Journalists attacked, threatened, harassed as Nigeria holds general elections
General elections: at least 14 journalists detained, harassed or attacked
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 14 journalists and media workers were detained, threatened, harassed or physically attacked while covering Nigeria’s presidential and federal elections on 25th February 2023. These violations were perpetrated by non-state actors such as private individuals, political groups and security forces. Some of the incidents documented by CPJ include:
- The detention of WikkiTimes owner Haruna Mohammed Salisu on 25th February 2023 in Duguri town in Bauchi State, shortly after he and other reporters had met with the state governor. According to police, Salisu was placed in protective custody after supporters of the governor started to attack the journalist, who was reportedly interviewing a group of protesting women. Police later refused to release Salisu, and at the time of writing, he remained detained without formal charges.
- Executive director of the non-profit International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Dayo Aiyetan, was beaten by a group of men after they noticed the journalist filming them disrupting the voting in a polling station in Abuja. Aiyetan said one man tried to stab him.
- Journalist for the non-profit Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development Adesola Ikuljolo was reportedly questioned by security forces, which he believed were agents of the Department of State Services (DSS). He was questioned about his work, and images he took from polling stations in Lagos were deleted.
- In Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Gbenga Oloniniran, a reporter for newspaper Punch was detained and threatened by police, who drove him across town and deleted his photos before releasing him.
- Woman journalist Bolanle Olabimtan, who works for the news website The Cable, was punched and knocked over by a supporter of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Agbor town, Delta State. Another individual took her phone and deleted pictures and videos before returning the phone.
Ahead of the elections, on 22nd February 2023, about 20 individuals – supporters of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – hit and kicked journalist Jonathan Ugbal, editor of the news site CrossRiverWatch, as he was reporting on a conflict between political supporters and a community youth group outside a local PDP office in Calabar. The youth group reportedly went to the PDP office to call PDP lawmakers to improve roads and access to utilities. Some of the journalist’s devices were damaged in the violent attack, while one of his phones, some of his money, two of his bank cards and his office ID were seized by the attackers.
In the months preceding the nationwide elections, other violations have taken place. For example, journalist Mary Chinda of broadcaster Arise News, was injured while reporting after armed thugs attacked the convoy of PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubaka in Maiduguri, Borno State on 9th November 2022.
Government of Zamfara State orders shutdown of five broadcasters
On 15th October 2022, the government of Zamfara State ordered, with immediate effect, the shutdown of five broadcasters for alleged violation of professional ethics as they had shown coverage of a political rally organised by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – considered an “illegal political activity” by the state authorities. The affected broadcasters were: Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Gusau, Federal Radio Corporation, Pride FM Gusau, Al’umma TV, Gamji FM and TV. According to a report by Premium Times, the state government issued a statement the previous day, banning all political gatherings in Zamfara State, claiming a resurgence of terrorist activities. The political rally of PDP, held against the orders of the state’s government, ended in violent clashes between PDP supporters and supporters of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), in which at least one person was killed and at least 14 injured. A few days later, on 18th October 2022, after heavy criticism and pressure, the state government withdrew the order shutting down the five broadcasters. The CSO Media Rights Agenda (MRA) called the order “illegal, unconstitutional and an obscene abuse of power”.
At least 14 journalists and media workers were detained, harassed, or attacked while covering #Nigeria’s presidential and federal elections, including @wikkitimes owner @haruna_babale, who remains in police custody without charge.#NigeriaDecides2023 https://t.co/ogHL1Jjf66— CPJ Africa (@CPJAfrica) February 27, 2023
Several journalists detained
On 29th September 2022, police officers arrested journalist Ayodeji Adebayo, publisher of online newspaper Daily Metro News, at the offices of media outlet The Nation in Abuja, where he works as a freelance advertising executive. The arrest was reportedly related to a defamation complaint by politician Akinlayo Davidson Kolawole, All Progressives Congress (APC) Ekiti State candidate for the National Assembly, following the publication of an article by the Daily Metro News alleging that Kolawole had defrauded an oil magnate. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), who spoke with Adebayo, the story was taken offline on the same day as it was published after Adebayo received a request from an associate of the politican, as the story did not include Kolawole’s perspective. Adebayo had since attempted to interview Kolawole, which was never granted.
In a call with CPJ, Kolawole accused the journalist of having attempted to extort him for 30 million nairas (approximately 69,000 USD) in exchange for removing the report. Adebayo denies these accusations.
Adebayo was released on 5th October 2022 on the condition that he return to the police station for questioning.
In a separate development, journalist Ayodele Samuel spent two weeks in detention following his arrest on 27th November 2022, according to Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA). Samuel, publisher of newspaper Taraba Truth and Facts and chief executive officer for radio station Rock FM Jalingo, based in Taraba State, was reportedly arraigned before a magistrates’ court in Jalingo on charges of defamation and injurious falsehood in relation to reports published in the newspaper alleging corruption in the privatisation of Mambilla Beverages Company and the sale of the state’s liaison office in Abuja, which the prosecutor qualifies as false and which has defamed the Taraba State’s Governor. Although he was granted bail and met bail conditions, Samuel was not released until the Federal High Court ordered the state government to comply with the ruling of the Magistrates’ Court.
According to news reports, police officers in Kwara State arrested two journalists on 13th October 2022, reportedly on the instruction of the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Kwara State, Rafiu Ajakaiye, for comments made on a popular WhatsApp group. According to CPJ, the two siblings – Abdulrasheed Akogun, publisher of the online news site Fresh Insights, and Dare Akogun, who works for broadcaster Sobi 101.9 FM, were accused of ‘criminal conspiracy, defamation, inciting disturbance, injurious falsehood and cyberstalking for having alleged, in the WhatsApp group ‘Kwara Commission’, that Ajakaiye financially influenced a recent election of the new leadership of the local chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), an election in which Dare Akogun was a candidate. The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) said that the brothers were arrested after having been summoned by the Police’s Criminal Investigation Department and declined to write a letter of apology to Ajakaiye. On 19th October 2022, the two journalists were released on bail.
Journalist subjected to death threats
Journalist Saviour Imukudo, who works for online news site Premium Times, told CPJ that he had received threats, including death threats, in January 2023 following the publication of a story he wrote for the media outlet on a government-commissioned construction project in Akwa Ibom State. The threats were issued over the phone by the project manager, Andrew Okure, and another unidentified individual. Imukudo had contacted Okure for the first time on 24th December 2022 to ask him for comments on his report on the worsening conditions of 30 market stalls in the community of Abiakpo Nkap, whose renovation Okure had overseen. Okure reportedly became angry and ended the call. The day after the story was published, on 5th January 2023, Okure made the threatening call tto Imukudo. Subsequent calls by Okure were not responded to by the journalist. Okure denies he made the threats.
Protests over scarcity of fuel and new Naira notes
According to news reports, one protester was killed when protesters clashes with security forces in protests against the scarcity of fuel and new Naira notes in Ibadan, Oyo State, on 3rd February 2023. Military officers and police officers were deployed the following day, as protesters reportedly attacked the offices of the Governor of Oyo State. Protests also took place in other states, such as Delta, Osun and Lagos, while angry mobs also started to destroy ATMs, banks and gas stations. In Edo State, police fired tear gas at protesters as they attacked bank facilities.
There has been a cash shortage across Nigeria as a result of the redesigned currency, fuelling the anger of citizens. This comes on top of a fuel shortage, reportedly due to the disruption in the product distribution chain caused by the activities of cross-border smugglers.
#EndSARS protests two years on: over 40 protesters remain in prison
In a statement issued on 20th October 2022, Amnesty International said that the vast majority of protesters arrested during #EndSARS protests in October 2020 are still being arbitrarily detained without trial. Over 40 protesters remain in prison across Nigeria, often without trial, on trumped-up charges and are subjected to torture and ill-treatment. Osai Ojigho of Amnesty International commented:
“Two years ago, the Nigerian army and police killed at least 12 people at Lekki toll Gate and in Alausa, Lagos State, while pro-government armed groups deliberately instigated violence at many #EndSARS demonstrations in other parts of the country to serve as a pretext for the police to use lethal force on peaceful protesters. Rather than bringing those responsible for the attacks on protesters to justice, the authorities have engaged in a series of bizarre denials and cover-ups.”