On February 25 and March 18, 2023, Nigeria held its much-anticipated general elections tipped to be a watershed in the history of its 24-year democracy. There was a lot of enthusiasm for the election, especially among the country’s youth, but this keenness and all the global attention that the election got could not save it from being marred with chaos, rigging, violence and killings. In the end, the 2023 presidential elections in Nigeria went into the history books as the most controversial since the country’s return to democracy in 1999.
In the details of the murderous chaos that characterized the election, there was also a plethora of press freedom violations, including physical attacks on journalists, the bombing of broadcast stations, and the government sanctioning and or issuing threats against media houses.
MFWA has reports on the various press freedom incidents that were recorded during the election. In most cases, these violations were perpetrated with blatant impunity. However, as has been reported by the International Press Center (IPC), the Media Foundation for West Africa’s (MFWA) partner organisation in Nigeria, no perpetrators were brought to book.
- Before February 25, 2023 elections
On February 21, four days before the presidential election, hoodlums threw an explosive device into a building housing privately owned radio station Wish FM and Atlantic Television network, destroying their generating sets and a 500-kilovolt amp transformer. The incident reportedly took place at 8:45 pm local time in Ozuoba, Obio Akpor local government area of Rivers State.
The media outfits are owned by a politician belonging to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chinyere Igwe, who is also a member of Nigeria’s lower federal legislative chamber, the House of Representatives.
Rivers State police spokesperson, Grace Iringe-Koko, in a statement said an investigation had commenced and that “the culprits will be hunted down and made to face the full wrath of the law.”
On February 22, 2023, about 20 supporters of the PDP physically assaulted Jonathan Ugbal, editor of the privately owned news site CrossRiverWatch. The journalist was covering a protest by youths of the Ikot Abasi Obori community in Calabar, the capital of Cross River State.
- During February 25 elections
On February 25, a journalist with The PUNCH newspaper, Gbenga Oloniniran, was arrested by a team of policemen near the residence of Governor Nyesom Wike in Rumuiprikon, Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, Rivers State.
According to the newspaper, Oloniniran, who was on election coverage duty, was taking photos of a scene where policemen were arresting some youths at a polling unit when the operative pounced on him. Without hearing from him, the operatives seized the journalist’s phone, assaulted him and bundled him into their van.
Oloniniran said the policeman pointed a gun at him and that he had to lie on the ground with his face down. He said he was beaten while in the van and that the policemen deleted the pictures he took.
“Why are you capturing us? Who are you? What do you want to do? Come here, go inside the vehicle,” the journalist recalled the policemen asking him.
Oloniniran said he was released hours later after Grace Iringe-Koko, the Rivers State police command spokesperson, got wind of the matter.
In Lagos, security forces believed to be from the Department of State Services (DSS) deleted folders containing pictures from the phone of Adesola Ikulajolu. The reporter who works with the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) was moving between polling stations for coverage, when the officers allegedly interrogated him about his work and then went on to erase the photographs.
In Duguri town, south-eastern Bauchi state, police officers arrested and detained Publisher of WikkiTimes, Haruna Salihu Mohammed. The journalist was interviewing a group of local women who were protesting against the governor at the polling centre, a protest the governor claimed was to undermine his re-election bid. The governor also claimed that Salisu was hired by the opposition in the state to report negatively about him and ruin his chances at the poll. Though these claims were not proven, the governor got the journalist arrested, detained and charged with incitement of the disturbance of public peace in contravention of Section 114 of the Penal Code.
On the same day, a horde of thugs in the Gwagwalada local government area, physically assaulted Executive Director of the not-for-profit, International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Dayo Aiyetan, who was covering the election in the area.
The assailants tore Aiyetan’s clothes and stole his phone, purse and other belongings. The journalist said one man tried to stab him, but he managed to defend himself. After reporting the case to the police in Gwagwalada, Aiyetan has recovered his car key and phone but with content deleted.
Hoodlums believed to be supporters of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) physically attacked Ajayi Adebola, a reporter with the media outlet, Peoples Gazette. The journalist was on assignment at a polling station in Orile-Oshodi Ward in the central suburb of Oshodi, Lagos.
The irate thugs seized Adebola’s mobile phone and deleted from it, photographs she had taken. The hoodlums had been pestering voters to vote for Bola Tinubu, and taken offense at their actions being filmed.
In another incident, youths in Ibadan, Oyo state, attacked a crew of two reporters and a driver of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
According to sources, the angry youths lamented the hardship they were experiencing due to the scarcity of fuel and new naira notes. They said that the government should have solved these issues instead organizing elections.
The youths, therefore, decided to prevent anyone from voting or participating in any electoral activity in the area insisting that the government should have addressed these issues before holding elections.
In the town of Agbor in Delta State, a group believed to belong to the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), physically assaulted Bolanle Olabimtan, a reporter with the private news website TheCable. The journalist’s phone was also seized and her photos and video deleted before the phone was returned to her.
Another group believed to be supporters of the PDP abused five reporters in three separate incidents in Sagbama, a council area in the state of Bayelsa.
In the first case, Daily Post newspaper correspondent, Akam James, was beaten and slapped in the voting area while taking covering the voting processes.
In the second incident, Publisher of Upfront news magazine, Princewill Sede, and his managing editor, Jeany Metta, were physically assaulted. The attackers also destroyed a camera belonging to the journalists.
In the last case of abuse, Television Continental (TVC) reporter, Joe Kunde, and camera operator, Miebi Bina, were also barred from covering the elections and sacked from the community.
- After February 25, 2023 elections
On March 18, the crew of privately owned broadcast station, Arise News comprising reporter, Oba Adeoye, cameraman Opeyemi Adenihun and driver Yusuf Hassan – were attacked while flying a drone to cover film stations at the Elegushi Palace in Lagos, considered to be the stronghold of the ruling APC.
Arise News said Adenihun suffered facial injuries as a result of the attacks carried out by political thugs even as the crew’s drone and other equipment were seized. The crew was later taken to an undisclosed location but subsequently released. Lagos police said the matter was being investigated.
On the same day, Chibuike Chukwu, a reporter of the privately owned news website Independent, alleged that he was barred by two officials of INEC from taking pictures and videos at a polling centre in Lagos.
On March 18, a crew of African Independent Television (AIT) was harassed by political thugs while they were covering the governorship and state legislative elections at some locations in three local government areas in Lagos, namely Eti-Osa, Ifako-Ijaiye and Amuwo Odofin.
The crew comprised Henrietta Oke, Amarachi Amushie and Nkiru Nwokedi. Nwokedi’s phone was seized but was later retrieved with the help of some security agents while Amushie was manhandled by the thugs and her camera destroyed.
Edwin Philip, who heads the news and current affairs department of Breeze 99.9 FM, a privately owned radio station in Lafia, the capital city of Nasarawa state in north-central Nigeria, was assaulted by thugs as well as security agents while covering the disruption of the electoral process at a polling centre. The assault led to Philip being injured on his left wrist.
Abiodun Jamiu, who reports for the CJID, was harassed at a polling centre in Bodinga, the headquarters of the Bodinga local government area of Sokoto state, in northwestern Nigeria.
Jamiu told local media that he was approached by some men at the polling centre who asked him to identify himself. After identifying himself as a journalist, Jamiu said the men asked him to leave the scene to avoid being beaten. He said he was eventually chased out of the polling centre.
Another reporter covering the poll for CJID, Richard Ekeke, was attacked for taking shots of an alleged vote buying incident in the Esit Eket local government area in Akwa Ibom. His tag was snatched and torn by an angry mob that later broke his phone screen. The journalist was slapped and punched by the angry mob.
Adejoke Adeleye, a reporter of the privately owned news outlet, PM News, was attacked by a mob when she was covering the governorship election at Itori Odo in Abeokuta South local government area, Ogun state, in southwestern Nigeria. Adeleye said the mob also attacked her fellow journalists as well as officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the country’s election umpire. At least nine other reporters were also attacked during the incident.
Ashiru Umar, a journalist with the privately owned Premier Radio, was attacked by some persons who accused him of filming them without their consent. The thugs reportedly beat Umar with sticks and stones and attempted to stab him with a knife. They then seized and destroyed Umar’s phone. The incident happened at a polling centre in Galadanchi, a town in Kano state.
A police officer, simply identified as Isah, reportedly threatened to arrest journalists covering the election at Sapele Road in Benin, Edo state, in southern Nigeria. The “offence” of the journalists, according to Isah, was that they drove in a convoy.
Despite the fact that the journalists identified themselves as such, Isah insisted they were on illegal duty since they did not have a police escort.
In a briefing later, Isah said the journalists should have stayed at a spot to do their job and not move around as they did.
When he was told that journalists were free to move around on election day to report from different locations, Isah described the journalists as “illiterates.” Apparently, the journalists took exception to this statement and cautioned Isah. In response, the police officer threatened to arrest one of the journalists, Ozioruva Aliu of the Vanguard newspaper.
In Ikeja, the capital of Lagos state, a group of unidentified thugs harassed and forced out of a polling unit Ima Elijah, a reporter with the privately owned news website Pulse.ng. Ima was accompanied by her camera operator when the thugs, prevented them from covering the elections in the area insisting that the voting process in the area should not be captured live or recorded.
On March 19, a day after the governorship election, four security agents reportedly barred six journalists – including Stephen Enoch of Plus TV Africa, Ayo Adenaiye of Arise TV, and James Oche, a Bayero University Kano (BUK) campus journalist– from reporting activities at a result collation centre in the city of Kano.
The journalists claimed that an INEC official ordered the security agents to prevent them from accessing the centre. They added that the official had a list of journalists they excluded from entering the collation centre.
MFWA is highly disturbed by the press freedom violations recorded during the 2023 elections and urges the Nigerian authorities to thoroughly investigate the various incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice. It is worrying that press freedom is being suppressed at the turn of almost every election cycle in Nigeria, with journalists particularly suffering attacks without anything being done to bring the perpetrators to book.
Elections and press freedom are both essential elements of the democratic process, and under no circumstance should the rights of journalists involved in the democratic process be trampled upon. The Nigerian government should, therefore, ensure that there is deterrence by making the violators account for their actions. The government should also ensure it provides a conducive and safe environment for journalists to freely report at all times.