In the word of Joseph E. Stiglitz, “Information is a public good, and as a public good, it needs public support.” The very least that the Nigerian media deserves is the support of all stakeholders to enable it to continue to play its role of the “Fourth Estate of the Realm” and, of course, the fourth arm of government that consistently checkmates the other arms of government.
However, the recent sanctions of some media houses in Nigeria for providing information that serves the public good is not a good sign. Recently, the Publisher of Daily Nigerian newspaper, Jaafar Jaafar had to go into hiding over threats to his life. This may not be unconnected to the videos he released in 2018, showing a governor of one of the Nigerian states allegedly receiving kickback in foreign currency from a government contractor. Similarly, the editor of The Weekly Source newspaper, Jones Abiri was arrested and detained on allegations of terrorism, just for exposing the rot in the system through investigative journalism. He was held in secret for more than two years, without access to his family or a lawyer. Despite the dismissal of the charges against him by the court, he was rearrested again, and detained for some months, before being released on bail.
The #EndSARS protest against police brutality is still fresh in the minds of Nigerians, as it came with not just the suppression of citizens’ voices but also a clampdown on media houses for reporting first-hand information on the brutality of citizens by security personnel. According to Committee to Project (CPJ), over 1,400 journalists have been killed in the past three decades, with about 274 of them imprisoned in just 2020. So far in 2021, 66 journalists have been declared missing all over the world. Journalists in Nigeria have had a fair share of these figures due to their coverage of dangerous assignments, clampdowns by people in authority, and attacks by security agents, amongst others.
Despite all these enormous challenges, the Nigerian media have been very instrumental in effecting positive change as they continue to provide information that serves the public good. The trend of investigative reporting has played crucial roles in exposing corruption and bringing issues of accountability and transparency to the fore of national discourse. These investigative reports have in some cases triggered actions and official investigations. While more action is expected to be taken to ensure investigative reports make more necessary impacts, journalists need all the necessary support to continue to unearth the ills of society.
In recent years, journalists have dared the odds, taking great risks to expose the different levels of rot in the system. A typical example is the case of ‘Fisayo Soyombo who spent days in police custody and a Nigerian prison to expose the corruption, maltreatment, and social injustice within the Nigerian criminal justice system. This menace is rife right from the police stations, the lawyers, and judges to the prison system. While bearing the risks and threats to life that came with this, the journalist shared information that serves the public good.
Similar investigative reports have exposed issues around illegal and dangerous mining in Nigerian communities, the corruption and corrosion in Nigeria’s health system and civil service education system, amongst other critical issues. The trend of fact-checking has also ensured that information further serves the public good as the Nigerian media continues to evolve amidst all odds.
Successful examples abound on how the media have been able to amplify information for the public good. This includes the historic age reduction bill driven by civil society organizations like Yiaga Africa through the support of the media. This came via consistent publicity through electronic, print, online, and social media to drive home the importance of political inclusion in Nigeria. The ongoing campaign to fix Nigeria’s elections through citizens-driven electoral reform has also remained on the front burner of national discourse.
Thus it is pertinent, especially for authorities, to recognize and promote the idea of information as a public good; as something that helps to advance collective aspirations and which forms the key building block for knowledge. This is basically what the media is geared to achieve in Nigeria and across the world. As we mark World Press Freedom Day 2021, we celebrate journalists who provide information that serves the public good. The entire nation must continue to strive to promote press freedom for the good of society.
Moshood Isah, a communication expert, is the media officer, Yiaga Africa. He tweets @Moshoodpm