1.1 Background to the Study
Government’s attempt not only to control but subjugate the Nigerian press through obnoxious laws has been an enduring problem in the history of the country. The press has been striving to wriggle itself out of these unfavourable laws but the government believes that giving the press the freedom to operate as an independent entity might be suicidal.
The government feels that it is legal to restrain the power of the press and if possible have total control of the press. To government, press is an instrument of people in power and should yield itself to their dictates. But the press fight fiercely to resist the obsequious stance government wants to subject it to because of the belief that they are to serve as watchdog on government and not to be used as an extension of ministry of information or as a tool for propaganda. This gave rise to clashes between the press and the government. While the government uses its authority to subdue the press, the press resist by remaining tenacious in its fight for freedom.
When in 1994 the agitation for freedom of information bill commenced, the aim was to allow the Nigerian press have access to documents and information in the custody of the government or its officials and agencies as a necessary proof to the guarantee of freedom of information but since the passage of the bill into law in 2011, the government’s stance have been rigid.
However, the government’s truculent reaction to the freedom of the press to report the affairs of government to the public shows that the government has skeletons in its cupboard and therefore, would never entertain the prolonged scrutiny of the press thus their un-willingness to allow the law to take full effect in the country. The aim of the government to Lord over the press is not peculiar to Nigeria alone or to the third world countries but to the entire world except the United State of America that said it clearly in its constitution that “congress shall make no law that will abridge the freedom of press and expression”.
According to Ekwele (1986), “throughout the centuries, and in every country the media have been subjected to both harassment and manipulation”. From the colonial era to Nigeria’s independence and to military and civilian regimes, the press has struggled to exist amidst diverse suppressive laws, ordinaries, acts and decrees enacted and promulgated at one time or another by different governments. Today, the Nigerian press exists in a very tenuous position. In the words of Eze (1993), “the jeremiad of complaints by the press have fallen on deaf ears of government whose alert and watchful eyes are permanently directed on what the press published with eager hands to censor and equal hostility to attack and arrest the reporters”.
The present democratic environment has not fully guaranteed a conducive operational atmosphere for journalists in the country. Even the democratic government of Olusegun Obasanjo since inception has been characterized by pockets of attack on the press similar to what was obtained during the military era.
Moreover, since the colonial masters, journalists and freedom fighters have been clamouring for freedom which were not fully given like they are in the U.S.A. In fact, the nation’s 1999 constitution that was expected to provide this freedom was just a replica of the 1999 constitution where the freedom was just a give and take, going by the section 22 of chapter 2 of the 1999 constitution which states that:
“The press, radio, television and other agencies of mass media shall at all time be free to uphold the fundamental objective contain in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the public”.
The constitution gave the press a constitutional duty but failed to empower them by until recently, precisely May 27, 2011 when President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan finally assented to a new freedom of information bill that had been unanimously scrutinized by the two chambers, that is the House of Representatives and the Senate with a title : An act to make to make public reactions records and information, protect public interest and information to the extent consistent with the public interest and the protection of personal privacy, protect serving public officers from adverse consequences for disclosing certain kinds of official information without authorization and establish procedures for the advancement of those purposes and related purposes thereof.
Consequently, analysis of various challenges and problems facing journalists on the freedom of information law which allow access to public documents by journalists underscores the purpose of this study.
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