Speech by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Winner of the 2012 Politician of the Year Award by Leadership Newspaper
Let me start by thanking the management of Leadership Newspaper for the honour done to me and my fellow awardees today. There is no doubt that this gesture has strengthened each and every one of us to do more of what has earned us these awards.
Let me also use this opportunity to commend the Leadership Newspaper, in particular, and the entire, irrepressible Nigerian media, in general for living up to the role that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria prescribes for them. You – the media – are the true heroes of our democracy!
The Leadership Newspaper, in so short a life span, has established itself as a voice of the masses and a champion of freedom of expression. This has not come without a price.
Events of the past few days have shown that in trying to play the watchdog role, the Nigerian media face tough times ahead, and must remain vigilant.
Let me give a few instances:
1. The newspaper that is honouring us today has recently been subjected to the kind of treatment one would have expected in a country under a dictatorship. Four journalists were whisked away by the police and held captive, with the caveat that they will be let go only if they reveal the source of the story, which is against the ethics of their profession.
By the way, one wonders why the authorities are interested in the source of a story that they have earlier labelled a lie!
Anyway, as I was saying, two of the four Leadership journalists were detained overnight and were only freed the next day, with the condition that they should be reporting to the police daily.
2. On Dec. 24th 2012, two journalists of the Kaduna-based Al-Mizan Hausa language newspaper were arrested Gestapo-style and whisked off to Abuja for reporting an alleged extra-judicial killing of innocent citizens. It took many days before they were released.
3. Last Friday, the Kaduna-based Liberty Radio FM was fined 2 million Naira over a phone-in programme, during which a caller suggested that the Kaduna State should have spent the 150 million Naira, earmarked for hosting the Minister of Information’s ”Good Governance Tour, on more meaningful programmes.
4. Finally, it has been reported that the Nigerian government has banned the airing and distribution of a documentary on poverty in Nigeria because it was deemed highly provocative and likely to incite or encourage public disorder and undermine national security.
These are just a few examples of what seems to be a rising assault on press freedom under the present dispensation. This assault on press freedom will surely get worse in the days to come, as the media – in playing its watchdog role – will increasingly clash with those bent on muzzling the press.
My party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), strongly condemns this onslaught on the freedom of the press. It is dangerous for the survival of our democracy. This is because – in the words of the woman popular referred to as the ‘Mother of Philippine Democracy’, Corazon Aquino, freedom of expression, especially freedom of the press, is the necessary ingredient for popular participation in the decisions and actions of government, and popular participation is the essence of our democracy.
We call on the Federal Government to immediately put a stop to the harassment of journalists for no other reason than for carrying out their constitution duties. We remind those who think they can silence the media to think again, and be guided by history. No government, whether in khaki or Agbada, has ever been able to silence the courageous Nigerian press!
Sadly, the media is not the only target in this well-choreographed onslaught against the freedom of expression. Attempts are being made to muzzle the voice of the opposition. Sustained media attacks, as well as rude, crude and uncouth language are being employed against us as we continue to play our role.
We are being daily pilloried by barely credible government spokesmen for daring to criticize the government. They say we are destructive and offer no helping hand to the government, as if it is our business to spoon-feed the government and help them to pilot the affairs of state. It is not even our business to work for the success of any ruling government. Our loyalty is to country, not the government in power.
Spokesmen for the government, unable to fault us on facts, have resorted to name calling and downright abuse. This is uncivilized and unacceptable.
Let me be clear on this, however – No amount of insults heaped on us, threats issued against us, or attempts to distort what we stand for will cow us into submission.
There can be no true democracy without a virile opposition. And in playing our role, we will continue to be guided by the highest ideals of democratic principles and the best practices of democratic opposition in the world.
And to those who will rather silence the voice of opposition, let me remind them of what former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said: No government can long be secure without a formidable opposition.
Thank you all for listening
Do not hesitate to leave your opinion in the comment section below.
To contact Abusidiqu.com for Article Submission and Advertisement or General inquiry, send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org