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Press Freedom News and Views

Nigeria


Nigeria's press freedom record is on the decline.

For the first time since 2008, when CPJ began publishing its annual Impunity Index, Nigeria has made the list of the "worst nations in the world for deadly, unpunished violence against the press."

(Desmond Utomwen)

"If a journalist can't fight for his own right, then he has no responsibility to fight for others," Desmond Utomwen, a senior correspondent with TheNews Magazine/PM News, told me after a High Court judge on October 4 awarded him 100 million naira (US$637,000) in special damages from the Nigeria Police Force and Guarantee Trust Bank Plc.

Utomwen's victory represents the largest award for any journalist in Nigeria's 52-year history as an independent nation and sets a clear precedent for the country's beleaguered press.

Benedict Uwalaka after his attack. (Premium Times)

Hardly ever do Nigerian journalists get justice for assaults suffered in the line of duty. But things may be set to change with the case of Benedict Uwalaka, a photojournalist with Leadership Newspapers, who on August 9 was brutally assaulted at a government hospital in Lagos State. The first step toward justice came 22 days later, when Bayo Ogunsola, one of the assailants identified by Uwalaka, was arraigned in court on August 31 on a two-count charge of assault and destruction of the journalist's camera. Ogunsola pleaded not guilty on both counts.

Police shielded parliamentarian and former state governor Bukola Saraki, left, from journalists after he was questioned by a police fraud unit. (247nigerianewsupdate.com)

On World Press Freedom Day last week, Nigeria's Information Minister, Labaran Maku, publicly asserted that the country's media "is one of the freest in the universe." On paper, Nigeria's 1999 Constitution guarantees the freedom of the press to "uphold...the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people." But seven journalists who attempted to put this principle to practice on World Press Freedom Day experienced a different reality -- one all too common for independent journalists working in Africa's most populated nation.

CCTV's East Africa operations are headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. (CCTV)

Will China's quickly expanding media presence in Africa result in a fresh, alternative, and balanced perspective on the continent--much as Al-Jazeera altered the broadcast landscape with the launch of its English service in 2006--or will it be essentially an exercise in propaganda?

Nigerians have been protesting for five days over the removal of a fuel subsidy. (AP/Sunday Alamba)

Protesters in Nigeria are not only angry at their government's New Year's Day decision to eliminate a fuel subsidy -- they are also upset about news media coverage of the citizens' movement, dubbed "Occupy Nigeria," and have taken their protests to local media outlets.

President Goodluck Jonathan signed a public information bill long in the making. (AP/Bebeto Matthews)

There is a deserved celebration in the Nigerian media over the recently passed Freedom of Information Act, which provides citizens with broad access to public records and information held by a public official or institution.  It is the climax of an 11-year struggle to pass such a law in the Nigerian parliament. Indeed, the call for such a law was first made under military rule, in 1993, when the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Civil Liberties Organisation, and the Media Rights Agenda began to clamor for it.

Since December 24, about 80 people have died from three bombings in Jos; seen here is a government building smoldering after a blast. (Reuters)

Augustine Sindyi, a veteran photographer for the state-owned weekly Standard newspaper in Plateau State, was walking home from work on Christmas Eve when a nearby bomb explosion killed him instantly. Sindyi resided in a busy Nigerian neighborhood near the local government offices in the center of Jos. The assailants targeted an area that would receive immeasurable damage where Sindyi happened to live, state radio reporter Murtala Sani, told me. 

Nigerian police officer stands at scen of an exploded car bomb at Eagle Square in Abuja. (AP)

A few minutes before deadly explosions ripped through Nigeria's 50th Independence Day celebration in Abuja on Saturday, Twitter user Achonu Stanley wondered about darkening skies over the festivities: "Would the day be marred by rain? It has become cloudy and dark. Sorry for the thousands of people at Eagle Square."

Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, left, South Africa's Jacob Zuma, and Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan at this summer's African Union Summit in Kampala. (AFP/Marc Hofer)

While South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) discusses the party's proposal for a media appeals tribunal, delegates should take note of a landmark ruling in Nigeria this year in which a High Court judge declared a government-dominated press council unconstitutional. 

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