The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has lauded Nigerian journalists for their critical role in advocating for the realization and enjoyment of democracy in Nigeria and elsewhere, saying that they deserve the support of all stakeholders as they continue to discharge their Constitutional responsibilities.
The Executive Secretary of the Commission, Chief Tony Ojukwu OFR, SAN, FICMC who stated this on the eve of the celebration of the 2023 World Press Freedom Day noted that society should see journalists as "Agents of change bearing in mind the various contributions and sacrifices they make on a daily basis to ensure the emancipation and liberation of the common man who had needlessly suffered deprivations, discrimination and other forms of human rights violations in the society".
Interestingly, Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution (As amended), empowers the Press to hold the government accountable to the people, thereby distinguishing journalists as those who perform essential duty to the nation.
Nigerian journalists should therefore be seen as patriotic citizens because their duties are provided for in the Constitution. Any attempt to prevent performance of their duties amounts to a breach of the Constitution and a violation of press freedom.
This year's theme of World Press Freedom Day celebration, "Shaping a Future of Rights: “Freedom of Expression as a Driver of all other Human Rights", is apt, as it seeks to highlight the influence of the freedom of expression on other human rights, especially its inherent potency to advocate for the realization of other human rights.
The Chief Human Rights Officer of Nigeria is using this opportunity to commend journalists for courageously discharging their onerous responsibilities despite occasional harassment, intimidation, and destruction of their working tools by some overzealous security agents.
According to the Learned Silk, law enforcement agencies should recognize the Press as a critical partner in the democratic process and desist from any form of confrontation and interference with the lawful duties of journalists and other media workers or be ready to face sanctions.
The learned Senior Advocate urged the law enforcement agencies, especially the Police to, as a matter of urgency, intensify their investigations in unearthing the circumstances surrounding any attack on Nigerian journalists.
He also seized the opportunity to commend the federal government in its effort last year which led to the emergence of Nigeria as the only African country that had been in full compliance in terms of the protection of the rights of journalists with one incident of death of a journalist recorded from infractions, as reported by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists.
According to the Executive Secretary, the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day is not an opportunity to apportion blame to any individual, Institution or group of persons but it is a period to reminisce the fundamental principles of press freedom, ponder on the state of press freedom globally, defend the Media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in their line of duty.
Observance of World Press Freedom Day which started in 1993, and is celebrated on the 3rd of May annually is designed to remind governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and to remind journalists of their obligation to professional ethics in the course of their duties.
The celebration of World Press Freedom Day is also important to ensure that civic space is not restricted considering the contribution of freedom of expression to development of our democracies all over the world and Nigeria in particular.
As human rights defenders, the NHRC is committed to join all well meaning stakeholders to fight for a robust civic space in Nigeria and ensure that the media enabled to play its constitutional role as the watchdog of the society including the government.