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Media owners and practitioners in Nigeria on Tuesday denounced the vandalism, looting and torching of media houses by hoodlums in Lagos last week. This they did during solidarity visits to The Nation Newspapers and Television Continental (TVC), both of which came under attack by arsonists and looters in the wake of the EndSARS protests and riots brought about by security forces attacking unarmed protesters.
According to them, an attack on the media was an attack on democracy and the country. They called on the Federal Government to quickly bring the perpetrators to book, warning that such heinous acts were capable of destabilising the country.
The group was led by the President, Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and Chairman THISDAY ARISE Group, Prince Nduka Obaigbena; Publisher of Vanguard newspaper, Mr. Sam Amuka-Pemu; Publisher, The Guardian, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru and a veteran journalist and NewsWatch Co-Founder, Ray Ekpu.
Also with the team were Nigeria Institute of Journalism (NIJ) Provost Gbenga Adefaye; Publisher of The Source Magazine Comfort Obi; Chairman of Broadcasters in Nigeria and Group President of the Silverbird Group, Guy Murray-Bruce; Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Nigerian Xpress, Steve Nwosu; President of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Comrade Chris Isiguzo; NUJ Lagos Council Chairman Dr Qasim Akinreti; Channels Television Executive Ambrose Okoh; Managing Director, Radio Services, DAAR Communications, Ambrose Somide, Victoria Ebanga; Patrick Doyle and Onuoha Ekeh among others.
“We are here in solidarity with The Nation, in solidarity with journalism and in solidarity with free speech. Without free speech, without freedom of expression, there is no democracy.” Obaigbena said.
“So, whatever we do, no matter the side of the divide we are on, we must always support free speech and as journalists, we will never bow like cowards; we must always pursue truth, report facts, give sound analysis and guide our nation at this time,” he said.
They were received by Chairman, Vintage Press Limited Mr Wale Edun; Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief Victor Ifijeh; Editor Adeniyi Adesina and Executive Director Finance and Administration Mr Sunday Adeleke.
Edun, who led them to the boardroom of The NAtion, said the attackers came with all manners of deadly weapons. Their mission, he said, was to silence this voice (The Nation).
“The attack was an assault on the press; an assault on free speech, an assault on the media, and an assault on democracy. A few hours before they came here (The Nation), Television Continental (TVC) was burnt. Their coming on-air shows their determination,” he said.
The one-time Lagos Commissioner for Finance said he was happy that no life was lost to the attack.
“No one sustained a serious injury; the cars, equipment , and other valuables can be replaced. Though people were trapped in the building, but they managed to come out safely,” he said.
Edun thanked the delegation for the solidarity visit.
According to Obaigbena, “I am very well aware that The Nation in an editorial supported the expression by the protesters and the youth. We still support them; we still support what they stand for; we still support the reform of the police; we still support an orderly society and we will continue to support what the youth stand for in bringing back a better Nigeria but we don’t support those who seek to use violence to settle political scores.
“Clearly the attack on The Nation was a premeditated act. Getting here was even difficult sometimes and to find some people with guns to shoot at journalists who are doing their jobs in the pursuit of truth, that can never be accepted. No matter how many guns you have, you can never silence the pen.”
He implored The Nation staff to continue to do their jobs, pursue free speech and continue to build a better Nigeria.
He lamented a situation where the media was harassed by the regulators and the streets “but we will always stand firm and will never bow.”
NUJ President Chris Isiguzo said an attack on any medium was an attack on all of us.
“That’s why we have not come as different groups, but we have come here together to show you that we are all together in this struggle,” he said.
According to him, some media were also attacked and looted in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Jalingo in Taraba state, Adamawa and Plateau.
Isiguzo said: “So it happened across the country and is really unfortunate. This is a clear attempt at pigeonholing the media, and anytime they succeed in silencing the media, it simply means democracy has taken flight because the media is central to the survival of democracy.
“We believed that a responsible government must unmask those behind these dastardly acts because we can’t continue to accept this silence. It is a major threat to democracy.
If they kill the media, they kill democracy, they kill Nigerians but we would not be cowed.”
Chairman of Broadcasters in Nigeria and Group President of the Silverbird Group Guy Murray-Bruce described the attack as an act of cowardice.
“We sympathise with you, we don’t encourage this and we don’t believe that any media organisation should be attacked. We are all behind you 100%,” he said.
A veteran journalist and NewsWatch Co-Founder, Ray Ekpu reminisced on an occurrence during late dictator General Sani Abacha’s era.
He said the media in Nigeria since then has always been endangered species either during the military or civilian rule. “…And that is why we must always be together and fight together. During the military, it was the media that stood out there and received the bullet on the chest and fought them toe to toe and throw them out of this country.
“Many of the people who are enjoying democracy today never stood with us in the trenches… And many of them are just benefiting from the freedom that we have. And amazingly, paradoxically, it’s the media that is being attacked. We are being attacked from all fronts, even the people we are fighting for, are attacking us. The system attacks us.
“I just read yesterday that three media houses were fined. This is not how things are done in other countries. If they made a mistake, you say to them you made a mistake, apologise. There is something called the Right of Reply. So, you have a system where an institution is the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge. That is unfair, no system works like that.
“And I think that, as a group, we must fight this course, otherwise they will damage the media in this country and we not have anything left. So, as Murray-Bruce said, the fight against any medium is the fight against all of us.”
Publisher of The Guardian, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru appealed to the Lagos State government not to close Lekki toll gate.
She said: “I will like to make a request on behalf of all of us, who live around Lekki 1, Ikoyi and Osborne. That place is very important to all of us. If the government as advised decided to close it down or suspend it for a while, it is going to cause a lot of inconvenience for the people.
“Even those people coming from Ajah, Lekki third, fourth roundabouts will suffer for it. They should try as much as possible to collate all the pieces of evidence they need and fix their bridge,” she said.
Vintage Press Limited Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief Victor Ifijeh thanked the team for the visit.
He said The Nation was delighted to have them and their visit would uplift the spirit of the staff.
Ifijeh said: “Our chairman referred to the resilient spirit of the journalist that no matter what, they would not be cowed; they would continue to do their job. We know of a newspaper house whose office was burnt in Apapa many years ago, a newspaper house whose printing premises in Abuja was also burnt.
“Where is that newspaper house today? It is standing firm, stronger, resilient. We know of newspaper houses that were shut during the Abacha time, those newspapers are still standing, many of such papers affected are still standing. That tells us about the spirit of journalism.
“What has happened has happened. I was here when they came and I was telling the armed people here ‘don’t shot.’ If you cannot scare them, allow them to do their worst, there must not be a loss of lives, we don’t want to become the news, that here there was a bloodbath, we didn’t want that.
“So when they came, they had their way, about six people came, about six or so were at the other end, another six were at another end – all fully armed, meaning they knew what they were doing.
“In case, if those who came in to attack us were repelled, others would move in. If that had happened, today, we would not be here. This solidarity visit would not take place, this paper would still be out of the street. So we told ourselves we want peace, we are happy, we are grateful to the leadership of the NPO for this visit and we thank you.”