Abuja, Nigeria, June 5, 2015–At least four journalists have been attacked in Nigeria, and one forced to flee his state, in the past week, according to news reports and one of the journalists. The attacks occurred in the same week that the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote an open letter to new President Muhammadu Buhari, who took office on May 29, calling on him to take steps to ensure journalists are able to work freely without the fear of reprisal.
“President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has an early opportunity to follow through on its pledges to promote freedom of the press,” said Peter Nkanga, CPJ’s West Africa representative. “We urge authorities to immediately investigate these attacks and prosecute the perpetrators to the full extent of Nigerian law, sending a clear message that violence against journalists will not be tolerated.”
Joseph Hir, a reporter for the independent Daily Trust newspaper, told CPJ he was forced to flee Nassarawa State on May 29 after he was attacked that day by individuals wearing shirts supportive of Umaru Tanko al-Makura, the re-elected governor of Nassarawa State, as the governor took his oath of office. Hir said that before he was attacked, he received phone calls from individuals he said were acquaintances of al-Makura who told him the governor was unhappy with a story Hir published on May 23. The story questioned the political relevance of Nassarawa State in the national affairs of Buhari’s political party, the All Progressives Congress. Hir also said he was told by colleagues once he had fled that he should not to return to Nassarawa State.
Hir was beaten until he was comatose, news reports said. He was treated at a local hospital for bruises and injuries to his abdomen.
When called for comment, al-Makura told CPJ he would respond to questions via text message. CPJ’s follow-up text messages seeking comment were not immediately answered.
On June 3, Kamarudeen Ogundele, a correspondent for the independent daily newspaper Punch, was beaten and his clothes torn by dozens of individuals he said were supporters of the governor of southwestern Ekiti State and his political party, the People’s Democratic Party, according to news reports. Ogundele said he had been taking photographs near the state parliament building of women praying for peace following an attempt by the PDP supporters to prevent lawmakers of Buhari’s political party, the All Progressives Congress, from entering the building. Ogundele said he identified himself as a journalist but he was beaten, hit, and kicked until police intervened. He said his phone was seized in the attack.
The governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, later apologized for his supporters’ actions and condemned the attack, according to news reports.
Victor Akinkuolie, a correspondent with the state-owned The Hope newspaper, said that police in Ondo State on June 2 beat him until he was comatose, according to news reports. Akinkuolie said he followed an alternate route after he saw a police car parked in the middle of the highway, disrupting traffic. He said officers followed him in their car, told him to stop and get out of his vehicle, and then beat him. According to the local news website Pulse, the attack was an attempt by police to “deal with” Akinkuolie, who has exposed police intimidation in the past.
A senior police officer at the local station said he would investigate the attack and ensure that appropriate action was taken, according to news reports.
On June 1, police attacked Muhammad Atta-Kafin-Dangi, the head of news for the state-broadcaster Radio Nigeria, after he covered a protest by commercial motorcycle riders in Gwagwalada, a suburb of the capital, Abuja, according to news reports. Kafin-Dangi said he was beaten, kicked, and pushed. He also said he showed his press card to the Gwagwalada police chief, who accused him of covering the protest without permission, news reports said. CPJ was unable to obtain contact information for the Gwagwalada police chief.
Buhari has pledged to take disciplinary steps against security officers who commit violations. On March 17, before the elections, he told the Nigerian Press Organisation in Abuja that if he won the presidency, “the Nigerian media will be free under our [All Progressives Congress] government.” In a June 3 letter to Buhari, CPJ called on the president to follow through on public assurances he gave during his inauguration speech on May 29, in which he said he would ensure law enforcement authorities operated within the constitution.
Security forces are the most frequent perpetrators of violations against the press, according to the Lagos-based International Press Centre, which found that Nigerian police and security forces were responsible for 24 of at least 32 cases of attacks on journalists between November 2014 and February this year. No one has been brought to justice, the IPC said. CPJ has also documented physical attacks, threats, and intimidation of local and international journalists seeking to cover the news.