Nigerian Security Forces Censor Coverage of COVID-19, Obstruct Delivery of Newspapers

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) condemns recent violations against the media by security forces in Nigeria and urges the authorities to take steps to protect the media, especially at this critical moment of the COVID-19 emergency.

In the first incident which occurred on March 28, 2020, an operative of the Department of State Security (DSS) manhandled Angela Nkwo-Akpolu, the Imo State correspondent of the Leadership newspaper, who was covering a scene related to COVID-19 at a hotel in Owerri. Nkwo-Akpolu was taking pictures of the hotel, which had been forced by the DSS to quarantine its guests for allegedly failing to comply with government’s directives on containing the pandemic. One of the officers seized the journalist’s prescription eye-glasses as well as her iPad and deleted the pictures she had taken.

In the second incident, a group of soldiers attacked the circulation vehicle of The PUNCH Newspapers, which was on its way to distribute newspapers to the southern States of Nigeria.

The soldiers stopped the circulation vehicle at a checkpoint in the town of Mbiama, on the border between Rivers State and Bayelsa State in the early hours of March 29, 2020, and one officer used a knife to cut one of the vehicle’s tyres in a fit of rage.

 “When I got to Mbiama, some soldiers staying there did not allow us (The PUNCH and The Nation) to pass. I made an attempt to appeal to the soldiers to allow us to continue our journey, but one of them became very angry and attacked the company’s car,” the online edition of The PUNCH quoted the driver of the vehicle, Sunkanmi Olusola, as saying.

“They also stopped ThisDay truck carrying newsprint from coming into the state,” reported the driver, who said he ran away in fear when the soldier went for the knife.

He later replaced the damaged tyre with a spare one and continued his journey, but missed the delivery schedules, The PUNCH reported.

These violations have been condemned by several press freedom organisations. The MFWA also condemns these violations, which undermine the media’s ability to carry out its constitutional duties effectively. At this critical moment when the public is in dire need of information about developments surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the least expected of a state agency is cooperation. We therefore call on the Nigerian authorities to investigate these incidents and bring the culprits to book. We further urge the Nigerian government to take steps to end the growing impunity for attacks on journalists and the media.

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