It is my pleasure to attend the Opening Ceremony of the conference marking the 2019 World Press Freedom Day organised by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) and the European Union’s Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) Programme.

I thank Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, Chief Executive of PTCIJ, for the kind invitation extended to me to be at this event, the theme of which – ‘Press Freedom in Nigeria — the Rule of Law, Media and Violent Extremism’– remains a pertinent one for all who recognise the critical role played by the fourth estate of the realm in upholding democratic tenets and the right of the individual in society.

Events such as this, especially on an auspicious day such as World Press Freedom Day, present an opportunity to reaffirm our belief in the power and responsibility of the media, and to recommit ourselves to the ideals of a free and independent press. It also serves as an occasion to reiterate that this power of the press comes with a great responsibility: to be the watchdogs that tell the stories that protect, defend and preserve our democracy; and hold leaders to account. 

Permit me to tell you a story: in the summer of 1776, on every farm, in every tavern, every home and by every fireplace in the United States of America, a 47-page pamphlet titled ‘Common Sense’ was igniting conversations among the people. This was on account of its persuasive argument for the sovereignty of the American people, who at the time were subjects of the British monarchy.

This pamphlet, written by English-born political theorist and writer, Thomas Paine, was the spark – the catalyst – for the American Revolution. In the two centuries since then, the pamphlet has been the focus of debates in academic institutions around the world – specifically with regard to the role of journalism and the impact of ideas in our world. This leads to the oft-posed question: ‘Is the pen, mightier than the sword?’

I share this reflection with one goal in mind, and that is to underline the impact that journalism can have on society. History is replete with episodes in which the pen has proven to be as effective, if not mightier, than the sword. This is due to the power of words to plant, grow, shape and motivate ideas into action. And this is why, in a country with a chequered post-independent democratic experience such as ours, the notion of ‘press freedom’ must drastically evolve from something we pay lip service to – into one that we practise, champion and protect at all costs. 

The urgency of this is reflected in Nigeria’s ranking on the Global Press Freedom Index of 2019, where we are ranked 120 out of 180 countries. One step lower than our standing in 2018, in fact. Other pointers would include the incidence of detention of journalists in this country.

Clearly, if we truly wish to grow and preserve our democracy, we must understand that a free and pluralistic media environment that guarantees access to information, is non-negotiable. When citizens have information, they are able to make informed choices due to the diversity of their viewpoints. When we have such a society, when citizens are not only well-informed but are free to express their valid opinions — without fear or prejudice — it is only then that we can truly say are practising true democracy. This is because democracy has at its foundation the freedom of the press, which in turn promotes good governance, accountability and respect for human rights.

I am not suggesting that it will be easy to achieve these objectives. We can, however, agree that it can be done, if we are determined to see it through. It is assuring that, amid the chaos of ideas in a highly competitive media environment that often prioritises the shallow and sensational over the vital and essential, one can see flashes of brilliance in our journalists — sometimes at considerable risks to themselves. 

Not too long ago, one of Premium Times distinguished journalists, Samuel Ogundipe, was temporarily denied his freedom, reportedly without due process, for refusing to reveal his source. His case, which sparked an outcry on social and traditional media, among civil society advocates and in the press, was a reflection of similar cases across the country.

It is a continuous exercise, and we have to keep at it. For our part, we have gone a long way towards opening up the National Assembly as an institution that belongs to the people. Steps we have taken include the use of social media to live-tweet updates from plenary and committee meetings, as well as live-streams of Senate plenary.

Let me, therefore, assure you that the 8th Senate values the media as crucial partners in the quest to build a stronger and more vibrant democracy. We do appreciate that we cannot deliver good governance without a free press, and we are always available to work in tandem with the media to ensure a democratic society that serves us all.

On that note, I wish you all a wonderful 2019 World Press Freedom Day and a successful conference.

Thank you.


Abubakar Bukola Saraki MBBS CON (pronunciationⓘ; born on 19 December 1962) is a Nigerian politician who served as the 13th president of the Nigerian Senate from 2015 to 2019.[1][2] He previously served as the governor of Kwara State from 2003 to 2011; and was elected to the Senate in 2011, under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), representing the Kwara Central Senatorial District, and then re-elected in the 2015 general elections