The abysmal treatment of media practitioners in the past one year depicts the degeneration and misuse of the rule of law in handling journalists.

On December 18 2023, in Abuja, Nigerian President Bola Tinubu made a pledge during a meeting with the Newspapers Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria to always uphold media freedom and respect opinions whether they are adversarial or complimentary to his government. Unfortunately, assessing his first year in office, Nigerian media has faced more repression than it did in the past decade.

Under President Tinubu’s first year in office, freedom of the press and the right of the citizens to know have met significant challenges, with several cases of arbitrary arrests and harassment targeted at journalists and citizens.

Nigeria ranks 112th in the 2024 World Press Freedom Index as compared to 2023’s rank of 123rd, but recent happenings contradict this feat. In 2023, there have been more attacks on liberty, which shows the deteriorating state of freedom since President Tinubu’s inception of office. Based on accounts, security operatives have majorly orchestrated the incessant attacks on journalists, media practitioners, and human rights activists, creating a mounting fear that Nigeria is returning to old tactics of military rule. Several individuals have suffered languishing treatment with no just cause in a bid to uphold the tenets of democracy.

Attacks on Freedom

Between May 2023 to April 2024, the Media Rights Agenda reported that not less than 45 journalists and media houses have suffered attacks, most of which resulted from political pressures. Luqman Bolajake, a seasoned media practitioner and editor of Satcom Media, an online news outlet, expressed that he was recently detained for ten days simply because he covered a report on a critical issue in Kwara State.

On February 6, Nigerian journalists of the online news outlet Informant247, Adisa-Jaji Azeez, and Salifu Ayatullahi were detained by the Kwara Command Police in Western Nigeria. Following their arrest, two journalist colleagues, Salihu Shola Taofeek and Abdulrahman Taye Damilola, were also charged despite not receiving notification from the police.

On March 4, 2024, the police arrested activist Abdulganiu Olushipo for sharing detailed information about alleged budgetary allocations received by the Lagos Mainland local government on a WhatsApp platform. He was further charged with cyberstalking and cyberbullying, but later released after a public outcry. Olushipo’s arrest depicts how citizens who leverage the new media to advocate for good governance suffer repression.

On February 23, 2024, a court registrar and some policemen at the Federal High Court in Ilorin, Kwara State, denied journalists access to cover the arraignment of a former governor of the state, Dr. Abdulfatah Ahmed, allegedly on ‘orders from above.’ Efforts by the spokesperson of the anti-graft agency, EFCC, Dele Oyewale, granted the press entrance into the court premises, but they were still barred from covering the proceedings. This action raises concerns in the state about the right to freedom of information. 

On February 23, 2024, in Delta State, soldiers from the Nigerian Army molested and arrested Dele Fasan, the South-South Bureau Chief of Galaxy Television. Fasan was reportedly covering a planned protest by citizens over economic hardship in Uvwie, Warri. Despite presenting his press ID, he was arrested and detained for an hour. Thereafter, an officer of the Nigerian army forced him to delete the images already recorded.

On May 1, 2024, the Nigeria Police arrested Daniel Ojukwu, a Foundation for Investigative Journalism journalist, on account of a critical report he published in November 2023. Ojukwu was allegedly arrested and held incommunicado for three days before he was granted access to his phone. He was charged with cybercrime and detained but was later released after two weeks of public outcry. 

According to legal practitioners, Ojukwu’s arrest and detention were a clear violation of press freedom. They also maintained that the action has ignited grave concerns about press freedom in Nigeria with emphasis on how cybercrime legislation is being misused to suppress media freedom and harass journalists.

Calls for freedom

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors described the different attacks on media practitioners across the nation as a suppression of press freedom and also as a disregard for the rule of law. Based on the instances illustrated, the poor deterioration of the state of freedom in the last one year is obvious. On accounts of Ojukwu’s arrest and general police misconduct on journalists, rights activist Chukwuma Nwachukwu expressed that the arrest is another “low and an abysmal degeneration of citizens’ rights by officials of law enforcement.”

The abysmal treatment of media practitioners in the past one year depicts the degeneration and misuse of the rule of law in handling journalists. Besides the violation of press freedom and freedom of information as evidenced, instances have shown how free speech has been suppressed since Tinubu assumed office.

On August 16, 2023, billboards across different locations in Abuja, the nation’s capital, were dismantled because they allegedly bore an offensive message. The billboards, which bear messages of “All Eyes on the Election Tribunal,”  reportedly sprung up ahead of the judgment of the 2023 election petition cases. 

According to the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria, the billboard is considered blackmail against the Nigerian judiciary. Following the removal of the billboards, nationwide criticism followed suit raising questions of an attack on free speech in the democratic system.

In calling the president’s attention to the unlawful menace of journalists’ harassment, local and international media rights groups including the International Press Institute, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, and the Nigerian Union of Journalists, have requested the protection of democracy and the promotion of press freedom. According to the media rights groups, democracy is endangered without press freedom.

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