Attacks on journalists and freedom of expression persist, #SayNoToSocialMediaBill campaign

Peaceful Assembly

Prayer marches against the killings of and violence against Christians

On 2nd February 2020, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) organised nationwide protest marches - 'prayer walks' - following the murder of Lawan Andimi, a local CAN chairman in Adamawa State, by Boko Haram. Marchers carried posters that read: Nigerian Christians are under attack and other slogans calling for the government to act and protect religious groups in the country. The protesters demanded that the federal government and the country's security agencies stop the rising tide of killings of and violence against members of the Christian community in Nigeria. The Catholics Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) later called on Catholics across the country to wear black attire on Ash Wednesday, 26th February, to commemorate and mourn the victims of violence, kidnappings, and killings. 

According to local reports, terrorist attacks from Islamist insurgents, as well as clashes between Muslim herdsmen and Christian farmers, resulted in more than 100 deaths in January 2020 alone. The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) called on President Buhari to "decisively combat the prevailing impunity for killings and to ensure international accountability," as well as improve efforts to free hostages held in captivity by Boko Haram in Nigeria. 

Islamic Movement of Nigeria protest dispersed, journalist killed

On 21st January 2020, police reportedly used live ammunition to disperse  a protest of members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), killing journalist Alex Ogbu in the crossfire (see incident under Expression section). Police initially claimed that Ogbu died as a consequence of hitting his head on a stone while running during the protest. However, the autopsy report revealed that Ogbu died from a gunshot wound. As reported previously, IMN has been protesting against the ongoing detention of their leader, Sheik Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, who has been held without charge since 2015, despite a Federal High Court order for his immediate release made in December 2016. 

Women's right groups protests against police brutality 

Protests by women's right groups were organised following the assault on lawyer and woman human rights defender (WHRD) Goodness Ibangah in Enugu state on 30th January 2020. On 27th January, Ibangah, who works for Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL), accompanied a young woman to the Enugu State Police Area Command to file a rape report. According to the WHRD, police tried to pressure her to withdraw the complaint and instead have an out-of-court settlement. A few days later, on 30th January, police raided the WACOL offices and threatened and beat Ibangah. Another staff member was reportedly also attacked while trying to intervene. 

On 6th February, a coalition of women's groups protested against the attack on Ibangah in Abuja, where they held placards with slogans calling for an end to police brutality against WHRDs and for justice for rape victims. Previously, on 3rd February, women's rights groups and civil society had similarly protested in Enugu.


From October 2019 to April 2020, the following attacks on freedom of expression were documented:

  • On 30th January, the Department of State Services stormed the Borno State Secretariat of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Maiduguri and arrested journalist Tunji Omirin of the Daily Trust for posting a story on the Boko Haram insurgency. The journalist was detained and interrogated for three hours before he was released with a warning. The Media Foundation of West Africa (MFWA) condemned the arrest.
  • On 15th January, Maxwell Nashan, a journalist for the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, was murdered in Adamawa State. The Nigerian Union of Journalist declared one-week mourning for Nashan's death. The Committee for Protection of Journalists urged the Nigerian authorities to thoroughly investigate and bring the murderers to justice. The chair of the Nigerian Union of Journalists and the Media Foundation of West Africa also urged the police to find the person or people responsible for the journalist's murder.
  • On 28th January, Alex Ogbu, a journalist for the Regent Africa Times was shot dead by police in Abuja. The incident occurred when the journalist passed by the site of a Shiite Muslim protest in Abuja. After the incident, the police initially denied their involvement and claimed that Ogbu hit his head on a stone while running during the protest. An autopsy report revealed that the journalist died from a bullet wound to his head.
  • On 25th January, two journalists, Godwin Sunday and Edidiong Udobia, were attacked while covering the rerun senate election in Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria. Godwin Sunday was assaulted and his camera destroyed by supporters of the minister and candidate of the election. According to Sunday, his assailants told him not to document the elections. On the same day at a polling station, Udobia was also attacked by supporters of a local candidate. 
Journalists face cyberattacks and threats

On 29th February 2020, Samuel Ogundipe and Musikilu Mojeed with the Premium Times were forced into hiding after receiving several cyberattacks and threats of arrest from the Department of State Service (DSS) for publishing a story on an alleged power struggle between President Muhammadu Buhari’s heads of security. 

The International Press Centre (IPC), Reporters Without Borders, Premium Times and the MFWA condemned the threats against the journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalist called on the Nigerian authorities to ensure that the journalists are safe and free from any form of intimidation. 

On 13th February 2020, Agba Jalingo, publisher of the Cross River Watch newspaper, was granted 10 million Naira (about USD 27,300) bail after having been on trial for treason. As reported previously on the Monitor, Jalingo was arrested on 22nd August 2019 in Lagos and taken to Calabar, River State in relation to an article published on 17th July 2019 alleging the involvement of the Governor of Rivers State, Benedict Ayade, in diverting funds allocated for the creation of a micro finance bank. Jalingo was also accused of terrorism for allegedly being involved in the #RevolutionNow movement.

#SayNoToSocialMediaBill campaign against adoption of bills further restricting freedom of expression

Civil society in Nigeria has campaigned and mobilised against the adoption of the 2019 Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and other Related Offences Bill and the Hate Speech Bill. The first bill would make statements on social media which may ‘diminish public confidence’ in the government or compromise national security punishable by a fine and/or three-year prison sentence. If passed, it would allow the authorities to order a shutdown of internet access and social media. On 12th November 2019, the hate speech bill, with restrictive provisions such as a prohibition on 'abusive, threatening and insulting behaviour', was reintroduced in the Senate. Seun Bakare of Amnesty International Nigeria said in relation to the bills: 

“Social media is one of the last remaining places where Nigerians can express their opinions freely. The harassment of journalists and bloggers and the introduction of the Cyber Crimes Act have already shrunk the civic space and created a climate of fear."

Adeboye Adegoke of Nigerian NGO Paradigm Initiative told Al Jazeera

“The Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill … is a backdoor approach to silence critical voices in Nigeria.[It is a] dangerous path to tread … [and] will serve to provide a legitimate justification for many illegitimate things that the Nigerian government already do."

The civil society campaign includes an online petition #SayNoToSocialMediaBill on Twitter and protests organised on 27th November 2019 in Lagos and Abuja. According to news reports, police officers prevented protesters with #FreeSowore and #FreeBakare signs from joining the main group of protesters, and confiscated the camera of a journalist who was filming the police action. The camera was later returned. 


Pro-democracy activist Omoyele Sowore released on bail

Pro-democracy activist and founder of online investigative media outlet Sahara Reporters Omoyele Sowore was finally released on bail on 24th December 2019. He is still facing charges of treason, money laundering, and “cyberstalking”. As reported previously on the Monitor, the Department of State Security (DSS) arrested Sowore on 3rd August 2019 in Lagos after Sowore called for nationwide protests to demand good governance on 5th August 2019, under the banner #RevolutionNow or 'Days of Rage'. 

Reduced sentence for Citizens Action to Take Back Nigeria coordinator

On 20th March 2020, a three-member panel of the Court of Appeal in Abuja led by Justice Muhammed Idris reduced the sentence of Ibrahim Wala, a civil society activist and national coordinator for the Citizens Action to Take Back Nigeria, from 12 to six years. Wala was sentenced to 12 years in prison for Facebook posts on financial corruption within the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria. The Media Foundation West Africa (MFWA) welcomed the activist's reduced prison sentence.

LGBTI+ in Nigeria: arrests, 'conversion therapy'

Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world for LGBTI+ persons. The government signed the same-sex marriage prohibition act into law in 2014. According to the Initiative for Equal Rights in Nigeria, the law allows the police to target and abuse members of the LGBTI+ community. On 2nd January 2020, the Hisbah - Islamic police who enforce Sharia Law - arrested 15 LGBTI+ graduates from Bayero University Kano in northern Nigeria. The graduates were being held at a correctional facility, where they would be forced to change their orientation. In December 2019, a gay man was forced into a conversion therapy in Nigeria, where he was flogged 14 times a day. In an interview with the BBC, the victim indicated that he is viewed as "an abomination" in his community.