Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Bola Tinubu to use his “good office and leadership position to immediately reverse the unlawful ban on 25 journalists and media houses from covering the presidential villa and restore the accreditations of those affected.”

SERAP urged him “to publicly instruct the officials in the presidential villa to allow journalists and media houses to freely do their job and discharge their constitutional duty of holding those in power to account.”

According to reports, the Federal Government recently withdrew the accreditations of some 25 journalists from covering activities at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. The banned journalists include those from the Vanguard; Galaxy TV; Ben TV; MITV; ITV Abuja; PromptNews; ONTV, and Liberty.

In a letter dated 26 August 2023 and signed by SERAP deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “Barring these journalists and media houses from covering the presidential villa is to prevent them from carrying out their legitimate constitutional responsibility.”

SERAP said, “Your administration cannot with one broad stroke ban journalists from covering public functions. Citizens’ access to information and participation would mean little if journalists and media houses are denied access to the seat of government.”

According to SERAP, “Media freedom is a cornerstone of Nigeria’s democracy and journalists must be able to hold the government to account. This is a matter of public interest. The government cannot cherry-pick journalists to cover its activities.”

The letter, read in part: “We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 48 hours of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.

“Nigerians may consider the expulsion of the journalists from the presidential villa as your government’s ambivalence towards media freedom, and citizens’ rights of access to information and participation in their own government.

“The legal obligations imposed on your government to ensure and uphold media freedom and human rights, and facilitate public access to the presidential villa as a public trust outweigh any purported ‘security concerns and overcrowding of the press gallery area.

“Media freedom, access to information and citizens’ participation in the affairs of their own government are the sine qua non of a democratic and rule of law-based society.”

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“The withdrawal of the accreditation tags of these journalists directly violates media freedom and human rights including access to information and the right to participation. It would have a significant chilling effect on newsgathering and reporting functions, and may lead to self-censorship.

“Media freedom, access to information and the right to participation are necessary for the maintenance of an open and accountable government. These freedoms are so fundamental in a democracy that they trump any vague grounds of ‘security concerns and overcrowding of the press gallery area.’”

“The effective exercise of media freedom, access to information and citizens’ right to participation in their government would preserve and contribute to a free and democratic society, something which is consistent with your constitutional oath of office to defend the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended].”

“Your government also cited alleged ‘security concerns raised by State House officials and visiting dignitaries concerning the overcrowding of the press gallery area that blocks the walking path to the President’s Office.’”

“The banned journalists reportedly include those from Vanguard newspaper; Galaxy TV; Ben TV; MITV; ITV Abuja; PromptNews, ONTV, and Liberty. Other media personnel affected by the withdrawal are mostly reporters and cameramen from broadcast, print, and online media outlets.”

“SERAP is concerned that the withdrawal of the accreditations of 25 journalists covering the presidential villa is a grave violation of the Nigerian Constitution and the country’s international human rights obligations.”

“Our requests are brought in the public interest, and in keeping with the requirements of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended]; and the country’s international obligations including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.”

“Under section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, the mass media including ‘the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.’”

“SERAP also urges you to take meaningful and effective steps to ensure respect for the rights to media freedom, access to information and citizens’ right to participate in their own government.”