Press freedom in Nigeria: The spiral of repression continues in 2024

Journalists and critical voices in Nigeria continue to face challenges in carrying out their duties and, or, expressing their opinions. From attacks on journalists to threats against media practitioners, these incidents highlight the necessity to discourage press freedom and freedom of expression violations by holding the perpetrators accountable.

Physical Attacks

On March 4, 2024, the police arrested activist Abdulganiu Olushipo after he had shared information on a WhatsApp platform detailing the alleged budgetary allocations received by Lagos Mainland Local Government. The activist’s demand for transparency and good governance from the local government chairperson, Omolola Essien, via the WhatsApp platform reportedly angered the chairperson, leading to accusations of cyberstalking and cyberbullying, ultimately resulting in his arrest.

His arrest sparked immediate protests by local youths and other groups, who accused the local government chairperson of orchestrating his arrest in response to his posts. Following public pressure, Olushipo was released on March 5, 2024, from the Surulere police station cell.

On February 23, 2024, a court Registrar and some policemen at the Federal High Court in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, barred journalists from covering the arraignment of a former governor of the State, Dr. Abdulfattah Ahmed, allegedly on ‘orders from above.’ Efforts by Dele Oyewale, spokesman of Ilorin Zonal Command of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), eventually persuaded authorities to permit journalists entry into the court premises. However, even after gaining access, journalists were prohibited from covering the proceedings, raising concerns about transparency and access to information.

On February 23, 2024, soldiers from the Nigerian Army brutalised and arrested Dele Fasan, the South-South Bureau Chief of Galaxy Television. Fasan was recording a video footage of a labour protest over economic hardship in Uvwie, a suburb of the city of Warri, when one of the soldiers asked him to hand over his phone. Despite presenting his press ID, he was arrested and detained for an hour. The soldiers deleted the images he had recording.

Eyewitnesses reported that the soldiers physically assaulted the journalist, hitting him with their gun before handcuffing him. Fasan was released and his handcuffs removed after the intervention of the police boss and his colleagues, who appealed to the Army Commander, Major A.E Ohegbe.

On February 17, 2024, journalists covering the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship primary election in Edo State were attacked by suspected political thugs. Despite the presence of the State Commissioner of Police, Funsho Adeboye, and some party officials at the centre, the attackers continued their rampage unchecked.

Among the victims assaulted were Fortune Oyem, a reporter with the state-owned Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, Bernard Akede from News Central TV, Abraham Godwin, a journalist with Arise TV, as well as cameramen from the state-owned Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN). As they fled from the assailants, most of the victims lost or had their equipment seized or damaged.

Similarly, on February 9, 2024, the defendants accused of killing the Village Head of Lambata in Niger State, Alhaji Muhammad Abdulsafur, assaulted and threatened journalists covering the proceedings. The suspects pounced on cameramen from Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Niger State Television (NSTV) and some journalists that were recording the event at the premises. They warned reporters of severe consequences if they continued reporting on the trial, emphasising that they were prepared to take action against any journalist who disregarded their warning. It took the intervention of the Court Registrar and legal counsel to diffuse the situation and ensure the safety of the journalists.

Death Threats

Threats against journalists are also a major concern. For instance, Ebule Anthony Metsese Editor-In-Chief of Fresh Angle International, an online newspaper, has raised concerns about repeated threats to his life stemming from contentious events in Warri, Delta State. Metsese highlighted the most recent threat, linked to an incident in Okere community on March 2, 2024.

The journalist stated that despite his decision not to publish the event in his community, he received warnings that he would face severe consequences if he reported on the incident. These threats, he claimed, were linked to the support his newspaper, Fresh Angle International, receives from certain individuals. Metsese noted that some of these individuals occasionally patronise his newspaper through proxies while making derogatory remarks about its professional integrity in private and social settings.

Similarly, Sufuyan Ojeifo, publisher of The Conclave, an online newspaper, has accused Mr. Ehiozuwa Johnson Agbonayinma, a Federal Commissioner with the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), of issuing threats to his life following Ojeifo’s report on leadership transitions within the Bureau. This accusation was made through a petition to the Area Court 1, Kubwa, Abuja, filed on December 29, 2023. In the petition, Ojeifo sought the court’s intervention to have the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) FCT Police Command, Garki, Abuja, investigate his complaint of threat to life against Agbonayinma.

The court, in response to Ojeifo’s petition, directed the police to conduct a thorough investigation in accordance with Section 89(50) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015. This directive was conveyed through a referral for investigation endorsed by the court registrar on December 29, 2023. The Police Force CID acknowledged receipt of the court’s referral on January 12, 2024.

The numerous incidents of violence, intimidation, and harassment against journalists and critical voices in Nigeria are deeply concerning. The assaults, such as the brutal attack on Abdulganiu Olushipo and the harassment of Dele Fasan and Bunmi Adigun, are clear violations of press freedom and must not be tolerated.

These violations, and others recorded in Nigeria in the first quarter of 2024, are concerning, as they underline a trend of repression in the country. Nigeria recorded 12 out of a total of 39 violations reported in West Africa in the last quarter of 2023, according to the monitoring report produced by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA).

It is imperative that journalists are able to carry out their duties, and indeed, all Nigerians are able to express their opinions including dissenting or unpopular views on issues of national interest, without fear of violence, intimidation or censorship.

In this regard, we urge the government, as a first step, to comply with the landmark judgment delivered by a Federal High Court in Abuja on February 16, 2024, directing the Federal Government to investigate attacks against journalists and prosecute perpetrators.

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