The atmosphere within which the press operate in Nigeria reflects growing incidents of brutality and harassment of journalists and media houses creating a disturbing picture of freedom of the press in Nigeria. The infamous quote of former military ruler of Uganda, Idi Amin “There is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech” may not yet be entirely a reality in Nigeria but whether the nation’s media landscape is sliding towards that part might not be completely disputed. There is no certainty of freedom for journalists in the country especially after reporting on subjects that are deemed sensitive, depending on who is angered by such report.
Nigeria is among the worst 70 countries to practice journalism in the world. The 2019 edition of World Press Freedom Ranking has shown that Nigeria is still among the most unsafe countries to practice journalism. The country’s ranking dropped to 120 from 119 it was placed in 2018. This is out of a total of 180 countries ranked in the survey.
The world press freedom index is published by Reporters Without Borders, also known as Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF).
A total of 180 countries were captured in the survey with Norway ranked as the best country in terms of press freedom, and Turkmenistan, the worst, reports icir.
The survey noted that Nigeria, “Africa’s most populous nation has more than 100 independent newspapers and yet covering stories involving politics, terrorism or financial embezzlement by the powerful proves problematic”.
“Journalists are often threatened, subjected to physical violence or denied access to information by government officials, police and sometimes the public itself,” the report read.
The “unprecedented level of disinformation” spread by officials within Nigeria’s two major political parties during the 2019 general election was also cited as one of the reasons Nigeria dropped to 120th position.
A report released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) captured the difficulty experienced by journalists working in Nigeria. “In Nigeria, it is difficult to cover stories involving politics, terrorism, and financial embezzlement by the powerful. Journalists are often threatened, subjected to physical violence, or denied access to information by government officials, police, and sometimes the public itself…. The all-powerful regional governors are often the media’s most determined persecutors and act with complete impunity,” the report said.
According to the RSF survey, Nigeria is ranked 35th in Africa behind countries such as Congo Brazzaville, Mozambique, and Angola.
Ghana lost its spot as Africa’s best in terms of press freedom following the murder of Ahmed Suale, an investigative journalist working with Anas Aremeyaw Anas, Ghana’s popular masked investigative reporter.
Namibia, ranked 23rd on the list, is now the best-ranked country in Africa, followed by Cape Verde (ranked 25th in the world), Ghana (27), South Africa (31) and Burkina Faso (44).
The top ten countries where the press is most free, according to the survey, are Norway, Finland, Sweden, Netherland, Denmark, Switzerland, New Zealand, Jamaica, Belgium, and Costa Rica.
The case of Jones Abiri was among terrifying developments that may have contributed to Nigeria’s worsening press freedom index as observed by RSF. On March 30, 2019, Jones Abiri, the editor and publisher of the Weekly Source newspaper based in the Bayelsa State capital, Yenagoa, was reportedly arrested a second time by the Department of State Services (DSS). He was reportedly re-arrested at Ayabowei Plaza in Yenagoa while having a meeting with his colleagues. Abiri’s case drew local and international outrage given that he had been previously arrested by the DSS in 2016 and held for two years after he was accused of being the leader of the joint revolutionary council of the separatist group, Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force. Abiri was also accused of threatening oil companies and demanding money from them. He was granted bail in August 2018 when an Abuja magistrate court struck out a suit against him after being held in detention for two years.
Abiri’s case was described as a violation of the journalist’s right which was a troubling development to journalism practice in Nigeria. On this issue, Angel Quintal, Programme Coordinator of Committee to Protect Journalist’s Africa said: “Given that Jones Abiri was previously detained by intelligence officers without access to a lawyer or his family for two years, we are deeply worried that he has once again been arrested and that his whereabouts are not known,” said Angela Quintal, Committee to Protect Journalist’s Africa program coordinator…. We call on federal and state authorities in Nigeria to disclose where Abiri is being detained and the reasons for his arrest, and urge that they ensure that his rights are not violated yet again and that due process is respected.” Abiri was released on Monday, April 1.
Another incident among the most disturbing disregard of press freedom by security operatives happened during the 2019 general elections in Nigeria. In one unbelievable incident, five journalists in Anambra state, Southeastern part of the country, covering the Presidential election were harassed by police men in the most disturbing manner, even when they showed their identity cards, provided documents showing they were accredited to cover the election, and were even wearing aprons given to journalists by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the body that organizes elections in the country. The journalists – Messrs Onu Nwanosike, The Nation; Geoffrey Anyanwu, Daily Sun; Vincent Ujumadu, Vanguard; Tony Okafor, Punch; and David-Chyddy Eleke of Thisday – were allegedly molested and demobilised after their car keys were forcibly taken away by the policemen in Agulu, Anambra state, near the home of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) vice-presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, while carrying out their lawful duties. They were all in one mini bus when the incident happened. They were eventually freed after intervention by some personalities and security operatives in the state.
There is need for improved atmosphere for practice of journalism in Nigeria. What transpired during the 2019 elections was a total nightmare for journalists. At 120 out of 180 on press freedom index, Nigeria is unarguably among the worst places to practice journalism in the World. As the acclaimed giant of Africa, 35th position on press freedom index is a bit shameful.