The minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, yesterday insisted that the federal government has no intention to gag the media.
Reacting to last Sunday’s invasion of Daily Trust headquarters in Abuja and regional offices in Maiduguri and Lagos, Mohammed noted that the issues that led to the short-lived military siege would be resolved via dialogue.
Mohammed who addressed journalists on the issue in Abuja, noted that it was not helpful or advisable to aggravate matters, as some opposition parties have been doing, by latching on to the issue.
He said: “Suffice it to say, however, that the media must strike a fine balance between the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom to receive and impart information and national security.
“I believe that the Nigerian media does not need any lecture on this issue, considering its indispensable role in the emergence of Nigeria as an independent nation and the enthronement of democratic government,” he said.
According to the Minister, the military authorities had issued a statement to explain their action concerning the presence of troops in the offices of the Daily Trust in Maiduguri and Abuja.
The statement, according to Mohammed classified military information was divulged and that the development puts troops in clear and present danger.
“I want to use this opportunity to appeal to the media to exercise greater restraint in their reporting on the insurgency in the North East. Lest we are misunderstood, we are not about to gag the press, and there is no clampdown as some people, seeking to feed on the issue, have claimed. But the media must exercise restraint and show more responsibility in reporting the insurgency. If I may ask, what is so compelling in pushing a report that compromises national security? What is so compelling in publishing a report that puts our troops in harm’s way?, “ he queried.
The minister, however urged the media support the ongoing efforts to dislodge terrorists from the country’s territory.
“That brings me to the bigger issue of overall support for our military. Recent developments are disturbing. The activities of a section of the media and some opposition political parties are demoralizing the military and strengthening the insurgents. Without seeking or waiting for official clarification, outrageous casualty figures are prominently reported. Without consideration for national security, military plans are recklessly revealed. Not even in the United States, the bastion of democracy, does this happen.
“Some opposition political parties have needlessly pilloried the military, under the guise of criticising the federal government over the war against terror. Their actions amount to dancing on the graves of the men and women in uniform who have made the supreme sacrifice so that you and I can be safe and secure. The military is not a political institution and must not be politicised, “ he stated.
Meanwhile, the government has expressed optimism that the ongoing strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) would soon be called of, as the government has made favorable proposals to the union.
National President of ASUU, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi after Monday’s meeting with the federal government delegation said the union’s National Executive Committee (NEC) will review its decision based on the federal government’s commitment.
However, the Minister during the press briefing noted that beyond the sum of N15.389 billion made available to ASUU, which represents the shortfall in payment to Universities, government has offered to pay N20 billion in 2019 for revitalization of universities.
He also said that ASUU asked for payment for 10 Universities but the FG is paying for 20 Universities.
The Minister explained that the federal government is yet to pay for 2018 only because the implementation committee is yet to work out the modalities.
“Stage is now set for strike to be called off, number of proposals have been made to ASUU. The sum of N15.389 billion has been made available, which represents the shortfall in payment to Universities. ASUU asked for payment for 10 Universities but the FG is paying for 20 Universities. On revitalization of universities, offer has been made in good faith to pay N20 billion in 2019, government is yet to pay for 2018 only because the implementation committee is yet to work out the modalities,” he said.
The minister further disclosed that the Nigerian Universities Pension Company has been established to administer pension funds for Universities.
According to Mohammed, the company was approved after all the requirements were submitted last Friday.
He also explained that the Visitation Panel to Nigerian Universities Committee has been approved by President Muhammadu Buhari and the committee will be inaugurated next week.
While reacting to threat by the organised labour union to embark on a fresh industrial action, Mohammed said efforts are in top gear to avert the planned strike.
“Talks are ongoing, the parties will meet at 1 pm today to resume talks,” he said.