Nigerian Lawyer and Human Rights Activist, Femi Falana has stated that under a Democratic Dispensation, the fundamental human rights guarantees freedom of expression that must not be infringed.
Falana who stated this in Lagos, at a media forum on the state of the media freedom and citizens rights in Nigeria said that the right of free speech is almost threatened in the country.
According to Mr. Falana, people are being arrested and detained illegally including Pressmen and other members of the public who are being punished for statements they make where as the law stipulates that anyone who violates should be taken to court.
He said there is the need to share ideas and strategise on how the rights can be defended, hence the forum.
Mr. Falana says he wants the media bodies to help revive the Nigeria press council so that complaints can be entertained and ensure that people get redressed.
According to him, if there will be an understanding of how to protect the rights of the people including that of the government, the question of criminalizing free speech would not arise.
He called on the leaders to note the fact that anyone who is in government is a public servant that must be accountable and face criticisms.
”Let us not diminish from the freedom we gained from our colonial masters by resulting to laws enacted by people to suit their purpose. The decision of founding fathers of the present constitution which guarantees freedom of speech which must include freedom to criticise must be allowed. Any attempt to derogate from it except as provided by the constitution must be resisted. Those in public office should not be intolerant of criticism so as to ensure they are accountable to the people. If anybody in government feels offended by any publication or statement, you are required to go to court and sue for libel. Nobody should be allowed to use the machinery of government to harass his opponents,” he added.
Attack on Journalists
On his part, the Executive Director International Press Center IPC, Lanre Arogundade said that the center documented more than twenty six cases of attacks on Journalists recorded from April to September last year.
According to him, Journalists were harassed, assaulted, brutalized and attacked which resulted in body injuries like fracture, bruises and public humiliations.
The IPC boss revealed that many other Nigerians have also been made to suffer for exercising their rights to free speech.
He believed that the resolutions and action points raised by the forum will help to check the abuse of citizens as well as media and journalists rights by all means possible.
”Every now and then, we get report of people being picked up on all kinds of sundry offences and we are now wondering whether indirectly, hate speech laws are now implemented in the country. We also receive reports of some journalists and many other Nigerians being made to suffer for exercising their rights to free speech. in looking for solution, we decided to have a gathering of media and civil society organisation to think of what to do to bring such ugly trend to an end. A number of Nigerians don’t even know what hate speech is. so there is the need to let people know their rights so that every offence must not lead to arrest and detention,” he said.
The Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda, Edetine Ojo said something has to be done to stop harassment and attacks on the media and citizens which according to him is a negation of the constitution.
He wants the trend to be reversed to enable the citizenry enjoy their rights to freedom of expression in a democratic society.
The forum was organised by media committee and civil society organisation groups and activists.