Attacks on the Press 2009: Nigeria

Top Developments
• Local operatives of the ruling PDP assault journalists with impunity.
• Editor slain at his home outside Lagos. Wife pledges to continue his work.

Key Statistic
21: National dailies, a number reflecting Nigeria’s robust media climate.

With 21 national dailies, 12 television stations, and several emerging online news sources, Nigeria continued to boast one of the most vibrant news media cultures on the continent. But a series of attacks fanned fears in the press corps and prompted self-censorship.


Main Index
Regional Analysis:
In African hot spots,
journalists forced into exile

Country Summaries
Other developments

An editor who covered sensitive political news was murdered at his home outside Lagos, while local operatives with the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) assaulted journalists with impunity in a series of episodes, some of which occurred in government buildings. The attacks had Nigerian journalists talking already about the potential pressures they could face in the 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections. The PDP has held power with little difficulty since the country returned to civilian rule in 1999, but opposition parties have talked about uniting in 2011, a step that would make the contests more competitive—and more challenging to cover.

Nigeria has been relatively free of deadly violence against the press during this decade, but journalists were startled by a killing on a Sunday morning in September. Six assailants arrived at the doorstep of Bayo Ohu, an assistant editor and political reporter for the private daily The Guardian, and shot him several times, according to news reports and relatives. The attackers took his cell phone and one of his two laptops. The Nigerian Union of Journalists said it believed Ohu had been slain for his reporting. He had recently examined allegations of fraud in the Customs Department and had covered a contentious gubernatorial election in southwest Ekiti state. His widow, Blessing, told CPJ that she would carry on Ohu’s work. “This is my reason to go into journalism—to find out why he was killed and to continue reporting those things that his killers did not want reported,” she said. Two suspects were detained in late October, but no motive was immediately disclosed.

Spring elections in Ekiti were marked by several reports of violence and obstruction. In April, PDP operatives roughed up three photographers and damaged their equipment at a police roadblock near the home of Sen. Ayo Arise in Oyo-Ekiti, said one of the journalists, Segun Bakare of The Punch. The same month, Nigeria’s broadcast regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission, fined the private radio Adaba FM 500,000 naira (US$3,350) for transmitting content that it said incited public violence.

The most egregious attack occurred in the Government House in the state capital, Ado-Ekiti, where supporters of PDP Gov. Segun Oni assaulted three reporters who arrived to interview a campaign manager. One of the reporters, Ozim Gospel of the National Guide, said the April attack occurred after the journalists had come upon Oni supporters filling out what seemed to be fraudulent ballots. The reporters, who filed a complaint with authorities, required hospital treatment for their injuries, and much of their equipment was destroyed. A witness recorded the attack and posted it on YouTube. Oni won re-election in the Ekiti balloting. No arrests had been made in the Government House attack by late year.

A similar assault was reported at the Government House in southeast Imo state in September. A security agent used his shoe to beat Radio Nigeria correspondent Wale Olukun in the presence of the state government’s press secretary, according to news reports and local journalists. Three other agents joined in the assault, Olukun told CPJ. The journalist said he had recently aired a report about a visually impaired youth who protested perceived shortcomings in public services.

Reporting in the volatile, oil-rich Niger Delta was exceptionally difficult in the first half of 2009 amid fighting between government forces and militants demanding a greater local share in oil revenue, the editor of the private weekly National Point, Ibiba Don Pedro, told CPJ. Sowore Omoyele, publisher of the news Web site Sahara Reporters, said few reporters risked firsthand coverage during that period. “The government told the local press they could not guarantee their protection amid the violence, so most kept away and relied on press statements issued by the warring parties,” Omoyele said.

Conditions in the Niger Delta improved slightly in June after the government granted amnesty to some of the local militants, allowing more firsthand coverage, several journalists told CPJ. But security forces continued to harass and intimidate reporters perceived as being critical, leading to ongoing self-censorship, they said. In November, security forces detained three journalists for two days on charges of “false publication” in their coverage of a conflict between Port Harcourt residents and soldiers, local journalists told CPJ. Developments in the region have vast local repercussions because of environmental and health degradation caused by oil production. The region also has significant international impact given the extent of the reserves there. Nigeria is Africa’s leading oil producer.

Internet penetration was estimated at just 7 percent in 2009, according to Internet World Statistics, a market research company, but online publications started to break stories that influenced traditional media. Shu’aibu Usman, national secretary of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, told CPJ that newspapers were now republishing or following up on stories that first appeared online. Some print editors faced government scrutiny about those stories. Police in the northern Kano state questioned Tukur Mamu, editor of the private weekly Desert Herald, in July after he reprinted a story from the online Sahara Reporters about an unsolved murder, the journalist told CPJ. Mamu was released the next day. He was detained again in October after the paper published its own article claiming the president’s wife had assumed oversight of some government construction contracts, he said. On both occasions, Mamu noted, agents interrogated him about his relationship with the online Sahara Reporters.

Some journalists blamed media owners for allowing political pressure to unduly influence content. Usman, the journalist union secretary, said ownership is largely in the hands of “politicians or businessmen who allow their personal concerns to dominate their publications.” In October, President Umaru Yar’Adua threatened to revoke the license of Africa Independent Television, citing “threats to national security” that apparently stemmed from the station’s political talk show, “Focus Nigeria,” according to local news reports. The station soon replaced the show’s popular moderator, Gbenga Arulegba, who was known for his provocative style. AIT Chairman Raymond Dokpesi said government pressure had nothing to do with the move.

But one newspaper dealt Yar’Adua a setback in court. In June, the Court of Appeal ruled the president could not pursue a defamation complaint against the private daily Leadership until he left office, according to news reports. The complaint stemmed from a November 2008 report in Leadership saying that the president had been ill, Leadership Executive Director Aniebo Nwamu said.