Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Chorus against Decree 4

Decree 4 under which two Nigerian journalists were jailed for one year each last July and their newspaper, Guardian was fined, runs foul of the provisions of the fundamental human rights which remains untouched in the partly suspended 1979 constitution.

This view was expressed at the weekend by the National President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Bola Ajibola at the launching of a special edition of The Nigerian Journalist, the official organ of the Nigeria Union of journalists in Lagos last weekend. The publication was fittingly dedicated to Messrs Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, the two journalists.

The national president who chaired the function noted that even though truth had become a dirty word in Nigeria due to the emergence of Decree 4, journalists should remain courageous and continue to speak up.

He asked them to be prepared to face whatever occupational hazard that came their way. This would enable their cause to enjoy the support of men of goodwill as did Thompson and Irabor.

The same Decree 4 was described as a very unpopular law which can never help the government to achieve its objectives.

The Speaker this time was Chief Moshood Abiola, Chairman of the Concord press, who regretted that the relationship between journalists and governments all over Africa was historically jinxed.

He lamented, "if journalists can be penalised for an error, how many doctors are we to kill for wrongly injecting their patients?"

Chief Abiola queried why the decree had not been invoked even though in his view there have been several breaches since Tunde and Nduka were jailed.

The Concord boss also noted another danger to the press in "the perverted politics being played with issuance of import licence to news- paper houses". He said the industry was being forced to add to the purge lists.

Another speaker at the launching, Mr Hassan Sunmonu, former president of the Nigerian Labour Congress said Decree 4 was not only unnecessary but also a fetter on the freedom of the Press and the people of Nigeria, who hitherto cherished the freedom embeded in their system. He said he was not yet to meet any Nigeria apart from the government, who favoured Decree 4, Mr Sunmonu also expressed surprise that Thompson and Irabor were not among the 250 persons released on October 1.

He said the country had enough laws on sedition to curb the excesses of any individual or group and that the taking away of freedom of expression means "we are all dead".

Earlier in his speech, the president of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Mr Bola Adedoja, had described Thompson and Irabor as the authentic patriots and worthy martyrs of Nigerian journalism for their courage in protecting their source of information to the bitter end, "in spite of danger to their personal liberty and well-being of their families".

He called for solidarity among journalists, because "no journalist is free from the cudgels of the powers-that-be."

The launching of the journal was "to generate funds for the educational programme of the union and provide for the welfare of journalists in distress".

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