A police officer is seen in Lagos, Nigeria, on April 12, 2020. Authorities recently harassed several journalists covering a registration event at the country's National Identity Management Commission. (AFP/Pius Utomi Ekpei)

Nigerian security forces seize journalists’ cameras, delete photos

On January 6, 2021, officers with Nigeria’s Security and Civil Defence Corps harassed at least three photojournalists in Abuja, the capital, seized their cameras, and deleted images they had taken, according to the journalists, who spoke with CPJ, and news reports.

The three newspaper photographers—Olatunji Obasa with Punch, Olu Aremo with Leadership, and Mudashiru Atanda with The Sun—told CPJ in phone interviews that the incident occurred at the headquarters of Nigeria’s National Identity Management Commission, while they were covering people enrolling in a government program to link their phone SIM cards with their national identification numbers, as required by a new government policy.

At around noon, after the journalists had been covering the event for about two hours and had photographed law enforcement officers harassing a woman for allegedly stepping out of line, two Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps officers confronted Obasa, Aremo, and Atanda, they said.

One officer grabbed Obasa’s camera and attempted to hit him, Obasa said, saying that the officer did not injure him but broke his camera beyond repair.

Aremo said that he and Atanda noticed that altercation, and tried to intervene, but another defense corps officer stopped them and attempted to seize both their cameras, which the journalists resisted. While they argued with the officers, a senior defense corps officer aggressively asked them how they got permission to enter and cover the event, Aremo said.

An officer with Nigeria’s Department of State Services then intervened and requested Aremo and Atanda surrender their cameras to him, rather than to the Security and Civil Defence Corps officers, and the journalists complied, Atanda said.

The state services and defense corps officers then took the cameras to the public affairs department of the National Identity Management Commission building, where the defense corps officers deleted Aremo’s pictures, the journalists said. Atanda told CPJ that officers sought to delete images of the registration event from his camera too, but his memory card was full so he had not taken photos that day.

The officers then returned the cameras to the journalists, who initially refused to leave the scene while they protested that authorities should replace Obasa’s damaged camera, the journalists said

According to Atanda, Aremo, and Obasa, the officers also deleted pictures from the phones of at least three people present who tried to capture the altercation between the officers and the journalists.

The journalists left the area after the officers recommended they write to the director of corporate communications at the National Identity Management Commission, Obasa told CPJ. Later that day, he wrote a letter explaining what happened and requesting a replacement camera; as of January 12 he had received no response, he said.

A spokesperson for the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Akinbinu David, said in a phone interview with CPJ that the corps was investigating the incident. David said that he had personally apologized to Punch, Leadership and The Sun on behalf of the corps, but described the allegation that a camera was destroyed as false.

Department of State Services spokesperson Peter Afunanya told CPJ via messaging app that the department “did not harass or assault any journalist.”

CPJ called Kayode Adegoke, a spokesperson of the National Identity Management Commission, for comment, but the call did not go through.

In 2020, CPJ documented how SIM card registration in Nigeria contributes to police surveillance powers, which have been used to track and arrest journalists.