As Nigerians prepare to go to the polls next month, IPI, the global network for press freedom, reiterates its call for increased protection of journalists by all stakeholders involved in the elections process, particularly political figures, political party supporters, and security forces.

As the February 25, 2023, general election approaches, worries of increased attacks on press freedom are growing.

‘’We urge Nigerian authorities to keep the promise they made to IPI Nigeria by calling the country’s security agencies and political elites to order”, said Musikilu Mojeed, the chair of IPI’s Nigerian National Committee, reacting to the incidents of violence targeting journalists ahead of the elections. “The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed; the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba; the Director General of the State Security Service, Yusuf Bichi, assured us last year that steps would be taken to eradicate attacks on journalists.”

Recently, one journalist was prevented from reporting by a political party, and another media house was dragged to court for exposing shoddy construction works supported by public funds.

On January 13, 2023, a cameraman working with Arise Television was expelled from a campaign meeting by the All-Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, with the business community in Lagos. The incident has revived concerns about political figures and political parties’ commitment to respecting and protecting press freedom and the safety of journalists.

Two other incidents, though not directly related to the election, underline how powerful public figures are resorting to legal harassment to cripple critical journalism. A magistrate court in Kano recently summoned reporters from the online news platform WikkiTimes over the publication of a story exposing shoddy construction works supported with public funds. The plaintiff accused the media platform of “untrue, malicious, unfounded and wicked” publications through invoking Nigeria’s cybercrime law.

In another court case involving a powerful public figure, Agba Jalingo, the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, an online news portal in Nigeria, was arraigned and charged with cybercrime on December 6, 2022. He was arrested and detained in August 2022, by the police over alleged defamation and infringement of integrity of Elizabeth Ayade, the wife of Frank Ayade, who is the brother of the Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade.

The next court appearances for both the publishers, Agba Jalingo of CrossRiverWatch and Haruna Mohammed Salisu of WikkiTimes, are scheduled, respectively, on February 14 and 15, 2023.  This law involved in both cases, the Cybercrimes (Protection, Prevention etc) Act, 2015, has been used by the powerful to stifle critical journalism, according to Nigerian civil society groups. In the case of Agba Jalingo, if convicted, he risks up to 3 years imprisonment and a fine of up to 7,000,000 naira (the equivalent of 14,000 euro).

Spate of attacks

Other recent incidents of press freedom violations, carried out mainly by public figures and security forces, in response to journalists’ work on transparency and accountability, have raised similar alarm in recent months.

On December 27, 2022, police in Lagos arrested and detained journalist Yau Saeed Mubi, owner of Y2S TV, an online media platform. According to reports, the journalist’s arrest was ordered by a political figure, Senator Elisha Abbo, a lawmaker of Adamawa North Senatorial district, in the National Assembly. Yau was arrested over a publication of people’s opinions on the lack of good governance in the senator’s district.

On December 19, 2022, journalist Luminous Jannamike was arbitrarily arrested and detained for five hours in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, on the orders of a high-level official from the Federal Federal Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID). On the same date, police assaulted Muhammed Bello Dabai, a journalist working with Premier Radio, based in Kano, the capital town of Kano State in northern Nigeria. Bello was taking pictures of an incident in which members of the public were throwing stones at an alleged thief who had fallen in front of the station while attempting to flee from police custody.

On November 27, 2023, journalist Ayodele Samuel, was arrested and detained for two weeks before being released on December 12, 2023. He was also arrested on the orders of Darius Ishaku, the governor of Taraba State in north-east Nigeria over a report that exposed the governor’s alleged plans to sell the Taraba Liaison Office and the state-owned Mambilla Beverages Company.

In November, 2022, two political leaders assaulted two journalists in different incidents, as IPI previously reported.

IPI also documented six press freedom violations in Nigeria in October, including arrests of journalists and forced closures of media outlets. In May 2022, at least 15 journalists were assaulted while reporting on pre-elections activities across the country.

Musikilu Mojeed further added:  “We are reminding the authorities to keep their word now and at all times because IPI Nigeria is more determined now, than ever before, to hold anyone who engages in or encourages attacks on journalists to account.”

IPI Director of Advocacy Amy Brouillette called on authorities to ensure that journalists are free to do their work and in a safe and protected environment.

”As Nigeria approaches elections, authorities and political leaders must ensure that the press is free and safe to do their work of disseminating news and information, which is indispensable for citizens to be informed as they head to cast their vote’, she said.