*Dogara assures on enhanced freedom for Nigerian press
James Emejo in Abuja
The House of Representatives on TuesdayÂ passed a resolution mandating the Committees on Army, Defence, Police Affairs, Finance, and National Security and Intelligence, including Air Force and Navy to investigate and determine the pressing needs and gaps in the Nigerian security sector.
The committees are required to recommend appropriate legislative and budgetary measures to strengthen them to meet urgent national security demands.
The resolution was consequent upon a motion moved by Hon. Rimamnde Shawulu Kwewum (PDP, Taraba) on the urgent need to re-energise the Nigerian military and paramilitary forces to meet urgent national demands.
The move came on a day the Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, expressed concern over Nigeriaâ€™s poor ranking in the International Press Freedom Index released recently by Reporters Without Borders (RWBl).
The country was ranked 122 out of 180 countries examined.
The Speaker, who described the performance as â€œdisheartening,â€ said no society can grow without an active press to monitor and report its activities.
Meanwhile, the House had noted that the country is presently facing unprecedented security challenges that had over stretched the security forces, adding that citizenâ€™s loyalty to the state, among other factors, was premised on the famed social contract theory which vests on the state the obligation of protecting the people.
Lawmakers expressed further concern that Nigeria presently has one of the lowest ratio of civilian to military at 1.14 military men to 1,000 people, while countries with less security challenges and even less endowed economically have significantly higher ratio.
The House, however, expressed concern that despite the increased frontier of action and increase in the number of crisis points, the Nigerian military performs internal security roles which ordinarily should be undertaken by other paramilitary agencies.
It added that almost all the security agencies are operating with too few obsolete weapons and equipment, well below the internationally acceptable standard.
It further argued that if prompt action was not taken to strengthen the military and paramilitary agencies, the Nigerian state may in the no distant future be embarrassed by the inability of the military to perform its duty of protecting the territorial integrity of the country and protecting its citizenâ€™s infrastructure from rogue elements.
However, on his commitment to greater freedom of the press, Dogara, in a statement, by his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Turaki Hassan to mark World Press Freedom Day, said the National Assembly will continue to enact laws to create a conducive environment for journalism to thrive in the country.
He said given that the press must be free to truly be the watchdog of the society, the House would continue to support measures to promote press freedom in the country especially through laws that facilitate the practice of journalism such as the Freedom of Information Act, which was passed by the National Assembly in 2011.
He, however, called on practitioners to strive to ensure that thereâ€™s always timely, accurate and balanced reportage and decried the situation whereby some professionals engage in brinkmanship or politicizing their content, saying that such acts â€œtend to endanger democracy, because in that way citizens arenâ€™t well informed.â€
According to him, the role the media plays in the development of a country as watchdog – especially in a democracy – cannot be overemphasised, and called on the Nigerian media to partner with the present administration to make its task of fighting corruption a success, not only by objective reporting but through investigative journalism.
Dogara said: â€œWe all know the role of the media in promoting democracy, because democracy itself guarantees nothing, itâ€™s just a set of ideals that people utilizing the freedom that democracy brings to organise their lives in such a manner that delivers social progress and economic development.
â€œThe media serves as one of the voices of democracy and I believe that beyond all the roles played by all others, the media is far ahead in that it keeps the citizens informed about what government is doing and that enables them to hold public officials accountable, for instance, to the promises that they made.â€