Friday, September 20, 2019
Sharp-Journal > Discourse > Discourse on press freedom in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution

Discourse on press freedom in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution

The 1999 edition of the Nigerian Constitution was hurriedly put together by the military ruling class ignoring the yearnings of most Nigerians. The Constitution can be said to be an imposed document forced consciously or unconsciously on Nigerians. It lacks the general consensus of Nigerians and that is why it is a controversial document subject to national debate.

Section 22 of the Constitution which attributes press freedom was not decisive on the issue of press freedom although it specified that the press shall be free to uphold their fundamental objectives as contained in the section, which means beyond those objectives, freedom of the press is restricted.

“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.”

Substantiating this statement, section 39 which is about freedom of expression and the press also provides the following:

  1. Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
  2. Without prejudice to the generality of subsection(1) of this section every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions. Provided that no person, other than the Government of the federation or of a state or any other person or body authorized by the president, on the fulfillment of conditions laid down by an act of the National Assembly, shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for any purpose whatsoever.
  3. Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society…

Apparently, section 39 provides that without prejudice to subsection (1) of the same section that “every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinion.” However, this statement is accompanied with terms and conditions limiting its complete actualization.

Subsection (3) further said “nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.” But how many laws are reasonably justified today in Nigeria? Laws are only being created to suit the desire and aspiration of the elite class.

Although the Constitution (section 39) made provision for the enforcement of right of expression, but be ready for the consequences or implications that may follow. In other words, you are allowed to voice your opinion or view, but also be prepared to be held responsible for any misdeed inherent in such expression. The press (media) also has the same right to perform their duties as the steward of the society through publication or broadcasting. However, freedom is limited in one way or the other as earlier indicated.

Connotatively, one can say to certain extent that freedom of the press is partially enshrined in the 1999 Constitution. Technically, when you have the right to express your view or opinion, then the right to access information is a complement. Section (22) of the Constitution says, the press shall be allowed to carry out their responsibility to the society, but the section failed to specify clearly the issue of press freedom. Indirectly, the press can practise freely, but not clearly stated to erase further confusion of whether there is press freedom or not. An ordinary reader of the Constitution may not support this claim because the section is cumbersome.

Therefore, one cannot arrive at a final decision that freedom of the press is in the Constitution. The section is however, subject to judicial interpretation. Nevertheless, the passage of the FOI bill by the legislature has partially made it easy for press freedom to thrive.

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