A survey conducted by The ICIR on Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation in Nigeria has revealed that 40 organisations have been sued for reporting or advocating about issues of public concern in the last 12 months.
The survey, which had 141 respondents comprising media organisations, journalists and civic advocates, further showed that some of these affected organisations received up to 10 lawsuits within one year.
The suit would require the organisation to either reveal its source of information, retract a report published or pay a ‘damage fee’ running into millions of naira. The data showed that only 14 out of the 40 organisations (35 per cent) have the capacity to defend themselves against frivolous suits.
In Nigeria, there have been several attempts to clamp down on the media and civic space. In 2020, The ICIR reported how 160 journalists were attacked in two years. This placed the county at 115th of 180 countries on the Global Press Freedom Index.
Two years after, the country had dropped to 129 out of 180 countries in the press freedom ranking compiled by Reporters without borders. Also, The ICIR reported how 63 journalists and three media houses suffered diverse forms of attacks in 2022.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists database, at least 33 journalists have been jailed, while 12 journalists have been killed between 1992 and 2023 despite the proclamation of press freedom in 1993.
Analysing the survey
Of the 40 organisations that were sued, 23 representing 57.5 per cent had the capacity to defend themselves against these frivolous suits; 13 out of which had an organisation size of 1-100 employees.
Meanwhile, the survey also showed that 13 out of the 40 organisations, due to lack of resources, could not pursue some of the lawsuits filed against them, with 69.2 per cent having lesser than 100 employees.
Aside from the organisations sued, five organisations were threatened by the police and state actors within the same month in view. However, only two had the capacity to defend themselves.
The survey showed that the majority of threats or lawsuits (representing 91.1 per cent) were given to journalism organisations.
Also, the suits against organisations with an employee size lesser than 100 were more than those with a larger employee size (101 and more).
To this end, The ICIR held a Twitter space where stakeholders kicked against the attempt by state actors to silence the civic space by slamming them with frivolous lawsuits.
— The ICIR (@TheICIR) June 6, 2023
Speaking on the space, the Deputy Director of the Journalism Programme at the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), Busola Ajibola, said collaboration and cross-checking of investigative reports would protect journalists from frivolous lawsuits.
Also, a human rights lawyer and principal Inebehe Effiong Chambers, Inibehe Effiong said that the Cybercrime Act, particularly Section 24, needed to be reviewed as he advised media houses to get legal practitioners to offer them advice on investigative pieces before publishing them.
However, from the survey, the organisation recommended that reports published should be balanced and fair, adding that there is more need to collaborate with lawyers and civic organisations to fight against frivolous suits.