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WPFD2021: In Defense of Press Freedom in Nigerian Tertiary Institutions

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” These are the words of Thomas Jefferson to a friend in the 1780s on the importance of a free press to keep the government in check in a democratic society.

Every 3rd of May marks World Press Freedom Day and according to UNESCO, it’s a day set aside as “a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. It is also a day of support for the media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story.”

Even as freedom of expression is boldly enshrined in section 39(1) of Nigeria constitution, the reality is that Press Freedom remains a contentious issue in our society and it is even more worrisome in a rotten country like Nigeria with prevalent cases of corruption, bribery, kidnapping, and other maladies.

Coupled with the risk attached to their task, the threats, assaults, and attacks that journalists are facing in the course of discharging their duty cannot be overemphasized. According to the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Nigeria ranked 120 out of 180 countries globally as west Africa’s most dangerous and difficult country for journalists. Over the years, scores of journalists have been killed, many were assaulted, tortured and traumatized while many have gone hidden to protect their lives.

Meanwhile, as the larger society is still wrestling with the challenges impeding press freedom, the state of Press Freedom in Nigerian tertiary institutions which is one of the basic tools for education reform is in a precarious state and therefore calls for urgent intervention by the media and human right agencies for proper restructuring.

Students who are practising journalism within the confinement of their tertiary institutions are facing bigger problems in carrying out their functions in their tertiary institutions.

A cursory look at situations where student journalists get suspended for revealing the problems in their institutions, get intimidated, and not to talk of the attacks they are facing from the miscreants in their institutions.

As I write this, the culture of threatening campus journalists with their admission has become prevalent in our campuses. Campus Journalists can no longer tell the truths nor expose ills in their institutions otherwise they face disciplinary actions by the management which can go as far as getting suspended by the management for a semester or more.

In the past we have had the case of Kunle Adebajo who got suspended by the University of Ibadan over a critical article about school, recently a press club from Ibrahim Babangida reported a top official in the University threatening to scrap their Union and destroy the life of a student for reporting the issues of amenities in the campus, we had the case of the press club in Adamawa state University that was suspended in 2020 and not reinstated up till today among other pressing issues wrestling press freedom in our tertiary institutions.

This is just one of the few reported cases. What about cases of student journalists who did not generate public attention? What about those campus journalists who have been victimized [and forced] to step down impactful stories within their institutions? What about the challenges that our press clubs are facing in reporting fair and balanced stories in their institutions? Beyond the above are many other challenges facing the activities of student journalists and press clubs in their tertiary institutions.

The role of Campus Journalism in media development cannot be overemphasized, it is Campus Journalism that has given birth to many erudite journalists who are performing outstandingly in the media space today. We have the likes of Fisayo Soyombo of FIJ, Kemi Busari of Premium Times, Kunle Adebajo of Humangle and recently we have Ibrahim Adeyemi, Adejumo Kabir, Akinpelu Yusuf, and Alfred Olufemi, Alao Abiodun, Uthman Samad, to mention but few who are now making laudable impacts in the mainstream medium.

Our tertiary institutions have become cesspits of corruption, misappropriation of funds, sexual harassment, negligence of duties, and others but who will hold the system accountable? Cases of infrastructural decay, lack of social amenities, and other students’ welfare challenges are there which internal students of the institutions dare not report.

My point is that the absence of free press in our institutions prevents students from staging a report that can make positive changes in their institutions. Cases of sexual harassment, misappropriation of funds, maladministration, corruption, and abuse of offices, and other internal problems are now thriving in our tertiary institutions since press freedom has been defeated and our press clubs have been turned into a voiceless dog that cannot even bark not to talk of bite.

A scholar once said: “This era is an era of silence…Whoever speaks truth in this era will meet his jeopardy.” This is actually the apt term to describe the dwindling state of a free press in our tertiary institutions. As a result of intimidation from authorities, our campus press clubs have been turned to cracks that sheer grit and guild could blow open, the habit of resilient journalism is now dying in our campuses, who is ready to speak and get rusticated? The morale and passion of young journalists are being massacred and campus journalism has been struck and gunned down by these attacks.

In order to confront these frightening challenges, Campus Journalists in Nigeria need to be given the support and protection needed to be able to carry out their checks and balances roles in their institutions. There should be a cordial relationship between Campus Journalism bodies and mainstream media outfits for enlightenment, precautions, mentorship, protection, and capacity building.

There should be a body responsible for the safety of student journalists. Student Journalists and activists should be given an avenue to report the challenges they are facing in their institutions without reprisals.

It is commendable that, recently Gender Mobile Initiative in collaboration with student bodies launched a mobile application for student communities to report cases of sexual harassment in their institutions. The same initiative can be adopted for student journalists and activists as well to monitor issues concerning press freedom and other human rights challenges in tertiary institutions.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that should not be suppressed under any guise. All hands should be on deck by Human Right Organizations and other concerned civil society organizations to pull free press in our campus from falling to the brink. Intimidation, harassment, and threatening of press clubs need to end to allow student journalists to perform their functions of disseminating information, promoting human rights, ensuring accountability of student leaders and management, and eradicating cases of corruption in our institutions.

This opinion story has been published on CAMPUS REPORTER with very minimal editing to preserve the original voice of the author. CAMPUS REPORTER does not bear any responsibility for the contents of this story, all views belong to the author.

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