Guinea’s unrelenting attacks against demonstrators in November 2019 resulted in four fatalities, while Nigeria continued on its downward spiral with a series of freedom of expression (FOE) violations against a dozen journalists and several protesters in one of the most repressive months for FOE this year.
On November 4, Guinea’s security forces renewed its knotty relations with demonstrators by fatally shooting two people as they opened fire on a cortege accompanying the coffins of 11 people who had been killed from police brutalities during demonstrations on October 14-16, 2019.
Some youths among the mourners are said to have erected barricades and begun burning tyres to express their anger. The police threw tear gas to disperse them and the youth responded with stones, followed by water cannons and gunshots from the police, leading to a breakdown of order. In the end, two of the mourners died.
Two days after the attack, security forces in Guinea killed two more protesters in Conakry. Mamadou Bela Baldé had just emerged from his house to join the crowd in the company of three others when he was hit in the head by a bullet fired by the military. One of his colleagues, Mamadou Alimou Diallo, was also fatally hit in the chest in the Conakry suburb of Wanidara on November 6.
While Guinea made the headlines for the fatalities it recorded among demonstrators, Nigeria also plunged into the abyss with a series of assaults, threats and detention of journalists and protesters.
Twelve journalists were physically attacked, threatened or detained in separate incidents in Nigeria. The first incident happened on November 7 when security officers attached to Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, assaulted Abayomi Adeshida, a photojournalist with the private newspaper, Vanguard. The officers from the Department of State Security (DSS) attacked the journalist for taking pictures of the Vice President during an exhibition at the State House Banquet Hall. Adeshida sustained injuries and his camera was damaged.
On November 9, some thugs suspected to be henchmen of the Government of Edo State brutalised anti-government protesters and a journalist covering the attacks. The thugs who were clad in t-shirts with the inscription “Vigilante Edo Government House,” attacked Jomoh Ogirima of Rave Television and destroyed his camera.
On November 12, armed operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS) attacked two journalists who were reporting on a crackdown on protesters demanding the release of detained journalist and political activist, Omoyele Sowore.
The DSS operatives attacked Stanley Ugochukwu, a reporter of Arise TV, and seized his camera. They also subjected Oludare Richards of The Guardian newspaper to severe beating. Richards emerged from the assault with a head wound and several bruises on his arm.
The security officers assaulted Yemi Adamolekun, an activist who runs the pressure group Enough Is Enough Nigeria, after they saw her filming the crackdown. The officers also seized and destroyed her mobile phone.
The DSS operatives had descended on the protesters with rods, tear gas and live ammunition, and were determined to prevent the media from reporting on the crackdown.
A number of violations against the media were also recorded during the State Governors’ elections held on November 16 in Kogi and Bayelsa States. Some thugs attacked four journalists, threatened and prevented others from reporting on the elections.
A group of thugs threw stones at Tobi Kusimo and David Bello from Splash FM radio station when the journalists tried to interview a polling officer at Aiyetoro Gbede, a town in Kogi State.
At Anyigba, also in Kogi State, another mob surrounded the vehicle of Sam Egwu, a journalist with the privately-owned The Nation newspaper and Sunday Amachi, a reporter with the government-owned Kogi State Radio, as the two arrived at a polling station. The mob, whose motive was not immediately known, pelted the car with stones, forcing the journalists to retreat.
At another polling station in Dekina, Bayelsa State, some journalists of African Independent Television covering the elections were attacked by thugs.
Several journalists covering the November 16 elections in Nigeria also received threats. In one instance, police officers threatened and forced Chinedu Asadu, a reporter of The Cable online newspaper, to flee a polling station. The police accosted Asadu while he was filming a politician giving money to a group of women voters. They seized the journalist’s phone and accused him of attempting to discredit the elections. Asadu fled when his phone was returned to him amidst curses and threats from the police.
In another incident, four unidentified individuals wielding canes and bottles intercepted Adejumor Kabir, a reporter with the Premium Times newspaper and ordered him to turn back. Kabir, who was heading to the head office of Independent National Electoral Commission in Bayelsa State to cover the collation of the election results, was forced to abandon the trip under threat of violence from the mob.
Another journalist, Lolafunke Ogunbolu, who works with Africa Independent Television, reported that a group of armed men threatened to beat her after they saw her filming their assault on a woman at a polling station in Aiyetoro Gbede in Kogi State.
In Opolo, also in Bayelsa State, youths suspected to be loyal to one of the two major political parties, charged at some journalists and observers, forcing them to flee. The armed youths also brandished weapons openly, scaring voters away.
In the Gambia, two youth groups affiliated to Gambian President Adama Barrow assaulted three journalists who were covering the President’s “Meet the People Tour” on November 21. The members of the Barrow Youth Movement and Barrow Fans Club assaulted Ebrahim Jambang of The Gambia Talent Promotion Media, Sally Jobe of Kerr Fatou, and Landing Ceesay of Paradise FM, for filming their angry complaints and destroyed the cameras of Jambang and Cessay.
In the only case of arbitrary detention, the police in Lagos detained Dipo Awojobi, editor of First Weekly Magazine on November 8, after a ruling party politician lodged a defamation complaint against the journalist. Awojobi was said to have been moved to Abuja after he spent the night of November 8 in police cells at Area ‘F’ Command Headquarters in Ikeja, Lagos.
Guinea made some amends with two important court decisions that constituted a boost for press freedom and freedom of expression.
In the first instance, the Supreme Court on November 28 ordered the media regulator, Haute autorite de la communication (HAC), to restore the licenses of two radio stations that had been closed down for installing their transmitters at an authorised location.
On the same day (November 28), the Court of Appeal in Conakry provisionally released members of the political pressure group, Front National pour la Defense de la Constitution (FNDC) who were serving various prison terms for organising recent anti-government demonstrations. The FNDC leaders, including a former minister of state, were convicted in October in connection with a demonstration they had called to be staged in Conakry on October 14.