Lagos based lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Ebun-olu Adegboruwa (SAN), has stated that absolute press freedom is highly desirable for Nigeria to achieve the desired growth, adding that there are sufficient laws to restrain the careless use of the social media at every point in time and as such the fears by the ruling elite of the consequences of a truly free press is misplaced.
Adegboruwa made this known on Tuesday while delivering a paper at the 2019 annual lecture of the National Association of Judicial Correspondents (NAJUC), Lagos branch, explaining that the concept of press freedom is well entrenched in the laws of Nigeria while the Nigerian Constitution apart from imposing a duty on the media to hold government accountable to the people has also made provision for the freedom and right of the press to carry out the onerous task in aid of nation building.
According to him, the press occupies a pivotal role in every society, as it represents the conscience and values of a people and more importantly, it is a veritable link of information exchange between the people and their government.
He asked the government to develop the political will to providing structures and policies towards promoting the use of abundant existing legislation to protect the right of citizens to press freedom.
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“It is pertinent to note that the issue of press freedom in Nigeria is of great importance, as one would observe from Section 39 of the constitution that it falls within the realm of fundamental rights codified in Chapter IV of the Constitution. The import of this is that press freedom is an inalienable right that no government can derogate from or deny her citizens.
“The advent of the new social media has aided Nigerians like all other citizens of the world, in giving full expression to the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression and right to hold and disseminate opinion on any matter. The advent of twitter, facebook, Instagram and others in that category has empowered Nigerians especially young people to either expose various forms of malfeasance prevalent in society or to mobilize for causes which they believe can better their lives.
“It is conceded that there are the challenges of fake news, hate speeches, defamation and other vices associated with the use of social media. However, is that enough justification to further regulate the already regulated use of social media through the enactment of regulations, which sometimes violate constitutional provisions? There exist abundant laws already put in place which are sufficient to curb any fear that government officials and other good meanings Nigerians may have,” Adegboruwa stated.
Also speaking at the event, Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), represented at the event by Dr. Jide Martins, assured of government’s resolve to ensure the thriving of press freedom, adding that the state must act in a robust manner to ensure that press freedom is not abused and used to advance constructive criticism.
“It is pivotal that all citizens exercise and enjoy their right to freedom of expression, press freedom, and association within the parameters of the law and other citizens’ rights are not breached. Some of the advantages of social media are also some of its banes. The fact that people can assume a false identity and disseminate information that can potentially cause offence, harms, and breach of national security is of great concern,” he said.
In his opening remarks, the chairman of NAJUC, Mr. Peter Fowoyo, said the press must be free all encumbrances in order to discharge its duty effectively to members of the public. He called on the Nigerian Union of Journalist (NUJ), the Nigerian Guilds of Editors (NGE) and the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) to recognize the impact of beat associations and see them as partners in progress.
“We are in consternation as to why an informed union such as the NUJ, without a valid court order and the moral right, proscribed beat associations as guaranteed under our laws,” he said.
Awards were presented to some individuals in recognition of their contributions. Awardees include Chief Emeka Okpoko (SAN), who received the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Team of the Year 2019; Mr. Ebun-olu Adegboruwa (SAN), who received the best human right lawyer 2019; Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, who received the best financial crime prosecutor of 2019 and Mr. Kayode Oyekanmi, who received the best public sector officer of 2019.