The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has strongly condemned the harassment of drivers of newspaper distribution vans by overzealous security agents in some states on Sunday, March 29.
The guild, in a press statement that was jointly signed by the President of NGE, Mr. Mustapha Isah and its General Secretary, Ms. Mary Atolagbe, emphasised that it should be noted that the media is a strategic partner in the national affairs of the country, with the constitutional mandate of providing information to the populace.
The statement reads: “The body of editors hereby restates that media personnel are rendering essential services and journalists should be commended for carrying out their constitutional mandate of sourcing stories and monitoring compliance with government directives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world, instead of being harassed.
“The guild, therefore, implores state governments that have declared one form of lockdown or the other, being measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, to appropriately educate the security agents drafted to enforce the restrictions on the essential nature of media duties.
“The body of editors recalls that President Muhammad Buhari’s statement in a nationwide broadcast, permits ‘workers of telecommunications companies, broadcasting, print and electronic media, who can prove they are unable to work from home’ as being exempted from the total lockdown in Lagos, Ogun, and the Federal Capital Territory.”
The NGE, according to the statement, was worried that some security agents, who might not be sufficiently knowledgeable about the operations of media houses, would find it difficult to determine the categories of print and electronic staff who could not work from home.
“In the light of this potential friction, the guild is calling on the Nigerian government to exempt all categories of media staff from the COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions and hereby enjoins journalists to carry their means of identification as they undertake their duties, to eliminate the chances of being harassed by security operatives,” the statement said.
The guild also commended the federal and state governments for the measures put in place to contain the deadly COVID-19 and also applauded “the government’s pledge of palliative measures for the most vulnerable in the society during this period of lockdown, especially those who survive on daily income.”
The editors also saluted the tireless efforts of our medical personnel, who have continued to put their lives on the line, as the world battles the monstrous COVID-19 pandemic.
It, however, noted that Nigeria cannot afford a total lockdown at this time. “People should be allowed to move within their neighbourhoods to access pharmacies, fuel stations and other basic needs,” the guild said while it urged “all journalists and other personnel on essential services to adhere strictly to the prescribed precautionary measures against COVID-19 and continue to stay safe in the course of their duties.”