Akintunde Oyebode: My Hero, the journalist (Y! FrontPage)

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There are no words to soften this; Nigeria is slowly degenerating to the days when Bagauda Kaltho was blown away by the despotic government of the day.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 19 journalists have been killed in Nigeria since 1992. Out of this number, 13 journalists were killed in 2012; making last year the most dangerous for journalists. It is easy to see where this narrative is going; if you are choosing a career in Nigeria, don’t consider being a journalist.

A few days ago, four journalists working for Leadership Newspaper were arrested for a leaking a Presidential directive to disrupt the business interests of opposition leaders, neutralize restive governors within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and raise fuel prices; all of which have been denied by the Federal Government. As expected, the Nigerian Police Force has demonstrated a level of efficiency most Nigerians only see in foreign movies. Two journalists have been charged for forgery, and we must be interested parties in seeing a logical conclusion to this drama.

It is not the first time journalists have been terrorized this year. In February, three journalists with Wazobia FM were arrested for allegedly inciting an attack on health workers administering polio vaccination in Kano. The controversial content talked about how local officials attacked journalists after they discovered a man who refused to allow his children to be vaccinated, and discussed the community’s fears about vaccination. Instead of going after the terror groups that unleashed mayhem in the city, the police chose to arrest journalists. Initially, the journalists were to face a charge of culpable homicide (which carries the death penalty), but prosecutors chose the lesser charges of conspiracy and inciting a disturbance. Again, this is another case of great interest.

There are no words to soften this; Nigeria is slowly degenerating to the days when Bagauda Kaltho was blown away by the despotic government of the day. The events of today’s Nigeria eerily remind me of the opening sections of Kunle Ajibade’s gripping book, Jailed for Life. The story of how he was arrested for not sharing the source(s) of a story in The News and his journey through the Nigerian prison system is a documented reminder of the dangers associated with journalism in Nigeria. In a society where we are quick to label journalists as gossip-mongers and recipients of brown envelopes, it is important to acknowledge and remember the dangers that come with their professional calling. The price and reward for bravery is often forgotten by all, expect the family of the affected journalist.

A few hours ago, I was reminded of the chilling murder of Tayo Awotunsin and Christopher Imodibie in Liberia, two decades ago. The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission detailed how both men were tortured and eventually starved to death by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). Two weeks ago, The Nation published this interview with Adenike, Tayo Awotusin’s widow. It was painful to read about this woman’s struggle to support herself and four children since her husband died. The article highlighted how journalists put themselves in the line of fire without benefits, pensions or the promise of a decent retirement at the end of the shift.

I have written this post for a selfish reason, to draw attention to the plight of journalists across the country, and the economic cost of doing a great job. The odds are stacked against a journalist willing to do a great job in today’s Nigeria, with much bigger incentives to collect envelopes instead of educating the society. Lord Bryon said, “They never fail who die in a great cause.”  It is our collective responsibility to ensure those words ring true always.

Note: For those interested in helping the Awotusin family, donations can be sent to Mrs. Agnes Adenike Awotusin’s Ecobank Account, 0011203563.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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