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Press freedom: Nigeria not “largely free” as claimed by minister

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Press Freedom in Nigeria

Press freedom is germane to a democracy. In a democratic system like Nigeria, the media is expected to be free, and journalists can work without fear of attack.

No modern society can thrive without the presence of the media, and none can function at its best without press freedom. This freedom ensures journalists and media outlets can perform their duties without fear of threats or external interference. 

According to the World Press Freedom Index 2023, Nigeria is one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are regularly monitored, attacked, and arbitrarily arrested, as was the case during the 2023 elections.

Generally, there are a lot of factors that militate against press freedom in Nigeria.

It is then surprising that the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, stated that the press in Nigeria is largely free and no journalist has been arrested under the Tinubu-led administration for practising responsible journalism.

This was disclosed during a press briefing organised by the Ministry of Information and National Orientation in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Environment and Ecological Management and the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) to celebrate the 2024 World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The minister said, “I have not seen somebody in the life of this administration, for example, who has been put in jail or who has gone into exile due to press freedom.

“We know what has happened in this country in the past. Some decades ago, we know that you have to leave this country to be able to report. I can tell you that the press in Nigeria is largely free, but that freedom will further be consolidated if honesty and transparency are upheld in the manner that we report…”

Instances of press attacks under the Tinubu-led administration

In recent years, journalists across Nigeria have faced arrest, detention, prosecution, harassment, legal charges, and physical assaults.

Before May 3, 2024, when the minister made the statement, a few cases of arbitrary arrest of journalists were documented. For instance, on February 21, 2024, Kasarahchi Aniagolu, a reporter at The Whistler, was arrested, detained, and physically assaulted by officials of the Nigerian Police Force on the ground that the reporter was covering a story without their permission. 

Similarly, on March 15, 2024, Segun Olatunji, an editor at FirstNews, was arrested and detained by officers of the Nigerian army. This arrest was presumably linked to a report he published regarding an official from the Nigeria Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), which operates under Nigeria’s Ministry of Defence, accused of unfairly allocating public contracts.

Coincidentally, Daniel Ojukwu, a journalist with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, was arrested on May 1, 2024, two days before the minister made the statement that the media is free in Nigeria and that no journalist has been arrested since the beginning of the Tinubu-led administration.

The day also marked World Press Freedom Day, when the global community came together to celebrate press freedom worldwide. The day also serves as a reminder of the importance of safeguarding journalists’ rights and ensuring their ability to report without fear of repression or violence.

Between May 29, 2023, when the Tinubu-led administration took office, and May 2024, multiple incidents of journalist arrests and unjustified detentions have been documented. 

During this period, more than 12 journalists have been either detained, arrested, or harassed by state security forces while performing their journalistic duties or in connection with a published report.

Another instance is the arrest and detention of the publisher of the privately owned outlet News Platform, Precious Eze Chukwunonso, on May 27, 2024. Chukwunonso was held for nearly three weeks after a complaint was filed regarding his published article.

Nigeria’s Press Freedom on World Press Freedom Index

According to the World Press Freedom Index 2024, press freedom is the ability of journalists as individuals and collectives to select, produce, and disseminate news in the public interest independent of political, economic, legal, and social interference and the absence of threats to their physical and mental safety.

Press freedom in Nigeria has worsened over the years. The country’s press freedom score dropped from 65.9 out of 100 in 2013 to 51.03 out of 100 in 2024 (where 0 = worst press freedom and 100 = best press freedom).

Nigeria’s score between 40 -55 shows a difficult press freedom situation.

Press freedom: Nigeria not “largely free” as claimed by minister

On the regional front, Nigeria is among the lowest-ranked countries in West Africa in terms of press freedom and the media landscape. Nigeria was ranked 14th out of 16 West African Countries in 2023.

Press freedom: Nigeria not “largely free” as claimed by minister

According to an analysis by Reporters Without Borders, the majority of violent attacks, arbitrary detentions, and journalist shootings in West Africa in recent times have occurred in Nigeria, particularly during election periods. Nearly 20 journalists and media outlets were attacked during the February and March 2023 general elections. 

Crimes against journalists often go unpunished, even when the perpetrators are identified or caught. There is virtually no state mechanism for their protection. Authorities closely monitor journalists and readily threaten them.

Given this context, the Press Freedom situation in Nigeria is alarmingly low. 

While no country has a perfect record when it comes to press freedom, we hope that Nigeria will take significant steps towards improving the safety and independence of its journalists.

What expert says on Nigeria’s press freedom

DUBAWA spoke to Busola Ajibola, a Media and Development Expert and the Deputy Director at the Center for Journalism, Innovation, and Development (CJID), about the state of press freedom in Nigeria.

She highlighted that Nigeria has a track record of police harassment and unjust arrest of journalists. This situation has created an atmosphere of fear for journalists, leading to self-censorship and a decline in press freedom

Ms Ajibola said, “Some of the loopholes that the police exploit to justify the arbitrary arrest of journalists are found in the vagueness and broad interpretations of certain laws. An example of such laws is the Cybercrime Act. Even though the Act has been amended, the police continue to use it against journalists. 

“There is also the issue of Criminal Defamation, where a journalist writes a story about a powerful interest or a government official, and the police then turn it around and claim it is criminal defamation. These two laws are prominent tools that the police use to harass journalists.

“For the Cybercrime law, this year alone, the Press Attack Tracker at CJID has documented at least 11 instances where police have either invited journalists, accusing them of cyberstalking, or even detained them or attempted to detain them. They succeeded in detaining Daniel Ojukwu, a journalist with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), for nearly 10 days. They attempted to detain Nurudeen Akewusola of ICIR, but rigorous advocacy from civil society prevented it. These are the prominent trends we are experiencing regarding press freedom in Nigeria. Ms Ajibola stated.”

Conclusion

Contrary to the statement of the Honourable Minister, more than a dozen journalists have either been arrested, detained, or assaulted since the beginning of the Tinubu-led administration. Generally, press freedom in Nigeria is deteriorating, and the practice of journalism is becoming difficult to sustain due to increasing violent attacks, undue political interference, and threats.

This fact-check was produced as part of the DUBAWA 2024 Kwame KariKari Fellowship in partnership with Dataphyte to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in Journalism and enhance media and information literacy in the country.

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