Government Use Of Extra Legal Measures Against Media Practitioners

Project and Seminar Material for Mass Communication

Government Use Of Extra Legal Measures Against Media Practitioners

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

The media as the watchdog of the society aluminates its light on the society not forgetting its responsibility of entertainment, information and educating its audience as to keep them abreast of the dynamism of the world, condemning the ills of the government and the governed, all geared towards a better society.

Median practitioners by implication covers all the people who are trained in the art of journalism and work in radio and television station, newspapers and magazines and other medium through which people get informed. The concept of the media developed right from the time the printing press was invented five centuries ago. The invention revolutionized man’s ability to communicate ideas and information. But, from that time, there was always this desire of those who had control of political authority/ power to create barriers against the free flow of ideas and information which the believe could threaten their rule.

Press freedom as a concept of libertarian philosophy is always assailed by those who us quo maintained hence use of extract legal measures against medial practitioners which was colossal during military era.

For media practitioners to carryout their duties effectively and efficiently, they should be granted certain degrees of freedom hence absolute freedom is unattainable. Media practitioners in trying to meet up with its expected roles have encountered grave unhealthy confrontations ranging from harassment, intimidation, detention, to censorship which is more pronounced during military dictatorship.

This work is restricted to Late General Sani Abacha military junta who reveled in gagging and muzzling the media using state security apparatus despite the fact that modern constitution endavours to safeguard basis freedom which the military had always defied, flouted, suppressed and violated with impunity.

This government use of extra legal measures against media practitioners can be traced back to the infamous Decree No. 4 as promulgated by general Buchari (Ltd) in 1984 which endavoured to strangle press freedom .

The Decree become the sword of Damocles of dangling over the head of every journalist. Of course, the two of Nduka lrabor and Tunde Thompson were detained for violating the infamous Decree No.4 otherwise known as the “ Public officers protection from false Accusation”

Decree 1984 for publishing story about changes in Nigerian High Commissioner in Britain whose to be withdrawn and replaced by Rtd. Gen Hannaniya. They refused to divulge the source of their information. They were later charged to court, tried and convicted under the provisions of the Decree, on April 4, 1984. they were jailed for 18 months.

It was intriguing that after Irabor and Thompson had been convicted, Rtd Gen. Hanvaniya was subsequently accredited to UK as Nigerian High Commissioner.

In 1995, the quarter of Mrs. Chris Anyanwu, Kunse Agibade, George Mba and Ben Charles Obi were detained in different prisons across the country on 15 years jail sentence each by a special military tribunal headed by Brigadier General Patrick Aziza for allege coup plot which has to do with reports carried by their magazines on the alleged Col. Gwadabe Coup of 1995.

In another development, security agents swooped on Onome Osifo-whiskey and Whistled him away on Nov. 9, 1997 with his colleagues at Tell headquarters at the mercy of invading security agents who had come for the previous week edition of the magazine which was titled ‘why Abacha won’t hand over’ Tell premises was sealed off and all the staff who were around beat a hasty retreat. Thinking that a parted delivery van continued the magazine in question the operative brought in a tow van and force –fully removed it to their operational base.

In Feb 14, 1994, News watch magazine carried news on the drug war and in March 7, News watch reported the trial of the suspect which unveiled the deify deals in drug agency, tribunal and justice ministry. After this report, the aggrieved tribunal judge Fumilayo Oni-Okpaku “tried” and detained News watch editors for contempt.

Following this incident, on Aprial 12, 1994, the Sledgehammer fell on News watch against government descended on the magazine arresting its editors and charge them to court for interview published by the magazine. The subsequent trial of the accuses persons did not seem to meet internationally recognized standard of fairness as a result of articles they had published concerning the alleged coup and other stories.

Military dictators have maintained unabated posture in trying tp gag the press like laying siege at media houses like Tell Newswatch and the news just to mention but a few. The apogee of proscription and champ down on the press took place in August 1994 Acholonu (1999:30) was in line with his observation when he maintained that the zenith of the champ down on the press was the outright proscription, in August, 1994, of the National concord, the Punch and the Guardian group of newspapers by three retroactive decrees. They were captioned:

The Concord News papers and African Concord weekly magazine (proscription & prohibition from circulation )Decree No. 8 The proscribed papers were considered too critical of the ruling Junta, especially during the renewed struggle by port democracy forces to undermine military rule.

Journalist have always had the onerous duty of acting as the conscience of the nation, the watchdog of the society, defenders of the rights of the citizens, and promoters of justice and fairness. In the process of doing this, they often fail under the slege hammer of government, especially that is run by a military tyrant-

The type of military dictatorship which bestrode upon Nigeria for decades since independence, like colossus, startled every right- thinking person. Regimes upon regimes inflicted upon the citizenry the pains of authoritarianism and gagged the press with merciless brutality. But these successive military regimes only succeeded in “Killing the messenger and not the massage.”

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The study knowing the harsh treatment media practitioners faced during the Abacha junta, and how the press was gagged and muzzled intends to x-ray how the regime disregarded the tenets of free press which is geared towards dissemination of information as to get the people informed and then watchdog the society. It will be germane to know that social responsibility will be defeated it the government continues to muzzle and gap the press.

It should be highlighted here that press has always found the environment unfriendly under military rule due to its extreme control and censorship which hampers free press. The harsh conditions under which media practitioners work has not deferred them, though in some cases they had to be detained, arrested, harassed and copies of Newspapers and magazines confiscated which the junta feels their contents are unpalatable to the state and its agents .

The work tries to find out how late Gen Sani Abacha junta used state security paraphernalia and other extra legal measures to muzzle the press as to get her pander to its whims and caprices which could not dampen the spirit and courage of the media in its surveillance and watchdog role as to entrench egalitarian and corrupt-free society.

1.3 Objectives of the Study.

The press has been described as the fourth Estate of the realm. Because full and accurate information no matters of public interest is the means by which governments, institutions, organizations and all others in authority, at whatever, level, are held responsible to the public. But, often, we find that those in authority tend to conceal that which is inconvenient or likely to arouse public opinion against them.

Given the financial and political shenanigans that transpired during Gen Abacha days and the ordeal media practitioners went through the period under review which culminated into detention, arrest, harassment, post-censorship and subsequent closure of some media houses at different time, one decided to dabble into this heart-rending topic in order to bring to the fore the horrendous and harrowing experience journalists underwent during the dare days pf dark –goggled Abacha.

This work is also meant to unravel some of the extra judicial arrest and detention that were visited on journalists in the course of carrying out their duties,

1.4 Significance of the Study.

Based on the terrain in which media practitioners operate under military dictatorship, this highly instructive work is aimed to enlighten mass communication students and generating of the citizenry to gain secondary knowledge of how journalists were harassed, intimidated, detained, brutalized and victimized under the draconian reign of Late Gen. Abacha, as it will give an uniformed mind an insight about the hazards of journalism.

This study is expedient as it will help Nigerian journalists, Non governmental organizations (NGOS) to look back at the inglorious past, present environment under which journalists practice and crave towards ensuring a glorious and landable future.

This work will also help to evaluate critically and analyze the extent to which much talked about press freedom has thrived under military dictatorship and how unfriendly the environment was for media practitioners to practice

1.5 Research Questions.

Some sets of questions were outline and were attempted to answer within the scope of the study. The under listed are the outline questions:

  1. To what extent does Ownership affect editorial contents?
  2. Were those journalists arrested tried in competent court of law or military tribunal?
  3. Were journalist arrested under Gen-Abacha regime objective in their noting?
  4. Was Abacha regime the most hostile military regime to media practitioners?

1.6 Research Hypotheses

  1. H1 Ownership affects media content more in military junta.
    Ho. Ownership affects media content more in a democratic government.
  2. H2. Repressive laws & Decrees are more under military government
    Ho. Repressive laws are less in democratic government.
  3. H3. There was much champ down and proscription of media houses during Abacha regime
    Ho. There was less champ down and proscription of media houses during Abacha regime.

1.7 Definition of Terms

In defining the terms, the study will give vivid explanation of press laws, extra judicial measure, media practitioners.

These aforementioned terms will be given operational and concept ional definitions .

Press laws
  • Conceptional – Of press laws means those rules that media practitioners must obey and abide with in carrying out their journalistic practice.
  • Operational – Of press laws are the laws of defamation, libel, sedition, invasion of privacy , printing of obscene materials.
Extra Judicial Measures.
  • Conceptional – These are those laws or measures that are not connected with a court of law or judicial process.
  • Operational – These are measures like Harassment, intimidation, detention, proscription, post-censorship, trials in tribunals etc.
Media Practitioners.
  • Conceptional – These are those trained in the art of gathering and dissemination of information through the medium of mass communication.
  • Operational – These are Tell magazine, News watch, This day, NTA, Radio Nigeria, Guardian e.t.c.

1.8 Assumptions

There is this assumption that press should be free as to have the right to write freely about government activities, its agencies and other organizations through its publications and programmes.

It is also believed that repressive laws and extra judicial measures which retards journalistic practices used to be more pronounced during Gen –Sani Abacha days of terror.

Above all, there is also this assumption that media ownership goes a long way in determining media contents.

1.9 Limitations of the Study

In the course of writing this project, the researcher encountered a lot of obstacles which could have dampened the enthusiasm but he remaindered lentless and unruffled so that he could put up a good academic research work.

Some of difficulties encountered which can recounted ranged from inability of the researcher to get hold of those in charge at the regional officers of Tell Magazine, News watch magazine, The News magazine and Guardian News papers which made the researcher to spend reasonable amount visiting these offices. There were also cases where some of their looked incorporative and reluctant to assist.

Financial constraint restricted the researcher to Enugu, though the researcher had hoped to travel beyond Enugu for the research work.

Academic work load back in school also retarded the pace of progress of this project that it had to be abandoned for several weeks so that assignment and quizzes could be given adequate attention.

Lastly the work in the department took a heavy toll on the research that the researcher gets home worn-out and finished without putting the project in his order of the day’s priority

Chapter Five

Summary and Recommendation

5.1 Summary

From the outset of this research work, the researcher tried to unearth the extent to which extra-legal measures were used against media practitioners as to ascertain how the regime under review hampered its duties to the public.
In carrying out this research, information gathered from Tell magazine, News watch, The News and Guardian proved germane to the work. Basic facts gathered revealed autocratic and draconian propensities of military regimes which retards journalistic practice. It has become a cloche to state here that there was incessant harassment and intimidation of the press under the regime finding also indicate that military regime don’t find it funny and comfortable with the press hence the Obnoxious Decrees and extra-legal measures employed by Abacha to gag the press.

It should be emphasized here that press freedom does not exist under military regime as a result of its autocratic tendencies. There is lurid tales to tell when it comes to press freedom under military regime. This was vividly exemplified by the number of journalists that were arrested without trial and those who were tried in Kangaroo court known as military tribunal chaired by Gen. Patrick Aziza. Renowned journalists like Chris Anyanwu, Kunle Agibade, George Mba, Ben Charles Obi just to mention but a few were thrown into Abcha’s gulag for performing their lawful duties as journalists.

Based on the facts available the researcher will state that democracy provides a fertile ground for journalistic practice in a country like Nigeria, though, it should be stated here that there is no absolute press freedom any where in the world be it developed or developing country, military or civilian. Though civilian rule provides a more friendly atmosphere and opportunity for the media to beam it searchlight on the government and report government activities as to set an agenda for discussion.

5.2 Recommendation

Going by the findings made and data collected the researcher will like to make these recommendations-:

  1. Ministry of information and other relevant bodies charge with information dissemination should be autonomous as to reduce government control and censorship
  2. The media should managed and operated by professionals who are well-grounded no journalism as to know the intricacies of journalistic practice.
  3. Repressive and obnoxious laws which tend to retard media practice should be repealed and be given strong legal backing.
  4. An advisory body should be established, which should be made up of Executive members or Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Radio and Theater Workers Union (RATTAWO) etc to supervise and regulate handling of all state and security connected information in the interest of the Nation. This will forestall inordinate government control of journalists.
  5. The Press should uphold all ethical and professional requirements, especially when reporting sensitive and controversial issues which has to do with peace and security of the state.
  6. Present democratic government should put all the necessary measures that will forestall coup d’etat in its entirety.

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