Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked President Bola Tinubu to reverse a recent ban placed on 25 journalists and media outlets from covering the presidential villa.
The organization is calling on the president to ensure that reporters can freely do their jobs, emphasizing their constitutional role to keep tabs on those in power.
According to reports, several journalists from various media houses like Galaxy TV, Ben TV, and MITV, among others, recently lost their credentials to cover activities at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
In a letter dated August 26, 2023, SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare stated, “Barring these journalists and media houses from covering the presidential villa is to prevent them from carrying out their legitimate constitutional responsibility.”
SERAP said, “Your administration cannot with one broad stroke ban journalists from covering public functions. Citizens’ access to information and participation would mean little if journalists and media houses are denied access to the seat of government.”
According to SERAP, “Media freedom is a cornerstone of Nigeria’s democracy and journalists must be able to hold the government to account. This is a matter of public interest. The government cannot cherry-pick journalists to cover its activities.”
The letter, read in part: “We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 48 hours of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.
“Nigerians may consider the expulsion of the journalists from the presidential villa as your government’s ambivalence towards media freedom, and citizens’ rights of access to information and participation in their own government.
“The legal obligations imposed on your government to ensure and uphold media freedom and human rights, and facilitate public access to the presidential villa as a public trust outweigh any purported ‘security concerns and overcrowding of the press gallery area.
“Media freedom, access to information and citizens’ participation in the affairs of their own government are the sine qua non of a democratic and rule of law-based society.
“The withdrawal of the accreditation tags of these journalists directly violates media freedom and human rights including access to information and the right to participation. It would have a significant chilling effect on newsgathering and reporting functions and may lead to self-censorship.
“The withdrawal of the accreditations of the journalists would construct barriers between Nigerians and certain information about the operations of their government, something which they have a constitutional right to receive.
“Media freedom, access to information and the right to participation are necessary for the maintenance of an open and accountable government. These freedoms are so fundamental in a democracy that they trump any vague grounds of ‘security concerns and overcrowding of the press gallery area.
“The effective exercise of media freedom, access to information and citizens’ right to participation in their government would preserve and contribute to a free and democratic society, something which is consistent with your constitutional oath of office to defend the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended].
“Allowing the media to cover the presidential villa would improve the reliability of information available to the public and serve the public interest.
“Your government reportedly justified this grave constitutional infraction on the pretext of ‘an internal attempt to reduce a bloated number of print photographers and overcrowding in the State House.
“Your government also cited alleged ‘security concerns raised by State House officials and visiting dignitaries concerning the overcrowding of the press gallery area that blocks the walking path to the President’s Office.
“According to our information, your administration on 18 August 2023 withdrew the accreditation tags of some 25 journalists and media houses from covering activities at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
“The banned journalists reportedly include those from Galaxy TV; Ben TV; MITV; ITV Abuja; PromptNews, ONTV, and Liberty. Other media personnel affected by the withdrawal are mostly reporters and cameramen from broadcast, print, and online media outlets.
“The affected journalists were simply told at the main gate of the presidential villa to submit their accreditation tags.
“SERAP is concerned that the withdrawal of the accreditations of 25 journalists covering the presidential villa is a grave violation of the Nigerian Constitution and the country’s international human rights obligations.
“Our requests are brought in the public interest, and in keeping with the requirements of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended]; and the country’s international obligations including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.
“Under section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, the mass media including ‘the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.
“Section 14(2)(c) of the Constitution provides that ‘the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
“Similarly, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights provides that, ‘Every individual shall have the right to receive information. Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions.
“Article 13 of the Charter also provides that, ‘Every citizen shall have the right to participate freely in the government of his country. Every citizen shall have the right to equal access to the public service of his country. Every individual shall have the right of access to public property and services.
“Articles 19 and 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights contain similar provisions.
“SERAP also urges you to take meaningful and effective steps to ensure respect for the rights to media freedom, access to information and citizens’ right to participate in their own government.”