The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has debunked the report by the press freedom organization, Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ), that a certain Nigerian journalist has been in detention for the past two years.
The Minister, who issued the rebuttal at the Gala/Award Night of the International Press Institute (IPI) in Abuja on Friday, said the person the CPJ was referring to was never a journalist.
“Let me state here, without equivocating, that contrary to the report by the Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ), no journalist is in detention in Nigeria. Clement Abiri, who is being referred to as a journalist, is not one. He does not belong to any chapel of the Nigerian Union of Journalists. He was arrested for pipeline vandalism and crude theft, including militant activities in the Niger Delta,” he said.
In Abuja Saturday, it was difficult to get the true status of Abiri as even the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) was not ready to be drawn into the controversy.
Said a source in the NUJ Secretariat: “That guy has a very complicated matter…the guy is not known to us, but NUJ cannot come out to say that.”
Alhaji Mohammed restated the commitment of the present administration to press freedom and gave the assurance that the media has nothing to fear under the present dispensation.
“In my opening comments at the 2016 IPI Congress in Doha, I said we as a government view the media as a partner. That remains true. I also said the media in Nigeria has nothing to fear from this Administration, and that – if anything – we as a government are the ones who have to fear the media. Also, that has not changed.
”We are proud that the Nigerian media is one of the most vibrant in the world. We are proud of the role that the Nigerian media has played in our long march to democratic governance. This administration will continue to provide the enabling environment for the journalist to function unmolested,” he said.
While speaking on the theme of the 67th IPI World Congress, which is “Why Good Journalism Matters,” the Minister said apart from alerting the government to the indispensable role of the media in the society, it reminds it of the purpose of journalism which is to serve all citizens in a democratic society and to tell the truth.
“If we all agree about this obligation, then it behoves the media to tell the truth, not just to power, but to the people, making it easier for them to get the facts in the right context, thus facilitating their decision-making process. But in an era of growing cases of fake news and disinformation, can we still say the media – whether traditional or new – is living true to this dictum? If the answer is no, what does this portend for the profession in particular and the society in general? I am sure this congress is examining the issue critically in the course of its deliberations,” he said.
Alhaji Mohammed appealed to the media to always report the government in the right context in order to give the people the opportunity to make informed decisions.
He said the present administration has kept its promise to fight corruption, tackle insecurity and revamp the economy.
The Minister said before the advent of the present administration, a territory three times the size of Lebanon, in the North-east of the country, was firmly in the hands of Boko Haram but that not an inch of the territory is currently under the control of Boko Haram.
“That is a fact. When Mr. President was taking the oath of office, Boko Haram retained the capacity to stroll into this city, at a time of its own choosing, to wreak havoc. Remember that the insurgents attacked the UN Complex, the police headquarters, motor parks, a newspaper office, etc right here in Abuja. That is now history. And that is a fact! Yes, cowardly suicide bombings still occur occasionally, such is the nature of a waning insurgency, what I will call the last kicks of a dying horse,” he said.
In the area of fighting corruption, Alhaji Mohammed said in addition to prosecution of alleged looters, the government has embarked on institutional reforms to address the menace, citing the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the establishment of an Efficiency Unit to monitor the income and expenditure of government.
He said the government’s Whistle-Blower Policy has yielded massive dividends, listing 13.8 billion Naira from tax evaders, as well as 7.8 billion Naira, 378 million dollars and 27,800 pounds in recoveries from public officials targeted by whistleblowers.
The Minister thanked the IPI for granting Nigeria the hosting right for its 67th World Congress, which he described as an affirmation that Nigeria is now safe for citizens and foreigners alike.