With only a few weeks to the end of his tenure, President Muhammadu Buhari and his team have continued to reel out what they considered as major achievements of the government while efforts are on to ramp up some initiatives before leaving office.
On April 26, 2023, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) announced the approval of an Action Plan 2022 to 2026 to promote and protect human rights in Nigeria.
Speaking at the event, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said the approval followed Mr Buhari administration’s compliance with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) judgement and payment of N135 million compensation to victims and family members of the September 18, 2013, Apo-six killings.
“As you will recall, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has established a record of being the first and only administration in the history of Nigeria that has indeed tolerated, accommodated and enforced the decision of the Human Rights Commission,” the minister said.
The minister, citing a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said Nigeria is the only African country in 2022 that has been in full compliance in terms of the protection of the rights of journalists.
He further claimed that no journalist had died in Nigeria under the Buhari-led administration due to infractions relating to their work.
“You are equally aware that the committee for the protection of journalists, which is an international committee, had equally adjudged Nigeria as the only African country last year that has been in full compliance in terms of the protection of the rights of the journalist taking into consideration that not a single incidence of death of a journalist has been recorded in Nigeria arising from infractions, relating thereto.”
His statement came amid allegations of human rights infractions against the Nigerian government and censorship against the press in the country.
Claim 1: Mr Malami said Nigeria is the only African country in 2022 that has been fully compliant with the protection of journalists based on a CPJ report.
In a statement on Friday, the CPJ debunked Mr Malami’s claim, noting that the minister misinterpreted its report to drive home his position.
CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, Angela Quintal, condemned the Minister’s statement saying,
“CPJ’s research on press freedom in Nigeria, showing years of attacks on press members —including killings— strongly contradicts comments by Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami about the press freedom situation in the country. Malami’s misrepresentation of CPJ research is particularly alarming and tragically ironic given how frequently Nigerian journalists are accused and prosecuted for distributing alleged falsehoods.”
The organisation also said the minister had repeatedly misquoted its data to mean Nigeria was doing well in protecting journalists.
Data from the Press Attack Tracker also corroborated that journalists in the country have suffered assaults. The tool, initiated by the Centre for Journalism, Innovation and Development (CJID), showed that 52 journalists were victims of an attack in 2022, with state actors accounting for most of these attacks.
It further revealed that in the last four years (2019-2022), 179 journalists have been attacked in Nigeria. These attacks are mainly perpetrated by state actors and security agencies, as seen in the chart below.
These attacks range from physical assault, unlawful arrest, imprisonment, threats, surveillance, denial of access, Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), equipment seizure/ damage, and even death.
In the same year, Reporters Without Borders ranked Nigeria 129/180 in its chart on the safety of journalists.
“Nigeria is one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often watched, attacked, arbitrarily arrested and even killed,” the report added.
The Nigerian government has faced criticisms bordering on policies perceived to undermine the safety and freedom of journalists in the country. Such repressive laws include the Cybercrime Act 2015, the Defamation Act, the Anti-Terrorism Act, the NBC code, and the NITDA acts. These laws are consistently used to deal with media organisations and journalists.
These laws are inconsistent with international standards and have been widely criticised by human rights organisations.
For example, the ECOWAS Court ruled that Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act is arbitrary, unlawful, and requires amendment. The suit was brought by Socio-Economic Rights And Accountability Project (SERAP), and it stated that 12 cases of alleged victims of harassment, intimidation, arrest, unlawful detention, prosecution, and imprisonment of journalists and broadcasters across several states of Nigeria between August 2015 and November 2018 had been recorded.
However, the judgement of the ECOWAS proceedings has not been implemented, which goes against the claim that Nigeria has been compliant with the principles guarding the safety of journalists.
We tried contacting Mr Malami to ask for a specific CPJ report he referred to, but our calls and text messages were not replied to.
Moreover, in the first quarter of 2023, being an election season, preliminary findings by PTA show at least 45 journalists were attacked, with physical attacks accounting for most cases recorded.
Verdict: False. According to data from the Press Attack Tracker, 52 journalists were attacked in Nigeria in 2022. Also, Mr Malami’s reference to the CPJ report was used in a misleading context.
Claim 2: “Not a single incidence of death of a journalist has been recorded in Nigeria arising from infractions, relating thereto” — Mr Malami.
A 2021 report released by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in collaboration with the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) stated that eight journalists had been killed under Mr Buhari’s administration. However, not all eight died during the discharge of their duty as journalists.
The report reads, “For example, in 2017, four journalists were killed in separate incidents with no credible inquiry yet to find the culprits and their motive for the fatal attacks. The four were a cameraman with the Anambra Broadcasting Services, Ikechukwu Onubogu; Lawrence Okojie of the Nigeria Television Authority in Edo State, a Desk Editor with Glory FM in Bayelsa State, Famous Giobaro and freelance broadcaster in Ekiti State, Abdul Ganiyu Lawal.
“Four more journalists have since been killed under circumstances that have yet to be clarified through credible investigations. The killing on July 22, 2019, of Precious Owolabi, a reporter with the Channels Television in Abuja while covering a protest by members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria-IMN, was agonising.”
Mr Owolabi’s death had occurred while discharging his duties. Alex Ogbu, an editor with the local independent outlet Regent Africa Times, suffered the same fate when he was killed at a protest in Abuja on January 21, 2020. All these happened during the President Buhari administration.
Meanwhile, data from the Press Attack Tracker showed that 610 journalists had been attacked in Nigeria from 1985 to date. Of this figure, 21 journalists have been killed in the country. The first recorded case was that of Dele Giwa.
Plights of some families of the slain journalists can be found in this report.
Verdict: The claim that no journalist has been killed in the line of duty under the Buhari administration is false. At least two cases were documented within the eight years of the regime.
Mr Malami’s claim that Nigeria is the only African country fully compliant with the protection of journalists in 2022 and that no journalist in the country has died from work-related infractions is false. The Press Attack Tracker and other media reports showed journalists are still endangered in the country.