“The only security of all is in the freedom of the press” ― Thomas Jefferson.
It is no news how great the struggle for Freedom of Information law in Nigeria was. According to an August 2000 publication of the Media Rights Agenda titled “Unlocking Nigeria’s Closet of Secrecy”, the struggle for a Freedom of Information law in Nigeria took over two decades with dedication of NGOs, activists, the press and other Nigerians and non-Nigerians, all to make sure that we all have access to government-held information.
Another publication titled: “Campaigning for Access to Information in Nigeria”, A Report of the Legislative Advocacy Programme, for the Enactment of a Freedom of Information Act authored by Media Right Agenda in June 2003 shows more clearly how strenuous the struggle was. A bill which after about six years of debate was finally passed by the two houses was not signed into law by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and this took the fight back to the very beginning during the Yar’Adua-Jonathan administration resumed. This did not discourage the advocates as they began another round of legislative advocacy from the House of Representatives to the senate before the bill was passed and finally signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan on May 28, 2011. This is brief but can still pass as a valid synopsis for how the Freedom of Information Act came to be.
It is amazing the level of commitment put into the struggle for the Freedom of Information Act at the national level. This now begs the question; why should this freedom be impinged on. This question is asked sequel to the article written by one of us which was published by one of the national dailies for which he is now facing disciplinary actions. Should the labour of our heroes past be in vain? Because this would be the case if disciplinary action is taken against a noble pressman who after having conducted his research work diligently and found errors in the University’s methods, wrote an article which should serve as a wake-up call to the management and not an excuse to victimize such an individual.
The action of the school management is one that depicts tyranny and if the body responsible for regulating students on campus can do this, what stops other student bodies from victimizing the press body? This is an action that is not new because at various times, in halls of residence, departments and faculties, pressmen have been threatened and the appropriate authorities have looked the other way. An instance was when certain individuals threatened to beat up pressmen based on an article published about one of them, which in all fact was the truth.
There have also been cases of press boards being vandalised and articles have been stolen from these boards. Also, the glass casing of these boards have been shattered and there have been cases of board-napping. All these acts are misconducts which the appropriate authorities have refused to address. This gives more flight to the wings of these mischief makers and further encourages the victimization of pressmen.
The phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword” coined by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 supports the motto of the Union of Campus Journalists which is “Freedom Championed by the Pen”. Whatever are we to do if certain individuals in positions of authority decide to blunt our swords and let our inks run dry?