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Press Freedom

03.05.2023 Featured REPORT: NBC, Illegal Arrests Make Nigeria Too Dangerous and Difficult for Journalists

Published 3rd May, 2023

By Daniel Ojukwu

On the occasion of the 2023 World Press Freedom Day, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has ranked Nigeria 123 out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index.

The index took into consideration attacks and arrests suffered by journalists during the 2023 general election.

It also highlighted attempts by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to suspend licenses of 53 radio stations, a decision that was later overruled by a federal high court.

Nigeria’s laws, according to RSF, do the country’s journalists no favours as the cybercrime act, penal code, and criminal defamation laws make it harder for journalists to practice, and easier for the government to gag the press.

“In recent years, most of West Africa’s violent attacks, arbitrary detentions, and shooting deaths of journalists have taken place in Nigeria,” RSF writes. “Fearing for their lives, some journalists choose exile.

“Since 2019, three journalists have been killed. Crimes against journalists continue to go unpunished, even when the perpetrators are known or apprehended. There is almost no state mechanism for protecting journalists. In fact, the authorities keep journalists under close surveillance and do not hesitate to threaten them.”

READ MORE: LIVING IN BONDAGE: The Trials and Tribulations of Nigerian Journalists

Some of these attacks were documented by FIJ, and can be found here, here, here and here.

DSS prosecuted blogger for republishing a story on Dapo Abiodun, Ogun State Governor
DSS prosecuted blogger for republishing a story on Dapo Abiodun, Ogun State Governor
Journalist survived near-death encounter ahead of the 2023 general election
Journalist survived near-death encounter ahead of the 2023 general election
FIJ documented cases of reporters getting arrested for doing their jobs
FIJ documented cases of reporters getting arrested for doing their jobs
On the orders of Bala Mohammed, Bauchi State Governor, police arrested journalist during the 2023 general election
On the orders of Bala Mohammed, Bauchi State Governor, police arrested journalist during the 2023 general election

OWNERSHIP, FUNDING, PROPOSED LAWS STIFLING MEDIA

Beyond arbitrary arrests and Nigeria’s already existing laws, the country’s press suffers censorship and interference from government and owners of media organisations.

RSF wrote, “To a large extent, government officials have a say in the appointment and dismissal of media officials, whether in the public or private sector.

“It can involve pressure, harassment of journalists and media outlets, and even censorship, and it increases during elections campaigns. Addressing political issues in a balanced way can also be difficult depending on the media outlet’s owner.”

A clear example of this interference occurred in December 2022 when the Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) wrote to THISDAY/ARISE Media Group seeking the reassignment of Shaka Momodu, THISDAY Editor, and Rufai Oseni, ARISE News broadcaster, over what they described as media attacks.

READ ALSO: Nigerian Press Freedom in Danger Under Buhari, Says US Think Tank

The media group noted that the request made by members of the PCC was in a bid “to stop the attacks or get reprieve from a future Tinubu presidency”.

RSF also notes that “several very dangerous laws regulating social media have been proposed in recent years, causing an outcry. Access to information remains very difficult.”

NIGERIA ROSE FROM 129 TO 123. IS THAT PROGRESS?

In 2022, Nigeria’s index rank was 129 out of 180. This means the country was six places worse than its current rank, and has made considerable progress.

For context, Nigeria’s 2022 ranking came on the back of the lifting of a seven-month suspension of Twitter, a microblogging platform.

In the same period under review, the NBC made attempts to control radio and television stations by instructing them not to “glamourise terrorism”, a move kicked against by the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE).

Olusegun Odebunmi, Chairman, House of Representatives’ Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values, also proposed a bill to amend the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act.

Reacting to this move, Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) published a reaction on the front page of national dailies on July 12, 2021, tagged ‘Information Blackout’.

This reaction condemned the proposal, and a day after, Odebunmi suspended the bill.

In 2022 and 2023 index, a constant was the attempts by the Kaduna State Government to silence journalists with arrests and disappearance of sources.

In 2022, the RSF detailed how the Kaduna State Government led by Nasir El-Rufai arrested and detained Luka Binniyat, an Epoch Times reporter who reported Southern Kaduna killings.

It documented in its latest publication how in 2020 “an investigative reporter was threatened and several of his sources were killed or died in suspicious circumstances after the reporter investigated massacres in the central state of Kaduna”.

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Published 3rd May, 2023

By Daniel Ojukwu

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