The Nigerian government on Thursday warned media houses not to become “playground for terrorism and destabilization”, saying that journalists must maintain a fine line between freedom of the press and national security.
The spokesman of President Muhammadu Buhari, Mr. Garba Shehu, quoted heads of intelligence and security agencies as issuing the warning at the presidential palace.
Why it matters: Nigeria is holding an election next year and the warning by the government may be an avenue to muzzle the media ahead of a tough election the president would be going into with poor ratings.
In the midst of the debate over the right to freedom of expression and the government’s efforts to ensure that the digital space and the mass media generally do not become a playground for terrorism and destabilization, security agencies in the country have given assurances that they would maintain a balance between openness and national security.
They have, however, called on the nation’s media owners and practitioners to walk the fine balance between openness on one hand and national security on the other.
Speaking at an interactive meeting with owners and decision makers in the media at the State House Conference Centre in Abuja on Tuesday, the Director-General of the Department of State Services, DSS, Lawal Daura, the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ambassador Ahmed Rufa’i Abubakar and the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin, gave assurances that the security situation in the country was within the control of the government and that this can be helped where the media reduced sensation from their daily coverage.
In their own assessment, “our state of national security is not as bad as it is painted by the media.”
In seeking the support from the media towards the achievement of security for everyone, the heads of the agencies emphasized that sharing and coordination among security agencies and the media is essential to counter the ever-changing threats faced by the nation.
The Security chieftains expressed the particular worry that there are groups in the country with evil designs to disrupt the processes leading to the 2019 general elections in the hope of creating a stalemate.
They warned the media against the activities of some unregistered groups that have lately been active in trying to undermine critical institutions such the law-enforcement agencies and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
The security heads also called for closer cooperation from the media to prevent terrorists and radical ideologies directed from abroad from undermining the ongoing efforts to restore security in parts of the country facing the challenges of terrorism, economic sabotage, criminality, farmers-herdsmen clashes and the spread of illegal weapons.
In a special submission by the NIA, its Director-General recalled unsavoury developments of the last one year, which had put the agency in a negative limelight, but said that such developments were not peculiar to the Agency.
“Similar institutions across the world have passed through this phase. What is, however, important is for the right lessons to be learnt from these developments.
I see these challenges as impetus to reposition the Agency for effective service delivery in realization of its core mandate, as a critical component of our National Security Architecture,” he said.
Ambassador Abubakar appealed for media support to enable the agency to reform and remain focused on tackling the challenges of international nature facing the nation which included terrorism and violent extremism manifested in activities of Boko Haram (BH), ISIS, AQIM, Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda, Ansaru, among others.
He said the nation also faced threats from the human trafficking and illegal migration, smuggling, slavery, forced labour, prostitutions, drugs trafficking, activities of drug cartels and their networks, as well as trafficking in small arms and light weapons (SALW).
According to the DG, “Financial Crimes, identification of financial resources and properties suspected to be obtained by corrupt means belonging to Nigerians especially Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs); Herdsmen and Farmers clashes, cattle rustling etc; Piracy and Militancy, particularly in the Niger Delta: Oil theft, illegal oil bunkering, pipeline vandalism; and Cyber Crimes/ Cyber security: activities of online fraudsters, hacking etc. will henceforth receive priority attention.”
The intelligence and security chieftains also expressed the view that the Nigerian media has a role in securing Nigeria’s national interest.
This expected role of the press is in tandem with global best practices, particularly on issues that have bearing on national security.
They, therefore, invited the media “as partners to continue to be security conscious and exercise restraint in disseminating information that could expose the Services to ridicule or harm our National Security,” stressing that, “Prior consultation with appropriate members of the Intelligence Community is the best way to go.”
– Garba Shehu