Journalist Jones Abiri finally released, media stakeholders reject Press Council Bill


Acquittal journalist Jones Abiri

On 15th August 2018, journalist Jones Abiri was released on bail after being detained for over two years by the Department of State Security (DSS) without being presented in court. Abiri, publisher and editor-in-chief of the newspaper Weekly Source, was arrested on 21st July 2016 by armed agents of the State Security Service at his office in Yenagoa, Bayelsa state. He was accused of being the leader of separatist group Joint Revolutionary Council of the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force in a statement sent by the security service to Nigerian journalists in July 2016. The security service also claimed that Abiri confessed to having bombed oil pipe lines, planning attacks in Nigeria's capital Abuja, having sent threatening messages to oil companies and being behind a hoax military coup. On 27th July 2018, Abiri was arraigned at a Chief Magistrate’s Court in Abuja, where he was charged with criminal intimidation for sending text messages to oil companies Agip and Shell demanding illicit payments. On 17th September 2018, the magistrate court in Abuja struck out Abiri's case on grounds that the alleged offense was committed outside of its jurisdiction. 

Meanwhile, the Abuja division of the Federal High Court in Abuja ruled, on 13th September, that the journalist's detention by the DSS was illegal and violated Abiri's fundamental rights. The Court ordered the government to pay Abiri 10 million Nigerian naira (27,400 USD) in damages. 

Journalist arrested

On 14th August 2018, officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad detained Premium Times journalist Samuel Ogundipe in Abuja for his refusal to reveal sources for an article he wrote based on a leaked report. The report, written by Inspector General of the Police, accuses the then Director-General of the Department of State Security (DSS) of violating the country's Constitution on 7th August 2018, when masked DSS officers barricaded the National Assembly and denied lawmakers access to the complex. The following day Ogundipe was arraigned in front of a court without having legal representation, with the court deciding to prolong his detention with five days. In a statement, the police accused the journalist of being in possession of a 'classified' document. On 16th and 17th August 2018, civil society activists, journalists and other protesters gathered in front of police headquarters in Abuja to demand the release of Ogundipe, who was released on 17th August 2018, after Magistrate Court in Kubwa (Abuja) granted the journalist bail. 

Radio station Fresh FM partly demolished

Radio station Fresh FM, based in Ibandan city, was partly demolished by bulldozers on 19th August 2018 on orders of the Oyo State government, according to Fresh FM staff who spoke with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). They believe the demolition order was related to their critical reporting on the state government. Previously on 3rd July, Fresh FM had received a letter from the Oyo state Office of the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, requesting a retraction and an apology letter for the broadcasting of a program alleging financial interest of the state governor in the company building a new slaughterhouse. State commissioner for information, culture and tourism Toye Arulogun commented that the demolition order relates to Fresh FM's breaching of planning laws. 

In a statement, human rights group Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said

"This is a gross abuse of powers by the Oyo State government and governor Ajimobi against a radio station simply doing their job. The action is politically motivated, patently arbitrary and entirely inconsistent with international human rights standards and national laws. The action amounts to executive rascality and seriously undermines the integrity and authority of our courts. This kind of action has no place in a democratic society that is based on the rule of law."

2018 Nigerian Press Council Bill criticised

Media stakeholders and journalists, such as the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Nigeria Press Organisation (NPO) condemned and rejected the 2018 Press Council Bill during a public hearing by a Senate Committee on 23rd July 2018, calling the bill 'draconian, unconstitutional, anti-people, anti-business and anti-free speech'. The bill, which was pushed through the Senate for a second hearing earlier this year, seeks to regulate journalism practice, and would repeal the 1992 Press Council Act. The advocates said that section 39 of the Constitution and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights prohibits the regulation of journalistic practice by the state. They further reiterated that the proponents of the bill:

"creates the impression that the Nigerian media community does not take the issues of ethics and self regulation seriously whereas it is a well known fact that the mechanisms actually exist including the Code of Conduct of Journalists in Nigeria, the Ethics Committees of the NUJ [National Union of Journalists] and NGE [Nigerian Guild of Editors] and the recently launched Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage endorsed by media stakeholders."

Prior to the hearing, Nigerian media stakeholders held a strategic meeting on 19th July 2018. On 27th July 2018, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) petitioned the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye. In its petition, SERAP said, among other:

"The bill reproduced some of the most repressive provisions of similar obvious laws known as the Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993 and the Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation Decree 4 of 1984. The then military government used Decree 4 to jail journalists. The bill seeks to establish the Nigeria Press Council to usurp the powers of the courts by assuming extra-judicial powers.”

Private media group accuses the national broadcasting regulator of intimidation

DAAR Communications PLC, owners of Africa Independent Television (AIT) and Raypower FM, accused the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the national broadcasting regulator, of intimidation and muzzling the constitutional right of freedom of expression, after having been fined a total of 1.5 million Naira (4,112 USD) in July 2018 for exceeding the allowed band occupancy limits and alleged breach of the National Broadcast Code for 'provocative, inflammatory and decisive comments' made during the Political Platform programme. Tony Akiotu, managing director of DAAR Communications, also stated that the NBC had at different times attempted to pressure them into toning down the vibrancy of the programme or remove its anchors, and requested to navigate the discourse of the programme. 


On 16th September 2018, humanitarian aid worker Saifura Hussaini Ahmed Khorsa was killed by Boko Haram, followed by the killing of Hauwa Liman on 16th October 2018. The two worked in a health center, supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Khorsa and Liman were abducted by militants of Boko Haram on 1st March 2018 in Rann, Borno State, together with Alice Loksha, who remains in captivity. Director of Amnesty International Nigeria Osai Ojigho said

"With yet another horrific killing of a humanitarian worker, Boko Haram has again demonstrated its brazen disregard for life. Hauwa Liman was providing desperately-needed humanitarian services to people affected by the conflict in the northeast of Nigeria. Her killing is a war crime. Under international humanitarian law, all aid workers must be protected from attack."

According to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), on 20th August 2018 thugs allegedly hired by Alhassan Ado Garba, a member of the House of Representatives for the Tudun-Wada/Doguwa constituency of Kano State, vandalised homes and vehicles belonging to members of the Tracka initiative, a community of citizens working on accountability for government projects. The initiative had been working on raising awareness on how public resources, allocated to the constituency, were spent. 

Peaceful Assembly

On 16th July 2018, a coalition of civil society groups protested at the United States Embassy in Abuja over the alleged rigging of the Ekiti State governorship elections held on 14th July. The group of over 20 young protesters , carrying banners such as  'Save Nigeria Democracy’ and ‘Nigerian democracy under threat', claimed that the elections were marred by irregularities, including by giving monetary incentives to voters. The protest ended after delivering a petition to US Ambassador Stuart Symington, requesting him to intervene in the 'dwindling state of democracy in Nigeria'.

On 1st August 2018, police officers tried to prevent a protest, organised by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), from moving to strategic places in Yola in Adamawa State. The protest was organised to condemn the killing and attacks of Christian communities in the herdsmen-farmer conflicts over fertile land. Clashes occurred when police officers prevented protesters from reaching the Government House, including by using tear gas, leading to several people injured. As previously reported on the Monitor, thousands people in several cities throughout the country took to the streets in May 2018 to condemn the violence and killing in the herdsmen-farmer conflicts.