After succeeding in making media practitioners in Cross River state operate like we’re in a communist society where the media is only there to advance the policies of the state and the ruling party, the state government has advanced to attempting to cow social media critiques too.
In Cross River, anybody who is not singing government praises is an enemy of the state. The freedom of the press is not only abused by the government but even by press agents who by law and professional ethics were supposed advocate for more.
Professor Robert Pickard in his Democratic Socialist Press Theory argued that although there are legislations guaranteeing press freedom, these laws are not just enough. Therefore, government has a proactive role to play to promote and enhance press freedom.
But regrettably, Cross River government under Ayade has refused to acknowledge that the little freedom of the press which has been enhanced by the advent of social media is not enough.
Any attempt to abuse or stand in the freedom which advocates have argued that is not enough will be resisted strongly with every instrument under the armbit of law.
Criticism is part of a democratic process. Declaring Ifere Paul, a man who has in no small measure helped in reshaping so many government policies via his critical articles is not just a fight against his fundamental right to freedom of expression but an abuse of democratic process.
No doubt, there’s no absolute press freedom anywhere in the world but the law has made it clear how to address issues if in the process of exercising one’s right to freedom of expression another man’s right is infringed upon.
To the best of my knowledge not just as a part-time journalist but a communication and press freedom scholar, Ifere Paul has not in anyway published any seditious or libellous thing about the government that should warrant his arrest.
Besides, if the government think he has, they should honourably seek redress in court not this primitive way of trying to cow opposition and critics by using security apparatus to harass perceived opposition.
Ifere is one out of many of us who have faced harassment and persecution by even professional colleagues for daring to be socially responsible in our reportage. This is not acceptable in democracy.
We’re not under authoritarian rule where we apply authoritarian press philosophy that gives individual rights to talk as long as it doesn’t criticise the absolute powers of the state.
A government that has completely forgotten the act of governance to chase opposition and critics has no business in a democratic setting like ours.
During former governor Liyel Imoke’s valedictory press briefing with journalists, among all the journalists that attended that day, Imoke singled out veteran, Unimke Nawa for praises. He said, Sir Nawa’s criticism reshaped most of his policies.
Criticism is the beauty of democracy. Rather than hunt us down, Ayade should commend us for offering him free consultancy services on governance because he has demonstrated that he was not ready for the task in the first place.
I join host of others in the #FreeIferePaul# campaign. We must talk, share ideas, disagree to grow our democracy.