Nigeria: Press Freedom – Attacks On Nigerian Journalists Increase in 2022

The press attacks in 2022, so far, are higher than in the previous two years, and are mostly carried out by state actors.

Agba Jalingo is a journalist and publisher of an online newspaper, Cross River Watch. The publication has taken him on a collision course with the authorities of his home Cross River State several times, in particular with the government of Governor Ben Ayade. Recently, the security forces went for him again, over a publication in the newspaper that offended the extended family of the governor.

In an interview shortly after he regained freedom from his latest arrest and detention, Mr Jalingo recalled his ordeal.

“I was upstairs and they insisted that they wanted to take me away. I wasn’t sure who they were. They could be kidnappers; it could be anyone on mufti. So I insisted I needed to make calls to confirm if there was a warrant to arrest me.”

The incident began on a Friday afternoon on 19 August, when plain-clothed security operatives, who introduced themselves as coming from the State Criminal Investigative Department of the police, invaded Mr Jalingo’s home in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.

Finding Mr Jalingo’s wife and daughter downstairs, the officials demanded to see Mr Jalingo who was upstairs at the time. After a short standoff, Mr Jalingo surrendered and was taken to the Alapere Police Station, Lagos. He spent a few hours there before he was taken to Area F, Ikeja for a night behind bars.

The following morning on 20 August, the journalist was flown to Abuja and rendered incommunicado. He was taken to what he later described as a “ghost town, a very big two-storey building which was deserted” for documentation before being transferred to a detention facility.

Fortunately for Mr Jalingo, he had alerted the public of his situation and ignited a public outcry and call for his release. Finally, he was granted bail and released after a relative stood surety for him.

It later emerged that Mr Jalingo was arrested over a complaint by the wife of a younger brother of the Cross Rivers governor, Elizabeth Frank, who accused the journalist of libel.

Mr Jalingo’s detention is one of over 30 cases of attacks on journalists recorded by the Press Attack Tracker so far this year, making the attacks in 2022 already the second highest in four years after 2019 when 74 attacks were recorded.

Some of the cases recorded in 2022 include:

April 21: The Publisher of the Taraba Truth and Fact Newspaper, Oloye Samuel, alleged a threat to his life by security operatives over his critical report on politicians in Taraba State, northern Nigeria.

May 13: The State Security Service (SSS) arrested a blogger and publisher of Eagles Foresight, Ahmed Olamilekan, for publishing a story on Ogun State Governor Dapo Abiodun’s alleged criminal records in the United States.

July 22: The head office of People’s Gazette Newspaper in Abuja was raided by security agents who took away the newspaper’s deputy managing editor, John Adenekan, and four other workers: Ameedat Adeyemi, Grace Oke, Sammy Ogbu and Justina Tayani. The agents were reportedly after Samuel Ogundipe, the Managing Director of the newspaper.

July 5: Ikenna Ezenekwe, the publisher of the online news platform, 247uReports, was arrested by security operatives over a petition filed by Primus Odili, who served as the Chief of Staff to the immediate past governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano. Mr Odili alleged that the journalist published a libellous article about him.

July 28: A PREMIUM TIMES reporter, Saviour Imukudo, was arrested on the order of the Akwa Ibom Chief Judge, Ekaette Obot, while covering the defamation case brought by the counsel of the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel. against a lawyer, Leo Ekpenyong.

Apart from attacks by security operatives, there were also those carried out by non-state actors. Below is the dateline for some of such cases:

February 1: Hoodlums allegedly attacked and stabbed a driver of Channels Television, Lekan Sanusi, while the TV crew was recording a traffic gridlock on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway in Lagos.

On the same day, members of an Arise Television crew who were also within the axis to report on ease of movement around the ports were also attacked by the hoodlums who demanded they stop recording.

February 21: Thugs suspected to be sponsored by a member of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly attacked the Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Ebonyi State Council, Nnamdi Akpa.

February 23: While covering local government elections in Enugu State, south-east Nigeria, a news crew of the Enugu State Broadcasting Service (ESBS) was attacked by gunmen.

May 22: Hoodlums wielding clubs, charms, stones and axes attacked and vandalised vehicles conveying journalists from a campaign stop by Osun Governor Gboyega Oyetola in Gbongan, Ayedaade Local Government Area. The attack left four journalists injured.

May 30: Gunmen invaded the premises of Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS), Awada Onitsha station. According to a report, a building and buses used by the company for operations were burnt and damaged.

June 19: Hoodlums attacked journalists attached to the Lagos State Government House. The journalists were in the entourage of the state governor to welcome the All Progressive Congress (APC) presidential flag-bearer, Bola Tinubu, who was returning to Lagos from Abuja after the party’s primary election.

June 28: A reporter with PUNCH Newspapers in Ogun State, Daud Olatunji, and two other journalists were harassed and beaten by unionists enforcing a strike in the state. The journalists attacked included Joke Adeleye of PM/TheNews, Michael Olaoluwa and Tutu Sobowale of PlatformTimes online newspaper and Busola from an Abeokuta-based radio station. This was in spite of the fact that the journalists boldly displayed their identity cards which identified them as journalists.

There are also cases where journalists were attacked by unknown assailants. The reasons behind these attacks are often very vague and difficult to draw conclusions. Cases like that include:

May 12: Unknown gunmen abducted Idris Haruna- Magami, a popular radio host with the state-owned Zamfara Radio. Mr Magami produces and presents “Su Duniya Manya” a popular programme aired in the Hausa language.

May 15: According to a report, a yet-to-be-identified individual repeatedly sent threat messages to Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ). On 15 May, the organisation received the first such threats when the person sent a WhatsApp message to FIJ’s official contact number, threatening to decapitate the intended recipient.

June 7: A reporter with Guardian newspaper, Eniola Daniel, escaped being kidnapped while returning home after he closed from work.

June 16: Unknown persons broke into the office of Prime Times News in Kano, vandalised and stole some of the outlet’s work equipment.

Attacks continue

Despite the clamour for press freedom over the years, the trends of attacks against the press have grown unabated.

These include physical attacks, harassment, threats, unlawful arrest, equipment seizure and damage. By the end of August this year, Press Attack Tracker had recorded over 40 attacks on the press with the South-west geopolitical zone accounting for most of these attacks.

Journalists have been attacked in reprisal for their works by state actors. State actors who find publications libellous and harmful often perpetuate these attacks without due recourse to legal procedures.

Who is behind attacks?

On observation, state actors account for half of the attacks, while non-state actors account for 36.4 per cent and unknown persons for 13.6 per cent.

Essentially, state actors who have the utmost responsibility to ensure freedom of the press are also the most culpable aggressors. These attacks have persisted despite the clamour for press freedom by civil society organizations, media organisations, rights activists, scholars e.t.c.

Nigeria is ranked 129/180 by Reporters Without Borders in its chart on the safety of journalists. According to RSF, “Nigeria is one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often watched, attacked, arbitrarily arrested and even killed.”

Speaking on the state of press freedom in Nigeria, the Project Officer, Media Freedom, Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), Stephanie Adams-Douglas, said although the constitution protects freedom of expression and press, ‘it is almost evident that there is no respect for the rule of law which continues to put the media in danger. “

Mrs Adams-Douglas further stated: “Over the years, the media have faced various attacks in the course of duty, mainly while covering events, during a crossfire. The past four years have shown a spike in attacks, mostly by state actors meant to defend the press.”

Mrs Adams- Douglas said impunity is the primary act that propels attacks on the media. She recommended prompt sanction on all perpetrators of attacks on journalists, including those in positions of power.

“There should be sanctions imposed on all perpetrators, including people in positions of power,” she said.

The Press Attack Tracker is a civic technology platform that tracks attacks on journalists in Nigeria. It was set up by the CJID in collaboration with the Coalition for Whistleblowers and Press Freedom (CWPPF) and Leaks.NG, in response to unrelenting attacks on the press in Nigeria.

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