The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has said journalists in Nigeria have nothing to fear from the Nigerian government in the performance of their duties.

”Under this dispensation, we have never even contemplated stifling the freedom of the media not to talk of hounding them to death,” the Minister said in Doha olain Sunday when he featured as a panelist at the ongoing 2016 Annual Congress of the International Press Institute (IPI) in the Qatari capital.

”Not a single journalist is in detention in Nigeria today. The government of the day is not a threat to the media, and it is not about to stifle press freedom or deny anyone his or her constitutionally guaranteed rights,” he said at the session, devoted to a debate on the implementation of the document on the ”International Declaration On The Protection of Journalists”’, which was presented at the Congress.

Alhaji Mohammed said having identified lack of communication and mutual suspicion as part of the reasons for regular frictions between the government and the media in Nigeria, he had taken measures to enhance communication and also reduce suspicion between the two. ”These (measures) include strengthening the rapport between the government and the media, which I have done by meeting with the major stakeholders in the media industry, and setting up a committee between the media and the security/intelligence agencies to deepen communication and understanding,” he said.

The Minister also said while the government has ensured the protection of the premises of vulnerable media establishments when required to do so, that does not affect the independence of such organisaions. Commenting on the role of governments which regularly target journalists for their work, he said ”the state which ought to protect life should not be the one to snuff it out.”

Alhaji Mohammed stressed the need for capacity building for media practitioners as a way of enhancing the performance of their duties, saying the local chapters of the IPI and other media organizations have a role to play in this regard.

The Minister also on Sunday visited the sprawling Al Jazeera Media Training and Development Centre in Doha, Qatar, in furtherance of his efforts to forge a training and development collaboration with the international news network. The Minister, who was conducted round the facility by its Director, Mr. Mounir Daymi, as well as other officials of the centre, said the training and re-training of journalists are very important because the media industry is very dynamic.

In addition to the planned collaboration between the Ministry of information and Culture as well as the Qatari television station, he said journalists from the government-owned broadcasting stations could also be attached to Al Jazeera for a few weeks under an exchange programme that will be mutually-beneficial to both.

Alhaji Mohammed said the performance of the public-funded media establishments has been affected by the lack of adequate attention to training, programming and infrastructure over the years. He said he is not satisfied with the performance of the government-owned media establishments, hence he has decided to reposition them for better efficiency and in order for them to be more competitive. ”We want a brand new television station that will be among the best in the world and it is possible,” the Minister said Alhaji Mohammed said he would soon invite the officials of the Media Training and Development Centre to Nigeria for a need-assessment visit to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) as well as the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), since the centre trains both radio and television journalists, as well as photographers.

The Director of the Centre said it had trained about 30,000 journalists, mostly from the Middle East but also from China and some countries in Africa, among others, in its 12 years of existence. He said whereas the Centre was set up primarily to train Al Jazeera journalists, it has also extended training to journalists from outside the station ”as part of efforts to transfer the knowledge acquired by Al Jazeera over the past 20 years”. The Centre, which is situated in a different location from the Al Jazeera Headquarters complex, boasts of state-of-the-art studios, complete with video walls, classrooms and control rooms, among others.