NIGERIAN journalists are at the mercy of politicians and security agents under President Muhammadu Buhari government, according to a newly-launched report.
Police and State Security Service (SSS) hound, arrest, detain and prosecute journalists on trumped-up charges and they kill some of the media practitioners in the process, the report said.
Four journalists were killed in separate incidents in 2017 and four others between then and 2020, said the report titled, “The State of Media Freedom in Nigeria.”
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) produced the report, funded by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).
The report was launched recently with support from Hewlett Foundation in Abuja.
According to it, at least 300 violations affecting about 500 journalists occurred between 2016 and 2020 under Buhari.
It said Nigeria was fast gaining notoriety for its failure to tackle impunity among state agents and politicians against journalists, including the killing of journalists.
The report listed Ikechukwu Onubogu, a cameraman with the Anambra Broadcasting Services; Lawrence Okojie, a journalist with the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) in Edo State; Famous Giobaro, a desk editor with Glory FM in Bayelsa State; and freelance broadcaster Abdul Ganiyu Lawal in Ekiti State as journalists that security officers killed in separate incidents in 2017.
Security officers killed four more journalists between 2018 and 2020, and the government had not clarified their death through any credible investigations, added the report.
A reporter with the Channels Television Precious Owolabi was among the latest four deaths.
Owolabi died of a bullet wound on July 22, 2019, while covering a protest by members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) in Abuja.
Alex Ogbu, another journalist with the Regent Africa Times newspaper, was shot on January 28, 2019, when security forces engaged members of the IMN. They were protesting the continued detention of their leader Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife Zeenah, in Abuja.
Maxwell Nashan, a journalist with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), was found dead on January 15, 2019, after kidnappers took him away from his house.
Pelumi Onifade covered the #EndSARS protests for Gboah TV, an online television channel. Onifade was allegedly attacked by security officers and taken away alongside a mob arrested by the Lagos State Task Force On October 24, 2020, the report said.
It added that about a week later, the body of the student journalist was found in a mortuary in Ikorodu Lagos, and his family lawyer said his body had bullet wounds.
Onifade was a 200-level student of the Department of History at the Tai Solarin University of Education, Ogun State, and an intern at Gboah TV.
Section 22 of Chapter 11 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, confers on the press, radio, television and other agencies of mass communication the obligation to uphold at all times, the fundamental objectives contained in the chapter, as well as uphold the responsibility of the government to the people.
Police and SSS arrested at least 16 journalists, some of who spent between six months and two years in detention, said the report.
Meanwhile, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice in Abuja ordered the Buhari government to pay one of the journalists Agba Jalingo N30 million on Friday.
The money is compensation for the ill-treatment and torture of Jalingo while in detention in Cross River State, the court ruled.
Jalingo spent 174 days in prisons and police cells for reporting that Cross River Governor Ben Ayade diverted N500 million state fund.
Hoodlums and state agents physically assaulted 16 journalists, while about five media houses came under attack during the period, including other violations on the profession.
“Clear signals indicate that such killings (and attacks) are sponsored by desperate politicians and (or) high officeholders who had things they wished kept secret.”
It mentioned a former Minister of Aviation Fani Kayode who harassed a Daily Trust journalist and threatened to have him sacked by his employer after the journalist asked him a question he considered insulting last year.
The report said attacks on journalists occured even though they conflicted with international humanitarian law and the Nigerian legal system.
Security operatives ransacked some media houses to muzzle the media within the period under study, said the report.
The building housing Breeze FM, 99.9 in Lafia, Nasarawa State, was demolished by the administration of former Governor Umaru Al Makura because the government was not “comfortable with the coverage of the state by the station.”
On January 6, 2019, a team of armed security forces consisting of the Army, State Security Service and the police stormed the office of Daily Trust Newspapers in Abuja. They carried out a simultaneous operation at the media outlet’s offices in Lagos, Maiduguri and Lagos.
“For about four hours, the security officers ransacked the Abuja office and carried away computers and mobile phones. The soldiers revealed that they searched for the reporter who authored a story about a planned military operation against the Boko Haram insurgents.”
Similarly, the #ENDSARS protests consumed Television Continental (TVC) in Lagos after hoodlums attacked the station and burnt it down. The hoodlums also disrupted operations at the Nation Newspapers and Channels Television during the period.
The report said the attacks were in addition to an outrageous N5 million fine imposed by the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria on Nigeria Info FM for alleged hate speech.
The Nigeria Broadcasting Commission also imposed N3 million fine on three stations – Africa Independent Television, Channels Television, and Arise television for alleged unprofessional reportage on the #EndSARS protests.
“Clamping down on the media by the Muhammadu Buhari Government is a sign of weak democracy and a restive government,” said the report.
There has been a lack of political will by the government to take adequate measures to protect journalists better, noted the report.
There was also no measure on the ground to fully implement the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, which clearly states that “No one shall be subject to arbitrary interference with his or her freedom of expression.”
Botched Hate Speech Bill at the National Assembly and the failed attempt by the federal lawmakers to limit journalists’ access to cover proceedings at the National Assembly were part of the attempts the report said the Buhari-led government attempted to suppress the press.
Though the Buhari government has variously denied allegations of stifling free speech, it recently suspended Twitter indefinitely. The microblogging platform enabled over 40 million Nigerians to interact with the government, the public and the rest of the world. It is also a source of livelihood for many people in the country.
The government has also directed all social media operating in the country to register and pay tax to the government.