REMARKS BY THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, DURING A COURTESY VISIT TO HIS OFFICE BY THE EXECUTIVES OF THE NIGERIAN CHAPTER OF THE IPI….IN ABUJA ON TUESDAY 12 APRIL 2022
Please allow me to start off by congratulating the new executive members of the Nigerian Chapter of the International Press Institute (IPI), led by its President, Mr. Muskilu Mojeed. If I am correct, Mr Mojeed and his team were elected last December during a rancour-free election. As I warmly welcome the new executive members, may I also wish you all a successful tenure.
2. I can say, without mincing words, that I have had a good relationship with the IPI since assuming office as the Minister of Information and Culture in 2015. I attended the 2016 annual congress of the IPI in Doha, Qatar, during which we kickstarted the process that led to Nigeria’s hosting of the 2018 edition of the IPI World Congress right here in Abuja. Of course, the hosting of that world event also meant that officials of the IPI Nigeria and my office had regular consultations toward the event, which Nigeria successfully hosted. Gentlemen, your visit today is a continuation of the cordial relationship that I mentioned earlier.
3. As stated on the official website of the IPI, a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, its mission is to defend media freedom and support independent journalism wherever they are threatened. I presume that mission statement will also guide the operations of IPI Nigeria and, of course, the new executives who are here today. I want to say unequivocally that IPI Nigeria has nothing to fear on both fronts – that is, defending media freedom and supporting independent journalism. This is because Nigeria has one of the most vibrant and free press in the world. I remember saying at the opening of the 2016 IPI World Congress in Qatar that the government of the day in Nigeria is not a threat to the media, and that it is not about to stifle press freedom or deny anyone his or her constitutionally-guaranteed rights. That statement remains true today as it was then. I even told the Congress that the Nigerian media have no reason to fear the government, and that – if anything – it is the government that is at the mercy of the media. That, too, remains true today.
4. After all, this must be one of the very few countries in the world where a section of the media can refuse to recognize popular sovereignty, or how does one describe a situation in which a President who was duly elected by millions of Nigeria is wilfully stripped of that title, President, and then cheekily cloaked in the garb of a dictator by playing up his military title? Despite that abuse of press freedom, those doing that have continued to practice their profession without hindrance. Ours must also be one of the few countries in the world where a reputable medium will report fake news and, when called out, will not retract or apologize.
5. That’s why I am delighted that serious organizations like IPI are taking the issues of not just press freedom but also ethics and fake news, among others, very seriously. In his inaugural speech, as reported by the media, Mr. Mojeed said his team will, quote, take a holistic look at key issues confronting our newsrooms today and undermining press freedom one way and another. The issues include those concerning ethics, regulation, sustainability, credibility and fake news. End of quote. I commend the President of IPI Nigeria for that bold statement and I do hope he and his team will work on those issues. For example, on the issue of ethics, is it part of the ethics of journalism for a media organization to function like an opposition party, seeing nothing good in the government of the day and only reporting bad news? The last time I checked, the constitutionally-guaranteed role of the media here in Nigeria is that of a watchdog, not an opposition.
6. Also, the issue of fake news needs to be taken seriously before it strips the media of its credibility. If people can no longer believe what they read, hear or watch on the various media platforms, then we are all in trouble. This is why we launched the national campaign against fake news and misinformation in 2018. Before then, we had devoted an entire National Council on Information in 2017 to the issues of fake news and misinformation. Yes, we have succeeded in bringing the problems to the front burner of national discourse but they have not abated. Only this past weekend, a section of the Nigerian media reported the fake news that President Buhari has embarked on a medical trip to London.
7. Some people have misconstrued our efforts to ensure a responsible use of social media as an attempt to tamper with press freedom or threaten independent journalism. We do not harbour such intentions, and that is why we invited stakeholders, including the NUJ and the Nigerian Guild of Editors, to sit down with us to fashion a way forward in this regard. Of course, you are aware that we have reached a robust agreement with Twitter, which will be extended to other social media platforms, as part of our efforts to ensure a responsible use of the social media. I want to appeal to IPI Nigeria not to relent in its promise to take a holistic look at the issues of fake news, credibility and ethics, among others.
8. Before I close, let me commend the media organizations that have set up platforms to fact-check stories that circulate in our media space. This is one sure way to contribute to the fight against fake news and misinformation. The IPI, which is a highly-respected global network of top media practitioners, may also want to leverage its credibility to set up a fact-checking platform.
9. Once again, I welcome the new executive members of IPI Nigeria. and I thank you all for your kind attention.