The Coalition of Whistleblowers Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF) has condemned the recent detention of Oga Tom Uhia, publisher of Independent Steering Magazine; Tosin Ajuwon and Victor Ogungbenro, journalists with Sahara Reporters and death of Pelumi Onifade of GboahTV, and has taken legal steps to challenge the legality of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) code.
According to reports, Oga Tom Uhia, publisher of the monthly Independent Power Steering Magazine on the 13th of October was arrested and charged with 14 counts of alleged defamation and injurious publication based on a complaint filed with the police by Minister of State for Power, Goddy Jeddy Agba regarding a report on the official in Power Steering Independent Magazine.
This is evidently not the first attack and harassment on the Fourth Estate, which is constitutionally guaranteed the rights to hold the government accountable. In November 2020, during the #EndSARS protest, which lasted two weeks across States in Nigeria, seven journalists were seen to be brutally attacked and their equipment seized by security agents, which also led to the death of a 20-year-old journalist, Pelumi Onifade who was arrested by the task force team in Lagos and his body was later found in a mortuary. The continuous intentional harassment of the Fourth Estate by state and non-state actors is against the rule of law and the perpetrators of Pelumi’s death should be held accountable.
In the same vein, the NBC imposed the total sum of Nine Million Naira (N9M) on three independent broadcasting stations; Arise TV, Channels TV and Africa Independent Television (AIT) for broadcasting footage from the #EndSARS protest. This was done without a panel hearing, which is a breach of conduct and fair hearing.
CWPPF has condemned the detention of Mr Uhia and demands the immediate release of Tom Uhia, Tosin Ajuwon and Victor Ogungbenro from detention. Passing the ball down to NBC, the Coalition has taken legal steps to challenge the legality of the code.
As far as democracy is concerned, the Defamation Law has not been favourable to the media. It is unethical and illegal to arrest a journalist over civil issues as Criminal Defamation has become largely outdated in other parts of the world and supported by several precedents in the Nigerian court. Therefore, if the federal government and its institutions think its reputation has been injured by slanderous publications, a libel suit (which is a civil proceeding rather than a criminal one) should be filed according to the rules and boundaries of the law that cover it. After all, the government derives its legitimacy on the platform of the law hence, the mandates of the people should boldly submit to the decisions and directions of the court of law.
It is therefore imperative that the Defamation Law is amended by the Federal Government of Nigeria. This will enable journalists to speak the truth to power without fear of reprisal and intimidation; a right and responsibility granted them by the constitution of Nigeria.