Nigerian Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami recently mischaracterized CPJ's research on attacks on the press. (Screenshot: YouTube/TVC News Nigeria)

Nigerian justice minister misrepresents CPJ research on attacks on journalists

New York, April 28, 2023—Nigerian authorities should revise recent statements falsely characterizing CPJ’s research on the press freedom situation in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

On Thursday, April 27, the state-run News Agency of Nigeria reported that Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami described CPJ’s research in a meeting the previous day as finding “Nigeria as the only African country that has been in full compliance in terms of the protection of the rights of the journalists.”

That report quoted Malami as saying that no journalists had been killed in the country “arising from infractions, relating thereto.”

CPJ research has for years documented a steady stream of attacks, prosecutions, and harassment of journalists in Nigeria, including for publishing alleged “false news.” CPJ research shows at least 24 journalists have been killed in Nigeria since 1992. At least 12 of these journalists are confirmed to have been killed in connection with their work.

“CPJ’s research on press freedom in Nigeria, showing years of attacks on members of the press—including killings—strongly contradicts comments by Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami about the press freedom situation in the country,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Malami’s misrepresentation of CPJ research is particularly alarming and tragically ironic given how frequently Nigerian journalists are accused and prosecuted for distributing alleged falsehoods.”

Malami gave his remarks at a briefing to promote the Nigerian government’s human rights agenda, which was chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari.

In January, Ministry of Justice spokesperson Umaru Gwandu similarly mischaracterized CPJ’s research at an event on the safety of journalists during elections.

Earlier, in 2020, Malami mischaracterized the fact that Nigeria was not included in CPJ’s annual Impunity Index as an achievement by Nigerian authorities. However, Nigeria was no longer included in the 2020 index because it tracked only killings from the previous 10 years, and therefore no longer included a killing from 2009. Nigerian authorities have not achieved full accountability for any journalist deaths that CPJ has documented. Malami repeated that claim in 2022, according to local media reports.

When CPJ contacted Malami for comment via messaging app, he asked to see CPJ’s evidence on journalists’ killings. When CPJ sent him records of journalists slain in Nigeria, he said he would “review” them and then said, “Our conclusion is based on  your reports as released. You may wish to refer to your previous releases establishing same position.”

CPJ also called Gwandu for comment but he did not answer.

Contacted via messaging app, Presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu asked if CPJ had found the Nigerian government responsible for the killings of journalists. CPJ sent findings in its database showing that since 1992 government officials are suspected of involvement in the killings of at least four journalists: Okezie Amaruben in 1998, Fidelis Ikwuebe in 1999, Precious Owolabi in 2019, and Onifade Emmanuel Pelumi in 2020. In response, Shehu said, “I work as spokesman to the President” and that Malami could speak for himself.