “thank God we didn’t heed the advice to demolish this building… I can say this is the best radio station I have visited in Oyo State”. He then advised the radio station to henceforth comport itself (that is be less critical of the government).

The demolition of the Music House was primarily a political action meant to stifle press freedom and not due to its management’s disregard for planning regulations. The immediate cause of the Governor’s unholy anger is not difficult to identify. It was reported on Fresh FM that Governor Ajimobi has interests in a new abattoir complex built by the Oyo State Government. After this exposé, Music House was issued with a demolition notice on 13th August. It immediately headed to the court and secured an injunction until the legality or otherwise of the notice was determined.

The demolition came up barely a day from the next sitting of the court slatted for Monday 20th August. The mass anger demonstrated against it, with a spontaneous protest march in Ibadan came as a rude shock to the State Government.

The Governor is an architype of the traditional Nigerian politician. He described himself as the “constituted authority” of Oyo State when he boastfully told students of Oyo State tertiary colleges last year that he could close any college for as long as he liked and nothing would happen.

But, we can defeat the bosses’ class, its politicians and their state. We can ensure the flowering of media freedom, if we fight against their repressive antics.

We must be bold, and uncompromising in fighting for our freedom of expression. As journalists and citizens, we should use any and every medium of mass and social communication.

Two years ago, we defeated the Senate’s move to gag discussion on social media by fighting back. Ogundipe and Abiri were released because we dared to fight back.

Ajimobi and the Oyo State Government must be made to pay for the destruction of Yinka Ayefele’s Music House.  The house and equipment destroyed are valued at N800 million. We must fight to ensure that Yinka is compensated and Fresh FM continues on air.

Clampdown on free speech: a pattern of repression

It is also quite important for us to remember that the recent attacks are just a tip of the iceberg. Not less than twenty journalists might have been incarcerated since the APC government came into power, despite consistent lies that this is not the case.

For example, speaking on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari at the Congress of the Federation of African Journalists held on 29 April 2016, the minister of information, Mr Lai Mohammed said “I can report to this congress that not a single journalist is being detained or harassed in Nigeria today.” Bu of course, Lai lied, as is customary with him.

On that same day, Mr Jacob Dickson, a journalist who had been arrested and was illegally detained for his factual story of angry youths stoning and booing Mr Naseer El-Rufai, the APC governor of Kaduna state was charged to court for incitement!

Journalists who have written stories critical of the federal government have also been denied access to cover public events, with two of them beaten up by the president’s security personnel. And despite the Freedom of Information Act being in place, after a decade long struggle waged by civil society organisations under the umbrella of the Freedom of Information Coalition (FOIC), the government refuses to open the transaction records of the state’s cash cow – the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) which has been major conduit pipe for the siphoning of hundreds of billions of dollars from the government treasury.

It is not surprising that the country continues to slide down the Press Freedom Index released annually by Reporters Without Borders (RWB). Barely a year after the APC took over the reins of government, Nigeria’s position on the Index declined from 111 in 2015 to 116. By 2017 it further went down to 122 out of 180 countries.

This is not to say journalists and citizens fared any better under the governments constituted by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in terms of press freedom in particular, and freedom of speech in general. Not less than five journalists were killed under PDP’s watch, according to the Committee for Press Justice. Three of these, including 44-year old Ogunbayo Ayanlola Ohu, an assistant news editor of The Guardian, “were killed in connection with their reporting on local politics.”

Only system change guarantees press freedom

Thus, it is clear that the fight for press freedom is one that must entail battle against the bosses’ class as a whole. They claim that the free press is important but allow it only to the extent that it does not lead to shocking revelations of their rampant corruption and vicious anti-people designs. It is only our collective struggle that can guarantee press freedom and the right to free speech.

This is why Socialist Worker fully supports the spate of demonstrations by journalists in several states of the federation in August, to protest the gale of attacks on press freedom. The struggle is however not one that we fight once, and it is all over. The bosses will always try to roll back grounds we cover with our fightback, at the slightest opportunity they can find.

An example of their nefarious approach can be seen in relation to the social media gag bill. After our victory two years back, the National Assembly retreated. But, in a stealthy manner, the senate re-introduced the bill in June.

The lousy minister of communications, Mr Adebayo Shittu further went ahead to say the executive arm of government will continue to partner with the national assembly and the office of the national security adviser “to impose sanctions on those that undermine our interests and global security on the cyberspace.”  By “our interests” of course, they mean the interests of the bosses’ class to continue marginalising the immense majority of the population.

This means we must continue the fight till we defeat the system of the bosses, which thrives by murdering the truth. Truth is bitter to them, because they know the ultimate truth: that they are exploiters and oppressors. But they are few and we are many. With unfettered dissemination of information about their real nature, we, the masses, will rise in anger against them, organise, and win the world.

Socialist Worker will continue to expose the bosses and their system in the true light of vampires that they are, sucking the blood of the sufferers. And the Socialist Workers and Youth League (SWL) will continue to be at the barricades with journalists, workers, youth, and civil society organisations fighting for press freedom. We will continue to point out the only way to win press freedom for all time => by smashing the corrupt self-serving capitalist system of the bosses, and establishing transparent revolutionary governance, with power vested in democratic organs of the working masses from below.

by Baba AYE

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