The Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, on Wednesday wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari, calling on him to make press freedom one of the priorities of his administration.
The letter, dated June 3, was signed by CPJ’s Executive Director, Joel Simon, and copied to Mr. Buhari’s media aides, the spokesperson of the All Progressives Congress, Lai Mohammed as well as some top United Nations officials.
While congratulating the president for his victory at the polls, the CPJ urged him to take steps to ensure that journalists in the country work freely and openly without fear of reprisal.
Referring to Mr. Buhari’s inaugural speech in which he identified insecurity and pervasive corruption as his urgent concerns, the group commended the president for acknowledging the role played by the media in strengthening the country’s democracy.
“It is our belief that a patriotic press is also a critical press. To achieve your objective in tackling the challenges Nigeria faces, it is vital that your government prioritize press freedom so that journalists may ask questions and expose corruption at all levels of society without fear of harassment or intimidation,” wrote Mr. Simon.
“Nigerians and the world must be left without any suspicion or uncertainty about the transparency of your government.
“As Nigeria aspires to strengthen its democracy, your government must show that it can tackle Nigeria’s challenges, including the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency and the use of terror tactics, but can do so without compromising democratic principles, whose core elements include press freedom and freedom of expression.
“The success of the democratic government you now lead will depend largely on the guarantee that journalists are free to inform the society about their commonwealth.”
CPJ said it welcomes the assurances by the president not to allow authorities to abuse the trust of the people and his promise to take disciplinary actions against security forces who violate the rights of Nigerians.
Citing data from a Lagos-based International Press Centre, IPC, the CPJ noted that security forces are the most frequent perpetrators of violations against the press.
According to the International Press Centre, the Nigerian Police and security forces are responsible for 24 out of 32 recorded cases of attacks on journalists between November 2014 and February 2015.
While the IPC said no one has been brought to justice for attacking reporters, the CPJ on its part said it has documented other physical attacks, threats and intimidation of local and international journalists in the country.
In a weeklong siege in June 2014, it said troops and agents of the State security Service, SSS, disrupted the operations of about a dozen reporters under the guise of fighting terrorism.
“We respectfully urge you to demonstrate your commitment to freedom of the press by working toward the repeal of all laws that criminalize defamation in Nigeria.
“We also ask that your administration prosecute the killers of journalists and that you ensure that police and security forces refrain from carrying out attacks, detentions, or intimidation of the press and that those who do face the full consequences of the law,” said Mr. Simon.