The free press is under attack in Nigeria. Journalists in the most populous black nation in the world are habitually attacked, spied on, harassed, beaten, arrested, detained and in many instances killed.
Under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, press freedom has shrunk, plummeting the country’s rank to 115 out of 180 nations on the World Press Freedom Index.
In the first six months of 2019 alone, the number of attacks on journalists was 189 consisting equipment searches and seizures, nine; equipment or property damage, 17; arrests, 60; denial of access, 21; threats, 44 and ‘harassments’, 12. Of these attacks, 322 were on media houses, while the remaining 30 were meted on individuals. Also, 95 per cent of journalists affected were males while the rest were females, research from the Premium Times Center for Investigative Journalism Press Attack Tracker shows.
In that time, 114 of such attacks were carried out by uniformed personnel (military, police, SSS, SARS, NSCDC, prison officials and the EFCC. Other aggressors were union members (3), criminals, thugs etc (56), private security outfits (18), terrorists (9), unknown (33) and others (68).
The attacks spilled over to 2020 and SaharaReporters has compiled a list of the violations.
Maxwell Nashan (FRCN)
Early in January, Maxwell Nashan, a reporter with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria was killed by unknown persons allegedly for his journalism.
He was found bound and gagged a short distance from his office in Badarisa, Adamawa State, by some farmers. He died later that day in the hospital.
Suleiman Nguroje, Police Public Relations Officer in Adamawa, told the Committee to Protect Journalists at the time that when they retrieved the journalist’s cell phone, they found a message from Nashan saying that his life had been threatened. The journalist’s killers were never found and the police are yet to make any of its findings public.
Alex Ogbu (Regent Africa Times)
Alex Ogbu, a Nigerian journalist working with Regent Africa Times, was shot in the head by men of the Nigeria Police Force in Abuja while he was reporting a protest organised by members of Islamic Movement in Nigeria.
The police, however, tried to cover up the cause of his death, misinforming his family and the Nigerian public that he slipped and fell, hitting his head on hard floor. The police also took his phone from his wife and refused to return it to her in the cover-up attempt.
A few days later, however, SaharaReporters exclusively obtained autopsy documents from a government-approved hospital that shows he died from gunshot wounds fired by the Nigeria Police Force.
Gidado Yushau (News Digest) and Alfred Olufemi (Freelance)
Gidado Yushau, Publisher of News Digest and Alfred Olufemi, a freelance journalist, were charged to court in March 2020 for allegedly reporting that employees at a rice processing facility operated by the company in Kwara State were permitted to smoke cannabis at work in violation of Nigerian law. The owner of the company Hillcrest Agro-Allied Industries was appointed Special Adviser on Finance and Economy to Buhari in November 2019 according to a PUNCH report.
Another journalist, Adebowale Adekoya, a web developer, who had worked for News Digest in the past, was arrested by the Nigeria Police, spending a total of six days in arbitrary detention. He was also threatened in connection with the story which he was repeatedly asked to delete by Hillcrest Agro-Allied Industries.
He was lured by the Nigeria Police after they obtained two of his colleagues’ contact from his network provider. The police approached his colleagues at work posing as the DHL delivery company before instructing one of them to set up a meeting with him.
If convicted in court, the duo faces up to three years in prison.
Fejiro Oliver (Secret Reporters)
Fejiro Oliver, Publisher of Secret Reporters, was grilled by Nigeria’s secret police, the Department of State Services three times in connection with one of his reports. He was eventually charged to court in May 2020 after years of adjournments designed to stall the proceedings of his trial.
Oliver was first arrested in 2017 in Uyo, Awa Ibom State and was detained for three days. He was arraigned and subsequently detained again for one month due to his inability to fulfil his stringent bail conditions.
His report details alleged corruption in Sterling Bank and he is charged with five counts of violating the 2015 cybercrime act.
Samuel Ogundipe and Musikilu Mojeed (Premium Times)
In February, Premium Times reporter, Samuel Ogundipe, went into hiding after he received threats via phone call and his email hacked as part of attempts to intimidate him over reports done by the paper he worked for.
Musikilu Mojeed, Editor-in-Chief of PT, also faced intimidation after the platform exclusively published a government document, which revealed the strained relationship between Nigeria’s top security chiefs. Men suspected to agents of the country’s secret police visited Mojeed’s home in a bid to arrest him.
Despite an announcement designating journalists as essential service providers during the COVID-19 lockdown that began late in March in Nigeria, police officers in Lagos and other parts of the country constantly harassed journalists, detaining them overnight and subjecting them to community service for staying out late to report on the pandemic. Pleas from journalists to the government to clarify the designation of journalists as essential service fell on deaf ears and the harassment continued until the lockdown was eased.
Journalists working with the Africa Independent Television in Abuja were on March 19 chased out from an event where President Buhari was expected to give a speech.
The order to leave “came from above” according to the CPJ even though the AIT journalists were duly accredited to cover the event, which was the unveiling of the country’s broadband agenda.
Social Media Bill
A controversial bill, Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019, that seeks to repress free speech was being deliberated upon in the Nigerian Senate after it was sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa.
The bill seeks to punish social media posts deemed false by the government with imprisonment of up to three years and a fine to N300,000 ($844) or both. Offenders, who are not individuals, face fines up to N10m ($27,247).
The bill although widely criticised with the hashtag #SayNoToSocialMediaBill is still up for consideration in the Senate.
Peter Okutu and Chijoke Agwu (Vanguard & The Sun)
The Ebonyi State Government in April ordered the arrest of a journalist reporting for The SUN, Chijoke Agwu, detaining him for more than nine hours.
Agwu had gone to the state government house to report the governors briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic. Dave Umahi, governor of the state, before the press conference commenced, questioned Agwu over a story he had written on the prevalence of Lassa fever in the state. He was driven to the state police command but was released without charge after public outrage.
Similarly, another journalist, Okutu, was arrested on April 21 and was threatened with a ban for life by Governor Umahi. He was also released after public outrage.
Saint Mienpamo Onitsha (Naija Live TV)
Officers of the Department of State Services in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, in May broke into the house of Saint Mienpamo Onitsha, blindfolded him and drove him to their headquarters in the dead of the night.
The DSS interrogated him about the sources of two of his stories which were published on Naira TV Live. They threatened him with criminal prosecution on false news charges. The secret police presented him before a press conference a few days later where he was coerced to apologise and deny allegations that he was abducted in exchange for his release without charge.
Five phones belonging to him and his wife were also confiscated during the raid and detention.
Kufre Carter was arrested by the Department of State Services in April in Uyo when he honoured an invitation by the agency.
Carter’s arrest was ordered by the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Health, Dominic Ukpong, after an audio allegedly by Carter appeared to criticise his response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the state. The journalist was detained even after fulfilling his bail conditions but was eventually released after national outrage.
In May, Cletus Opukeme, Publisher of Daily Watch went into hiding after the Police raided the Nigeria Union of Journalists’ office in Warri, Delta State, detaining his colleague, Mathew Omonigho, to ask for his whereabouts.
On learning of Omonigho’s arrest, four other journalists, who went to inquire about the situation, were also arrested and questioned about Opukeme’s location.
Opukeme remains in hiding and believes his targeted harassment was not unconnected to a report he did on allegations of corruption against Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio. CPJ reports that Akpabio’s aide, Anietie Ekong, sent threatening messages to the journalist about his reporting, accusing him of writing false reports and saying he would “deal with him.”
Ike-Jacobs Nwosu (Eastern Lead Express)
In June, lawmaker, Uche Ogbuagu, approved journalist Ike-Jacobs Nwosu and accused him of allegedly misquoting him even though he did not write the report.
The report which alleged underperformance by another lawmaker was allegedly written by another reporter with Eastern Lead Express.
Nwosu was then attacked and beaten by four men chipping his tooth and breaking his glasses in the process.
Sikiru Obarayese (Daily Post)
Sikiru Obarayese was brutalised by police in August while reporting the compliance to COVID-19 restrictions in Old Garage, Osun State.
He said he was attacked by the law enforcement officers after he photographed them beating unarmed civilians for failing to wear face masks.
RevolutionNow Four (Premium Times, Sahara Reporters, ObjecTv, Galaxy TV)
On Sepetmebr 11, police in Lagos arrested four journalists for covering a peaceful protest in Ojulegba.
The journalists, Ifeoluwa Adediran (Premium Times) Abiodun Adeoba (Sahara Reporters), Daniel Tanimu (Galaxy TV ) and Awoniyi Oluwatosin of ObjecTV all identified themselves but were arrested regardless and detained at the Lagos State Police Command in Ikeja. They were eventually released.