8 June 2012

Nigeria: Boko Haram Wages War On Journalists

Photo: vanguard
Boko Haram cartoon.

Recent attacks by Islamic sect Boko Haram are vexing the free operation of media in northern Nigeria. Their lives now on the line, many journalists are leaving - if not altogether avoiding - the volatile region.

"Northern Nigeria is not a favourable place for journalists right now," says a journalist, unnamed here for reasons of safety. "Two years ago, a TV reporter was gunned down in the line of duty and recently another reporter from TV station Channels was also ruthlessly killed."

Boko Haram accuses journalists of writing "biased articles" that relay the statements of Nigerian authorities all the while ignoring what the Islamist sect has to say.

"We keep record of everything that is said about us in the press [...]. It's too late now, we are about to execute our plans, especially against journalists," the terrorist group said in a communiqué released on 4 June in Haoussa. The statement came in the wake of a suicide attack against a church in the predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria.

"We need protection"

"Up until now, nothing has been done to help fellow media professionals," the unnamed journalist says. "We need a safe environment to be able to do our job, but also a safety net for our families. We need protection for ourselves and our families."

The concerns are echoed in the capital city of Borno State, were, Bello Umar hosts community radio programmes in Haoussa, the local dialect.

"Here in Maiduguri, we can no longer report the news freely and objectively, for fear of becoming the next victims of the sect. Freedom of expression has been violated," he says. "The army is already patrolling the streets, but that's not enough. We fear for our families. The government must do something to resolve this situation," the radio journalist adds.

In April, Boko Haram members bombed the ThisDay newspaper office building in Abuja and another in Kaduna that houses This Day, The Sun and The Moment. The Islamist sect has since threatened foreign media, namely the Haoussa broadcasting teams of Radio France International (RFI) and Voice of America (VOA).

Reporting must continue

Despite the current climate of terror, Rafiu Amusan, a French news presenter for a radio station in Lagos, insists it is necessary to continue reporting on Boko Haram.

He says: "I am for freedom of the press, so I do my job the way it should be done. We have to report on Boko Haram if they have claimed responsibility for an attack. But it's true that there's fear."

But should journalists carry out investigative reports on Boko Haram at all costs? Amusan expresses caution.

"We are obviously being targeted, especially in northern Nigeria. As journalists, we need a certain safety to do our work," he says, adding that he and his colleagues cannot rely on the police for protection. "If working conditions are not favourable in the north, I think it is better not go there."

By sowing fear among journalists, Boko Haram has nearly achieved one of its goals: to silence the critical journalists they regard as the voice of their sworn enemy, the Nigerian government.

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