Jonathan Ugbal, editor of news website CrossRiverWatch, was attacked by supporters of Nigeria's Peoples Democratic Party on February 22, 2023, ahead of national elections in the country. (Photo: Maxwell Effiong)

Ahead of elections, Nigerian journalist Jonathan Ugbal attacked, others denied access

Abuja, February 24, 2023–Nigerian authorities should hold accountable those responsible for beating journalist Jonathan Ugbal, publicly advise political supporters to not attack the press, and not unduly hinder access to election-related sites, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

On Wednesday, February 22, about 20 supporters of Nigeria’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) hit and kicked Ugbal, editor of the privately owned news site CrossRiverWatch, as he worked to report on a dispute between the political supporters and a community youth group outside a PDP office in Calabar, the capital of Cross River State, according to a report published by Ugbal’s outlet and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ over the phone.

Separately, on the same day in Oshogbo, the Osun state capital, security forces working under the orders of officials with the Osun branch of the Central Bank of Nigeria barred journalists from at least 10 separate media houses from accessing the bank office, where Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials had come to collect election materials, including result sheets and ballot papers, according to a report by privately owned newspaper The Nation and its author Toba Adedeji, who was there and spoke by phone with CPJ. Adedeji told CPJ that when he had covered a similar collection of election materials ahead of the Osun state governorship elections in July 2022, journalists had been permitted to access the bank offices.

Nigeria’s elections for federal lawmakers are scheduled for February 25, and elections for state governments are scheduled for March 11. CPJ’s previous reporting detailed safety concerns for journalists covering the elections, including in Cross River State.

“Nigerian authorities should hold accountable those responsible for attacking journalist Jonathan Ugbal, and political parties should make clear that such interference by their supporters will not be tolerated,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, from New York. “Authorities should ensure journalists are not denied access to cover Nigeria’s democratic process.”

Regarding the incident in Calabar, the community youth group had gone to the PDP office to call for lawmakers from that party to improve roads and access to utilities, according to Ugbal and a member of the community group who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity for security reasons.

The journalist said he had finished filming the altercation and was leaving the scene when the attackers swarmed him, hit him across his body, damaged his devices, and took one of his three phones, some of his money, two of his bank cards, and his office ID card. Those items were not returned, he said.

The PDP supporters beat the journalist with their hands and kicked him until a bystander pulled him into a nearby shop, Ugbal said, adding that his bag fell to the ground during the attack, damaging his laptop and phones. As he waited in the shop, the party supporters deleted images from one of his phones, Ugbal said. As he left, he collected his bag with his computer and two remaining phones.

As Ugbal walked away, another group of about five PDP supporters approached and hit him with their hands, he said. After Ugbal identified himself as a journalist, they recognized him as a host with the privately owned broadcaster Hit 95.9 FM, where he also works. Those supporters looked through his bag, took his ID card, bank cards, and some money, then let him leave.

Ugbal said he went to a medical clinic after the attack, but no doctors were available, so he returned the next morning and received medication for pain in his neck and back due to the attack. He told CPJ that he intended to file a report with police but had been advised by his lawyer to first get a medical examination.

Venatius Ikem, the PDP chairman for Cross River State, told CPJ by phone that he was in transit before the line was disconnected. When CPJ called back, the connection was too poor to communicate. CPJ also sent questions via messaging app but received no response.

CPJ called Eta Mbora and Efa Esua Nyong, two incumbent PDP candidates that have offices in the building where Ugbal was attacked, but received no response.

CPJ’s calls and text messages to the INEC national spokesperson, Festus Okoye, and his Osun State counterpart, Oluwaseun Osimosu, went unanswered.

CPJ also called and sent emails to contacts listed on the Central Bank of Nigeria website but received no response.