Human rights activist, Femi Falana (SAN) has described the democratic governments of former military generals, Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari as repressive.
Falana said the repressive style of rule by the military continued to manifest during the governments of Buhari and former President Obasanjo.
He explained that the government has remained in the hands of former military bosses and their beneficiaries who have been recycling themselves in power since the end of military rule in Nigeria.
He also identified military rule as the major setback battling the development of West Africa, adding that it is the greatest enemy of press freedom in Africa as journalists were unlawfully held and treated during the military rule.
The senior lawyer disclosed this on Friday, in his address during the West Africa Media Excellence Conference and Awards (WAMECA) held in Ghana.
The lawyer spoke on ‘Journalism In Africa: Its Soldiers and Protectors, its Enemies and Executioners.’
He said, “Nigeria did not become a degenerate state until January 15, 1966, when the military overthrew the elected government of Tafawa-Balewa. The cumulative 29 years the military ruled Nigeria are mainly responsible for the quagmire the country is in currently.
“Today, the Nigerian coup-generals and their beneficiaries continue to recycle themselves in power. In the last 22 years of post-military rule, former military rulers, Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari have been President for fourteen years during which they have continued the military culture of repression.”
While commending the investigations done by journalists wherein some unscrupulous dealings by major leaders across the world were exposed in the Pandora Papers, Falana noted that the collaboration between the journalists in the world displayed the power of the media, professionalism and commitment to making the world a better place.
“They leaked 11.9 million documents and 2.9 terabytes of data exposing corrupt dealings by the powerful and the global rich. The Pandora Papers which were released on October 3, 2021, exposed the secret dealings of 35 world leaders and over 100 billionaires and powerful people.
“In 600 journalists from 150 media organisations, across 117 countries working together, shows not just the power of organisation, professionalism and commitment to make the world a better place, but also, the unstoppable power of the press,” he said.
Falana also commended Ghana for being accommodating to fleeing journalists seeking asylum from repressive governments in Nigeria.
He said, “Let me thank Ghana for providing refuge for Nigerian journalists fleeing persecution. When the Abacha regime in Nigeria decided to physically eliminate Mr (Dapo) Olorunyomi in 1995, it was to Ghana he fled for refuge. When his wife, Ladi who had been held hostage was released on bail, it was Ghana that welcomed her and the children.
“Also as you might know, when Nigerian employers were unwilling to hire Nnamdi Azikiwe, one of the greatest journalists that ever practised in West Africa, it was Ghanaian employer, Mr A.J. Ocansey who in 1934 gave him a job to establish and run a fearless, Pan Africanist newspaper, the AFRICAN MORNING POST in this city. Azikiwe later moved back to Nigeria setting up one of the best and most fearless newspaper chains, the WEST AFRICAN PILOT.”
Speaking on the price paid by journalists across the world, Falana noted, “The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) says that between 1992 and 2021, a total of 1,418 journalists were killed in the line of duty. That is some 50 journalists killed annually! This is a very high price to pay and humanity owes journalists eternal gratitude for being watchdogs for society, checking corruption, criminality and power abuse.
“In West Africa, journalists have faced repression and death. This includes the October 19, 1986 mutilation of Mr Dele Giwa, the Editor-in-Chief of the Nigerian NEWSWATCH Magazine through a parcel bomb, and, the 1995 sentencing of four Nigerian journalists, Mrs Chris Anyanwu, Kunle Ajibade, George Mbah and Ben Charles-Obi to life imprisonment for reporting an attempted coup. There was the December 13, 1998, mafia-style execution and incineration of investigative Burkinabe journalist, Norbet Zongo, his brother, chauffeur and a friend.
“The trend in the region as manifested in the countries mentioned and those like Ghana, show that perhaps the greatest enemies of press freedom is the military rule.”
Noting that abuse of the media by leaders is not limited to Africa, Falana said, “No other world leader in contemporary times has abused this more than former America President Donald Trump who in holding misinformation in a vile grip, told 30,573 verifiable lies in his four years at the White House; an average of 21 lies or inaccurate statements for every day he was in office.
“Let me state that this is not uniquely American. Wartime British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill propagated that: ‘In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.’ In other words, in times of conflict or assumed conflict, one of the first casualties is the truth or facts on which journalism built its practice.
“State actors, non-state actors and all species of human beings for various reasons disseminate fake news or what is elegantly clothed as alternative news. These are fed the citizenry, the innocent or the gullible.
“Misinformation or fake news is a danger to journalism, but there can be no let-up in the struggle against the purveyors who in many cases, is the state. In fact, many countries establish fake news sites or farms where they plant, culture and harvest fake news which they disseminate.”
“In conclusion is that as human beings, we owe it a duty not just to protect and defend journalists but to also ensure that the mass media in the face of digital development, changing technology and dwindling resources, remain on course. This is in the interest of basic freedom, human rights, democracy and the development of humanity,” he added.