“Freedom of the press is the staff of life, for any vital democracy.”
– Wendell Willkie, (1892-1944)
International Democracy Day 2022
The observance of the International Democracy Day on September 15 each year with its objective to uphold and promote the principles of democracy is a continual vivid reminder of the eternal vigilance required from all and sundry to ensure that the guardrails of democracy are not weakened nay derailed, by enemies of freedom and liberty. It is a clarion call to all lovers of democracy to stand up to defend democratic principles including citizens participation, equality, regular free and fair elections, accountability, rule of law, political tolerance, human rights and economic freedom.
The think tank, Freedom House, documented in August 2021 that democracies around the world are on a dangerous decline. Freedom House submitted that with the advent of the Covid19 pandemic, the essential ingredients of democracy took a bad hit, resulting in a cumulative 54 authoritarian or “not free” states, 59 semi-authoritarian or “partially free” states, and 82 democratic or “free” states. This tally, a disturbing departure from previous statistics, highlights how the pandemic exacerbated the global plunge in individual and collective freedoms across nations and continents.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the celebration instituted after a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007 to highlight basic human rights, encourage governments to consolidate democracy, and strengthen the rules for the common good. It also provides ample opportunity to review the state of democracy across the world, and explore avenues to reinforce citizens’ participation for the greater benefit of the society.
The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) joins the rest of the world to commemorate this important milestone, and reaffirm our support for democracy as the only system of government that guarantees rights and freedom of citizens to choose their leaders through free and fair elections. We believe, pursuant to the aforementioned desire, which elected leaders should be held accountable for their actions and inactions whilst they remain custodians of the people’s electoral will.
It is commendable that this year’s celebration is particularly concerned about the ominous threat posed to democratic ideals by the increasing assault on the free press. Elected leaders undermine democracy through brazen concerted attempts to censor the media by using state institutions to harass, intimidate and sanction journalists. In some instances journalists have been subjected to physical violence and death all in the bid to subjugate the media and perpetuate a tyrannical stranglehold on free enterprise.
Sadly, rather than abate, the palpable threat against the freedom of speech has been on the increase. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in a report: “Threats to Freedom of Press: Violence, Disinformation Censorship”, stated that every four days, a journalist is killed in the world. According to the report, 62 journalists were killed in 2020 alone for just doing their jobs. The report also revealed that between 2006 and 2020, over 1,200 professionals in the media industry were similarly killed, with 90% of their killers walking free.
In Nigeria, under President Muhammadu Buhari, the federal government and the various State governments, there have been deliberate steady steps by the government, its organs and institutions to muzzle the press and stifle free speech. Nigerians are aghast at the brazen hounding of journalists, and the arbitrary censoring and sanctioning of media houses that the government, in its weird reasoning, has perceived to have fallen out of line. These attacks on the media, the latest being the warning and sanctions against British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), African Eye and Trust TV over a documentary exposing the operations of murderous bandits in Nigeria, are pointers that the government is treading a dangerous path in its unrelenting bid to make the media malleable to its self-serving and noxious dictates, narrow political choices available to the citizens, and ultimately imperil democracy. It is, indeed, an irony of the most bizarre variety, that the free press which is ordinarily the bulwark of every democracy, is often ridden roughshod over with impunity by the same constituted authorities elected to guarantee that freedom.
As the world celebrates International Democracy Day, we believe that there is no better time for Nigerians to speak up for an independent and free press than now, even as the country approaches the 2023 general elections. Democracy can only thrive when there is freedom of expression and an opportunity for the electorate to interrogate the choices placed before it. We implore Nigerians to join hands with the media to roll back the odious vestiges of dictatorship that seek to suffocate liberal democracy.
The 2023 general elections in Nigeria will be a veritable litmus test for the current administration. The Buhari-led federal government has an enviable opportunity, in the overall acknowledgement of democratic virtues and values, to bequeath to this generation of eligible voters and candidates, electoral outcomes that will be a true expression of their free will. This is an appealing legacy that will redound sonorously to its credit; the reverse of which will be to its eternal infamy.