Media protest controversial bills; five activists prosecuted for wearing #BuhariMustGo T-shirts

Demonstrators hold hands as they gather near the Lagos State House, Nigeria October 20, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja via Gallo Images

Expression

Information Blackout campaign: media protest against controversial media bills

On 12th July 2021, several major newspapers, including Premium Times, Vanguard, the Guardian, The Punch and the Daily Sun, covered their front page with an image of a man with a sealed mouth, captioned "Information Blackout", in protest against attempts by the government to regulate social media and censor the media. Television and radio stations and online media joined the protest by displaying the protest banner or playing jingles in support of the media campaign. In particular, the recent Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Nigerian Press Council Act (NPA) Amendment Bills were singled out by the media organisations as controversial bills attempting to increase press censorship. The NBC Amendment Act sought to widen the authority of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission to all "online media", while the NPC Act would allow for the government to appoint the majority of Board members of the Nigerian Press Council, which is tasked with overseeing the media and establishing a National Press and Ethical Code of Conduct and foresees fines and other punitive measures for media houses and journalists, such as suspension of journalists.

Following the Information Blackout campaign, Member of Parliament and sponsor of the bills Olusegun Odebunmi announced the suspension of the legislative process of the two bills so as to allow consultation with stakeholders. 

National broadcasting regulator NBC issues warnings, queries and summons

On 24th August 2021, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the broadcasting regulator, sent a query to privately-owned Channels TV regarding an interview during their morning programme Sunrise Daily deemed critical of President Buhari. The NBC said that the programme, which had the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom as a guest, contained "inciting, divisive and unfair comments which were not thoroughly interrogated by the anchors", considered by the NBC as violations of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code. The regulator requested the TV channel to send within 24 hours a response as to "why appropriate sanctions should not be applied for these infractions". NBC also reportedly summoned two Channels TV presenters - Chamberlain Usoh and Kayode Okikiolu - to its Abuja office. A few months ago, in April 2021, the NBC handed down a fine of 5 million naira (approx. 12,150 USD) to Channels TV over an interview with a spokesperson for the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a secessionist movement. Inspiration FM received a similar fine for having broadcast a IPOB statement declaring a sit-in order. In October 2020, Channels TV was already given a 3 million naira (7,285 USD) fine for their reporting on the #EndSars protests. 

On 7th July 2021, the NBC issued a letter to television and radio stations, calling for caution in their reporting on the security situation in the country. More specifically the regulator asked that they not divulge details of the security issues or the victims so as "not to jeopardise the efforts of the Nigerian soldiers and other security agents”, stop "glamorising the activities of insurgents, terrorists, kidnappers, bandits", and  advise "guests and/or analysts on programmes not to polarise the citizenry with divisive rhetoric, in driving home their point”. In response to the NBC directive, the CSO Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) sent an open letter, dated 17th July 2021, to President Buhari to ask for the withdrawal of the directive within 24 hours as 

"Reporting on the growing violence and killings in many parts of the country is a matter of public interest. The NBC directive to journalists and broadcast stations to stop reporting these cases, coupled with the possibility of fines and other punishment, would have a disproportionate chilling effect on the work of those seeking to hold the government accountable to the public.”

SERAP and the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (PTCIJ) filed a suit later in July 2021, asking the courts to declare the directive illegal.

Twitter suspension continues

As reported previously on the Monitor, Nigeria banned Twitter in June 2021 after the social media platform deleted a tweet from President Buhari and suspended his Twitter account for 12 hours for having violated the company's policies. At the time of writing, Twitter continued to be suspended, although authorities indicated they were close to an agreement with Twitter, which would see the platform functional in Nigeria again under certain conditions. 

The consolidated suits by CSOs challenging the Twitter ban was heard by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice on 29th September 2021. The judgement will be announced in January 2022. 

Assault of journalist covering court proceedings

Photojournalist for Vanguard newspaper, Oluwagbemiga Olamikan, was reportedly assaulted by agents of the State Security Services (SSS) - also known as the Department of State Services (DSS) - at the Federal High Court in Abuja on 2nd August 2021, while he was taking pictures of aides of Sunday Adeyemo, also known as Sunday Igboho, a separatist Yoruba leader arrested in July 2021 in neighbouring Benin. Although the DSS announced an investigation into the alleged assault, press freedom organisation Media Rights Agenda (MRA) said they had no confidence as any investigation by the DSS lacks independence and impartiality.  

ECOWAS court: journalist Agba Jalingo awarded compensation for ill-treatment and torture while in illegal detention

In a ruling on 9th July 2021, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice ordered the Federal Government of Nigeria to pay 30 million naira (72,900 USD) to journalist Agba Jalingo in compensation for the inhumane treatment and torture the journalist was subjected to while in arbitrary detention in Cross River State. The Court further stated that the Nigerian government had flouted the provisions in international human rights treaties on fair trial standards. 

As reported previously on the Monitor, the publisher of the online news outlet CrossRiverWatch was arrested on 22nd August 2021 and charged with treasonable felony and the disturbance of public peace a few days later over an article alleging the involvement of the Governor of Rivers State, Benedict Ayade in diverting funds allocated to the creation of a micro finance bank. Jalingo remained in detention in Calabar for 179 days until his release on bail on 13th February 2021. While in detention, the CSO SERAP filed a suit against the Nigerian government and the Rivers State Government over the journalist's arbitrary detention and unfair prosecution. 

Association

Activists spend 29 days in detention for wearing #BuhariMustGo t-shirts

On 4th July 2021, five activists wearing #BuhariMustGo t-shirts were arbitrarily detained while attending a church service at the Dunamis International Gospel Center in Abuja. The 'Dunamis 5' - Larry Emmanuel, Anene Victor Udoka, Samuel Gabriel, Henry Nwodo and Ben Mannaseh - were kept in the custody of the Department of State Services (DSS), Nigeria's secret police, for 29 days before their release on bail on 3rd August 2021. An order by the Federal High Court on 26th July 2021 to release the five activists was disregarded by the DSS, who kept the Dunamis 5 in custody and arraigned them on 29th July 2021 before a magistrate's court in Mpape, Abuja, where they were charged with "constituting themselves as vagabonds" to disturb public peace, which is punishable with three years in prison.

On 18th July 2021, some activists protested in front of the Masaka branch of the Dunamis church in Abuja to demand the release of the five. 

Peaceful Assembly

Independence Day: protests

On 1st October 2021, Nigeria's Independence Day, several protests took place throughout the country. #RevolutionNow held anti-government protests against bad governance and other grievances in Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan, Benin and Osogbo. In Osogbo, Osun State, security officers reportedly used tear gas against protesters and briefly detained 11 protesters. About 30 people were arrested in protests in Lagos, while The Punch's photojournalist Olukayode Jaiyeola was reportedly assaulted by the Lagos State Police command. In Ibadan, protesters were reported to have been dispersed. Protests were also reported in Rivers State. 

Separatist group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) ordered a sit-at-home in the South East Region, which was reportedly enforced (by IPOB) and observed in Enugu, Anambra and Imo states. IPOB's leader Nnamdi Kanu was arrested on 27th June 2021 abroad and faces treason and terrorism charges. 

Several reportedly killed during religious procession

On 28th September 2021, members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), a Shi'ite religious group banned in 2019, held a procession to mark the religious ritual of Arbaeen in Abuja when security forces attempted to stop the procession as they were causing “unnecessary hardship to motorists” along the Abuja-Kubwa expressway. According to IMN, eight people were shot dead during the police intervention. Police denied any casualties and claim that IMN members attacked security officers with stones and petrol bombs, resulting in the arrest of 57 people. 

As reported previously on the Monitor, IMN protests have often turned deadly. On 22nd July 2019, at least 11 protesters, a journalist and a police officer were killed and dozens injured during a IMN protest when clashes occurred and police officers reportedly fired live ammunition. On 27th and 29th October 2018, security forces used excessive force during IMN protests in Abuja and neighbouring Nasarawa state, leading to the killing of at least 45 people, according to research conducted by Amnesty International.

Students killed in protests

One student was reportedly killed and several injured by live ammunition in a student protest at the Plateau State Polytechnic in Jos on 20th September 2021 when security officers dispersed the protesters.  The students were protesting against the postponement of the examination, which was due to start on 20th September, resulting from a strike by lecturers. Students reportedly blocked the main highway. 

A few month earlier, on 28th June 2021, one student was killed and two injured during a protest against a fee increase at the Kaduna State College of Education in Jema'a Local Government Area, Kaduna State. Security forces were dispatched to the protest where they reportedly dispersed the students with violence. 

Yoruba Nation protest dispersed

On 3rd July 2021, security officers reportedly used tear gas and water cannon to disperse a Yoruba Nation protest, to demand an independent Yoruba state, at the Gani Fawehinmi Park in Lagos. Security officers, including Department of State Services (DSS) officers, were reportedly deployed in order to dissuade Yoruba Nation protesters from gathering. According to news reports, 48 protesters were arrested, 47 of whom were released on 27th July 2021 after having met bail conditions.