The clampdown by Nigerian authorities on the press, including by raiding media organisations and arbitrarily detaining journalists, is having a chilling effect preventing people from freely expressing themselves, Amnesty International said in a briefing today.
In 2018, at least four journalists were arrested in Nigeria, double the number in 2017, the organization revealed as it launches "Press For Freedom" a campaign to support freedom of expression in Nigeria.
In the first week of 2019 alone, security forces raided the Abuja and Maiduguri offices of the Daily Trust newspaper, arresting two reporters and confiscating computers and mobile phones.
"There is an increasing climate of fear across newsrooms in Nigeria as it becomes harder for journalists to do their job. More and more, the authorities are responding to critical reporting with arrests, raids and intimidation," said Osai Ojigho, Director Amnesty International Nigeria.
"Journalists are coming under attack in Nigeria, facing increased risks simply for publishing articles and demanding accountability from the authorities. This is totally unacceptable. The authorities must immediately put an end to the hostile environment journalists are facing."
Amnesty International has been examining cases of journalists who were detained, threatened or intimidated over the past five years. Investigation reveals a disturbing escalation in the authorities' threats and attacks against Nigerian journalists who have expressed critical opinions of the government on both conventional and social media.
In some cases, security forces intimidated journalists who had asked probing questions or expressed critical opinions of government policies.
Journalists arbitrarily detained and threatened In 2018, journalists Tony Ezimakor of the Daily Independent, Musa Abdullahi Kirishi of the Daily Trust, Samuel Ogundipe of the Premium Times and Olanrewaju Lawal of the Daily Sun were detained at various times, just for carrying out their jobs.
The year before, Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of the online newspaper Premium Times, was arrested alongside Evelyn Okakwu, a correspondent, when security personnel raided their office on 17 January 2017. The arrest came after the newspaper had published a story about the Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, alleging that he had not declared a property he owned in Dubai in breach of the Army Code of Ethics. Both journalists were later released without charge.
On 23 July 2016, Abiri Jones, a publisher of Weekly Source, was arrested by members of the Department of State Services, Nigeria's secret police, and held incommunicado without access to family or lawyers for two years. He was released on August 15, 2018.
In August 2016, an arrest warrant was issued against journalist Ahmed Salkida after having reported on the ongoing Boko Haram conflict. He was accused of 'links' to Boko Haram. Though he was not charged he has since received death threats.
In October 2018, publisher Ja'afar Ja'afar at the online Daily Nigerian also received several death threats against himself and his family after publishing videos of a serving governor allegedly receiving a bribe.
"Federal and state authorities must ensure journalists are able to exercise their right to freedom of expression as provided for in international human rights law and the Nigerian constitution. The government must ensure that state officials do not harass and intimidate anyone who expresses opinions that those in power dislike," said Osai Ojigho.
Raids and confiscations
Over the past two years, two radio stations critical of the government were stopped from broadcasting. The facilities of Breeze FM in Lafiya, Nasarawa state, and Fresh FM in Ibadan, Oyo State, were demolished by state authorities allegedly for their non-compliance with land administration laws. Both stations were previously harassed by the authorities and were part of a targeted campaign to silence dissenting voices.
In January 2017, security forces raided the Abuja office of Premium Times and held journalists under siege for several hours.
In June 2014, military officers tried to stop the circulation of several publications by confiscating copies of Nigeria's Leadership, Daily Trust, The Nation and Punch newspapers. They also harassed distributors of these papers to prevent people from buying copies.
"Journalists must be free to investigate and report on issues of human rights and public interest. The authorities must immediately stop their campaign of stifling the press and silencing dissenting voices. No one should be punished for asking questions or expressing their opinion on the government," said Osai Ojigho.