On February 25, Nigerians will go to the polls in presidential and legislative elections. Ahead of the vote, IPI spoke with Musikilu Mojeed, the editor-in-chief and chief operating officer of the Premium Times, one of Nigeria’s leading media outlets. Mojeed is also the chair of IPI’s Nigeria National Committee.

Mojeed spoke to IPI Africa Program Officer Edzodzi Ahiadou about the press freedom situation in Nigeria, the risks that journalists face in covering the elections, and key advocacy priorities for the new government.

What are the biggest threats and risks associated with reporting on Nigeria’s February 25 general elections for journalists and media houses?

The biggest threats and risks associated with the coverage of the forthcoming elections revolve around physical and digital security for journalists and their media organizations.

Before, during and after the 2019 general elections, cases of harassment of journalists were rampant and I am not optimistic that the situation will be different this time. In 2019 alone, the Press Attack Tracker, a project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) documented at least 72 violations.

Those violations include arrests, physical attacks, denial of access, threats, equipment damage, equipment seizure, harassment and abductions. The number of attacks dropped to 37 the following year and then to 33 in 2021. It rose again to 37 in 2022 just as electioneering began.

This time, as journalists go about covering campaigns, voting and compilation of election results, they are at risk of being denied access, arrested, harassed, attacked, abducted or even killed. Their equipment might be seized or destroyed and their emails, social media handles, and websites could be hacked.

Are journalists and media houses informed about and equipped with sufficient safety protection measures and guidelines ahead of this election?

A number of media support organizations have organized training to ready journalists for the coverage of the elections. The Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), the International Press Centre (IPC), Yiaga Africa and a few other organizations have trained journalists on political and election reporting, press freedom and physical/online security.

Some media organizations, including my own, Premium Times, are also organizing training for teams they plan to deploy for the elections. The CJID and the IPC have also produced and circulated manuals on journalists’ safety and press freedom.

However, I do not think that half of the journalists covering the elections have benefited from the training or accessed the manuals. So, my short answer to this question is that not all journalists and media organizations in Nigeria are informed and equipped with sufficient safety and protection safeguards.

What are the security forces and other stakeholders, especially political figures and political parties, doing to ensure journalists are safe and protected while reporting on the elections?

It’s rare to find a Nigerian official who cares about the safety and welfare of journalists. They consider journalists as irritants and busybodies. They like pliant journalists who merely give them publicity, massage their egos and play by their rules.

So, my suspicion is that a good number of these political figures, political parties and their thugs are perhaps rehearsing how to attack or deny access to upright journalists working to expose malpractices and hold officials to account during the elections.

IPI Nigeria is aware that journalists are more endangered during electioneering and may come under more attacks this time. We have therefore written to the Minister of Information and Culture, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the Inspector General of Police, the Chief of Defence Staff, the Director General of the State Security Service and the Commandant General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps reminding them that both media and security institutions are key to the democratic process and urging them to ensure the safety of journalists and media organizations during the elections.

We also inform them that IPI would take every legitimate measure to hold to account anyone whose action or inaction leads to the violation of the rights of any journalist during the electioneering period and afterwards.

What effect does the pressure on the media and social media have on democracy in the country as we head toward these important elections?

The Nigerian media, though vibrant, is barely surviving under severe stress. There is an ownership burden to contend with. There is also excessive pressure from advertisers and other patrons who try to dictate content. There is a sustainability challenge caused by dwindling advertising revenue. Then there is the problem of attacks on journalists and media organizations.

All these pressures have combined to make it difficult for the media to deliver on its mandate of enhancing the people’s rights to know and holding individuals, organizations and corporations accountable.

How important is international solidarity and international networks like IPI in terms of supporting the right of Nigeria’s independent journalists to work freely and safely?

There is a well-known African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together”. So in the battle against attacks on journalists and press freedom, international solidarity and support of international networks like IPI is very important.

When the police raided Premium Times headquarters in January 2017 and arrested the paper’s publisher and another journalist, it was the global outrage that followed that forced the attackers to pull back. IPI, ICIJ, GIJN, Amnesty International and other media freedom organizations were fast and furious in condemning the police.

Before long, the pressure became too much for the government to bear. Dapo Olorunyomi and Evelyn Okakwu were quickly released and were not charged to court.

Nigerian authorities can be brutal, reckless and deaf at times such as when they raided the Daily Trust headquarters, arrested some reporters and confiscated computers. The widespread local and international solidarity nudged the military to back off and allowed normalcy to return to that newspaper. When the National Broadcasting Commission withdrew the operating license of 52 broadcast stations last year, it took a combination of local and international advocacy for the NBC to rescind the decision and allow the stations back to the airwaves.

The support of international networks and organizations is usually a morale booster for Nigerian journalists who often work under very difficult conditions.

What are you calling on the upcoming government to do to protect journalist safety and improve press freedom?

Nigerian journalists are in perpetual danger and whatever new government emerges from the elections has a lot to do to improve the operational environment of journalists and the media.

There are still a number of oppressive and media-unfriendly laws that need to be amended. The government will have to embark on widespread sensitization of its security operatives who need to understand that journalists and the media are key elements of democracy.

The Nigerian government must take deliberate steps to help the sustainability of media outlets while respecting press freedom.