15th August, 2012
The recent assault on journalists in Lagos State were misguided, shameful and a sad reminder that Nigeria still has a long way to go in recognising and appreciating the role of the press in the society.
It appears that it is only when they are in trouble, abused, oppressed or treated unfairly that Nigerians reach out to journalists for help.
In their vulnerable state, whether they are lawyers, governors, lawmakers, bankers, students, traders or ordinary citizens, Nigerians ought to wake up to the reality that the last hope of any society rests primarily on the press and journalists who work hard to hold the government accountable to the people..
The assault last Thursday on Benedict Uwalaka, a senior photo journalist with Leadership newspaper and the attack on TheNews/P.M.NEWS photo editor, Idowu Ogunleye and on former Compass photo editor, Tunde Ogundeji, were barbaric and unacceptable in a democratic setting where freedom of information and of the press is guaranteed under the country’s constitution.
Uwalaka was attacked by staff of TOS Funerals, managers of the mortuary at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, while on duty and Ogunleye and Ogundeji were assaulted four days later while taking pictures at a train station in Ikeja. While Uwalaka and Ogundeji sustained head injuries, Ogunleye lost the memory card of his Canon D40 camera containing all his recent photographs.
The assault on Uwalaka was particularly painful as security men attached to the hospital and a police officer looked the other way as one of the attackers broke a bottle on his head, with blood covering his face.
The attacks on journalists nationwide are unacceptable and amount to an attempt to gag the press. The role of the press as enshrined in chapter 39 of the country’s constitution is to disseminate information for peace, prosperity, equality, justice and public good. It is in the interest of Nigeria that journalists must be free to report all matters of public interest.
Journalists do this with their pens, laptops and cameras. It is ironical that the same people journalists fight for turn around to attack or kill them.
Nigeria is a country in crisis: unemployment is high, poverty is huge and corruption is gargantuan.
Paradoxically, our country is rich with abundant crude oil, enormous natural gas and plenty of other natural resources.
It is abnormal for millions of Nigerians to remain stuck in squalor and hopelessness in the midst of plenty and it is the role of the press to hold government accountable for their failings.
Journalists can only play the role of watchdog of the society when people cooperate with them not antagonise or attack them as witnessed in recent days.
It is only when journalists are empowered that democracy and accountability could be entrenched and welfare of the people guaranteed.
We call on the Commissioner of Police to arrest all the suspects and prosecute them. We also call on Governor Babatunde Fashola to insist that adequate treatment and compensation are given to the affected journalists while justice is served. Those who take the law into their hands must be punished to serve as a deterrent to other potential attackers of journalists in Nigeria.