Amidst growing concerns of the hostile environment journalists in Nigeria work and the possibility of being caught in violence and accident, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Nigerian Red Cross Society organised a media workshop on first aid training. Bayo Akinloye reports
With no one certain of what had happened as three journalists lay motionless on the floor of a hall, the bystanders – many of them journalists – looked on wondering. But in a flash, a number of their colleagues who had been part of the onlookers rushed to the scene after making sure there was no danger in sight.
One reached out to one of the journalists lying with his back on the floor, gently shaking his shoulders and calling out into his ears, “Can you hear me? Can I help you?” There was no response. With two fingers to the chin and the other palm to the forehead of the seemingly unconscious journalist, the colleague tilted the head and lifted the jaw. Afterward, she put the fingers toward the nostrils of the ‘casualty’ and noticed he was breathing.
She then put him in a ‘recovery’ position – to keep his airways open – first by putting his arm with elbow bent, took the other hand slightly across his chest, placing its back by the left cheek. Meticulously, she pulled up his right leg and turned him to rest on his side until the ‘casualty’ could be taken to the hospital.
That was one of the drills journalists from across Nigeria went through last April when the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Nigerian Red Cross Society (NRCS) held first aid training for them.
The ICRC said the training became important because of the climate of intimidation and harassment that Nigerian journalists perform their duties.
According to the Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontier, RSF), Nigeria has dropped further in the ranking of countries that support press freedom, from 119 to 120 among 180 nations, adding: “Africa’s most populous nation has more than 100 independent newspapers and yet covering stories involving politics, terrorism or financial embezzlement by the powerful proves problematic.
“Journalists are often threatened, subjected to physical violence…. The all-powerful regional governors are often the most determined persecutors and act with complete impunity.”
The group noted further: “In 2018, one governor had the premises of a radio station razed after series of reports criticizing his handling of local affairs. The police also detained a journalist for several days in an attempt to identify his sources.”
Some days ago, The Guardian reporter, Emeka Nwachukwu, had to be kept in police custody following an attack on him by political thugs while he was covering the Ifelodun-Ajeromi local council by-election. Earlier in the year, a journalist with Albaraka Radio, Ibrahim Bahaba was also attacked in Bauchi, sustaining some injuries.
The attack on Felicity Ezewuike, the Plus TV Africa journalist, also grabbed the headlines when supporters of then-governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) swooped on her for filming a fracas among the political thugs.
“They almost killed me. They threatened me. They had already started hitting me before the police came and saved me,” the journalist said.
Nigerian journalist, particularly those covering humanitarian crisis, violence, conflicts, riots, protests, political rallies, and disasters are even more prone to danger and having first aid skills can save them from danger.
Aliyu Dawobe, an official with the ICRC, told THISDAY that the first aid training for journalists will not only prove life-saving on the job for them but also elsewhere.
“Journalists and humanitarian reporters are key in providing the general public with information related to conflicts, violence and various other disasters,” Dawobe noted.
He added: “In the course of doing this, some of them are susceptible to being injured or meeting people that are injured. The essence is to train them to manage injuries which they may likely encounter while in the course of working. Although the training is meant to assist while at work, it may also help them while in their homes.”
Stressing further the importance of the media workshop that included hands-on training, another ICRC official, Zahraa Al-Janabi, explained the reason for the training.
“Being able to bring information to people is a very powerful position, one that comes with different expectations and responsibilities. In this workshop, we hope to understand better some of the humanitarian reporting challenges faced by journalists and provide some tools which enable them to accurately report on the humanitarian consequences of the armed conflicts and violence,” she said.
Al-Janabi also admitted that like humanitarian workers, journalists may encounter significant risks in the course of their assignment, “which is why we believed first aid training is a potentially life-saving ability during emergency situations”.
With increasing violence and humanitarian crises in the North-East and other parts of the country, the ICRC said first aid skills can spare journalists from being killed.
Dawobe explained further: “The present situation of conflicts in the North-East of Nigeria, the communal violence in the north-central states and other crisis in the South-South of Nigeria is a clear indication that journalists will need to continue to follow up on stories of what is happening in these areas.”
Apart from the first aid skills they received, the journalists were also trained on the need to be up-to-date with current challenges related to humanitarian reporting of rethinking, and reporting not only casualty figures but also being people-centric in their reporting. “This means that while reporting on dead figures and injuries,” added Dawobe, “they should also have in mind that the survivors are as important, if not more important, than the dead and injured.”
The ICRC said it is engaging with the Nigerian media regularly because it believes in the important role of journalists in bringing to the fore the humanitarian consequences of armed conflicts or violence. “Journalists have the tools to tell the story and spread information which is key for the affected population, enabling them to gain a greater control over their lives and future. For us, local media is one of the channels to understand the situation of communities affected by conflict and violence,” she added.
Along with the NRCS, the ICRC urged media organisations in Nigeria to have and implement safety protocols in their offices.
“Safety is first. Without safety, we cannot report and by extension, we cannot get information related to the conflicts and disasters,” Dawobe explained, adding, “journalists respecting safety while in the field meant that other populations may get the situations that affected people face after conflicts, violence or disasters.”
Regarding rules of engagement during violent conflicts resulting in the violation of the international humanitarian law (IHL) by the Nigerian government and other armed groups in the country, the ICRC stated that it will continue to peacefully engage with all parties involved in any crises as an impartial organisation.
The aim of the IHL is to mitigate suffering during any armed conflicts as the ICRC puts its legal expertise at the service of the Nigerian government to support their efforts to ratify and implement treaties.
“In all situations of violence or conflict, one of the key activities of the ICRC is to ensure that parties to the conflict respect applicable norms and rules regarding the conduct of hostilities,” said Al-Janabi. “We continue to strive to ensure all parties to the conflict adhere to the laws of war by speaking with them directly and confidentially.”
The ICRC in Nigeria has contributed to the strengthening of Nigerian health services; helping people affected by armed violence; improving water supplies, sanitation, hygiene and shelter. It is also working with the NRCS to provide emergency assistance as well as to restore links between family members separated by conflicts.
At the end of the three-day training, the journalists learnt how to resuscitate an unconscious person, stop bleeding, bandage a broken limb, give burns victim first aid, and on how to deal with cases of shock, fainting, convulsion, choking, epilepsy, and stroke before a casualty is taken to the hospital.