Home Opinion Press Freedom: At least 13 Journalists Arrested, Assaulted in First Year of Tinubu’s Administration
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Press Freedom: At least 13 Journalists Arrested, Assaulted in First Year of Tinubu’s Administration

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Tinubu Danish
Bola Tinubu at the World Economic Forum, Riyadh, SA, 2024.

After enduring an unprecedented spate of press repression and violence on journalists in a supposed democracy under former President Muhammadu Buhari, the plight of Nigerian journalists remains as dire as ever, even under the self-proclaimed champion of democracy, Bola Tinubu.

In less than a year of his administration, the onslaught against press freedom has only intensified, with at least 13 journalists having been arrested, attacked or assaulted across Nigeria. This number is growing with no respite in sight.

The media community lost eight lives and recorded over 300 assaults under Buhari’s draconian stint as an elected president. His return to his farm in Daura should have signaled some relief for the media, but the rain of attacks on journalists has not abated under Tinubu – who ironically boasts of being part of NADECO and other pro-democracy movements that replaced the military in 1999.

Over the past year, physical attacks, stalking, and arrests of Nigerian journalists by state actors have become regular occurences. The latest victim is Daniel Ojukwu, a reporter with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ).

The Nigerian Police Force seized Ojukwu on the streets of Lagos on Wednesday, May 1, 2024, two days before International Press Freedom Day. He was denied contact with his relatives and colleagues. He was then relocated to the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) in Abuja, where he was held for over a week for allegedly violating the 2015 Cybercrime Act.

It will be recalled that the founder of FIJ, Fisayo Soyombo, was declared wanted by the police last month after an investigation that exposed the existence of smuggling kingpins with links to the highest levels of the Nigerian customs and the presidency. While the exposed smugglers walked freely, the FIJ Board of Trustees chairman Bukky Shonibare was asked to “produce Soyombo for questioning.”

West Africa Weekly gathered from reports that at least 13 journalists have suffered attacks and unlawful incarceration in the past year. Before FIJ’s Ojukwu, there were others like Segun Olatunji, Dele Fasan, Precious Eze and Achadu Idibia, among over 13 journalists who have experienced attacks, unlawful detention, or harassment under Tinubu’s less-than-a-year-old administration.

The primary perpetrator is the Nigerian Police Force, with Nigerian Army officials and political thugs playing noticeable cameo roles.

September, 2023

The Kwara State command of the NPF arrested and detained two online journalists, Abdulrazaq Babatunde and Lukman Bolakale, publishers of Just Events Online and Satcom Media, respectively, for several days. The reporters were reportedly incarcerated on the orders of top officials of the Kwara State Government.

Sahara Reporters reported that the duo’s detention was at the behest of a petition written against them by the former Principal Private Secretary (PSS) to Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq – Ms Monsurah Jumoke Gafar alleging defamation of character, even though the contentious report was extracted from a press release duly accredited to the writer.

October, 2023

Saint Onitsha, an online broadcaster and founder of Naija Live TV, was taken at gunpoint in Bayelsa State and flown overnight to Abuja, where he was immediately charged with cyberstalking and defamation. Onitsha’s ordeal started after he made a critical broadcast about the Presidential Amnesty Program (PAP) on his online TV platform.

This government-sponsored program offers monthly stipends to former oil militants as part of efforts to end violence in the Niger Delta. Authorities argued that the broadcaster deliberately published a false and unverified report on Facebook, accusing PAP officials of beating a beneficiary to death.

Onitsha, who had written extensively about the unrest in the Niger Delta, spent four months in detention until a court granted him bail in January while his prosecution continues. He risks a 25 million naira fine and up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

November, 2023

Achadu Idibia, a Kaduna-based journalist, was arrested and detained in a correctional facility over a critical report on the Kaduna Hajj Camp. His report, published on September 24, 2023, was titled “Kaduna Hajj camp, a national shame, men, women sleep together in an overcrowded hall—investigation.”

The Kaduna State Government went on to prosecute Idibia for alleged intimidation, defamation of character, insulting, and attempts to instigate religious crisis. The case still drags on in court.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) condemned the arrest and incarceration and called for his release, but that did not deter the government from pursuing Idibia’s prosecution even though the state was being ravaged by non-state actors who killed and maimed innocent citizens freely.

In the same month, a Premium Times reporter, Chinagorom Ugwu, was harassed by political thugs at Polling Unit 028 located in Ama Ozaraigwe in Omuma Community, in the Oru East Local Government Area of Imo State, while he was covering the off-season governorship election in the state.

Narrating his ordeal, the reporter said the suspected thugs suddenly became apprehensive by his presence at the polling unit and ordered him to leave the vicinity.

December, 2023

Precious Eze, an online publisher and journalist, was arrested by men who identified themselves as security officials in his Gbgada home in Lagos around 1:00 a.m. Upon his arrest, the police confiscated Precious’s laptop, phones, and other electronic devices. He was incommunicado for days, with family and friends unaware of his whereabouts. The reason for his arrest is not clear to date.

January, 2024

The attacks on journalists resumed in the new year, with Bunmi Adigun of Ogun State Television being the first reported victim of the year. Adigun was attacked by some security agents attached to the Osun State Governor, Ademola Adeleke, in Ogun State.

The incident occurred at the ceremony celebrating the 66th birthday of the Abepa of Joga-Orile, Oba Adeyemi Adekeye, during which Adeleke was also conferred a chieftaincy title.

Narrating his ordeal, Adigun said, “They pushed my cameraman and other cameramen. I thought that was enough until they got to where we were standing. I was harassed, embarrassed, and they nearly tore my clothes.”

The Ogun State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists condemned the assault as “a reckless and reprehensible behaviour towards a member of the press,” adding that “any form of assault on a journalist is an affront on the fundamental principles of press freedom.”

February, 2024

In February, we witnessed multiple cases of attacks on journalists in Nigeria. Let us start with Imo State, where at least two journalists were attacked while covering the governorship election primary for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in a hotel in Benin City, Edo State capital.

Political thugs disrupted the election, which was held on February 17, and according to PM News, “several journalists, including an NTA cameraman and FRCN reporter, were manhandled, and their equipment was vandalised.”

The following week, Dele Fasan, a regional bureau chief for the privately owned Galaxy Television, was assaulted and handcuffed by soldiers in Delta State. His crime was filming a protest against economic hardship by the state residents.

Fasan, who spoke with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), explained that while filming, a soldier demanded that he hand over his phone. He refused and presented his press identification instead, but one soldier hit him in the chest with a gun and ordered him into their van.

The journalist said the soldiers accused him of resisting arrest, handcuffed him, and drove him around for an hour, during which time they took his phone and deleted the images of the protest scene that he had shot that morning.

The same week, a journalist with the Abuja-based Whistler Newspaper, Kasarachi Aniagolu, was arrested by operatives of the anti-violence crime unit of the Nigerian Police. She was arrested while covering a raid on Bureau de Change (BDC) operators in Abuja’s Wuse Zone 4 area. Aniagolu, arrested alongside 95 forex traders, was released the following day.

March, 2024

First News Editor Segun Olatunji was seized from his residence in Lagos on March 15 by soldiers. According to his wife, the armed men, two of whom wore military uniforms, introduced themselves as officers of the Nigerian army and took Olatunji away without explanation.

His arrest was believed to be connected to a report in which he exposed an official working with the Nigeria Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) for being nepotistic in allocating public contracts.

“Tinubu Should improve Press Freedom” – CPJ

Three months into his administration, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent nongovernmental organisation that defends press freedom globally, had written a letter to President Tinubu urging him to “take swift and deliberate actions to improve conditions for the press in Nigeria.” CPJ also asked the President to reform legislation and regulations that subject journalists to jailing and surveillance. The pleas were brushed aside.

Attacks on Nigerian Journalists worrisome – IPC 

The International Press Centre, Lagos, has described the growing trend of attacks on journalists in Nigeria as’ problematic’. The Press Freedom Officer of IPC Lagos, Melody Akinjiyan, in a chat with West Africa Weekly, noted that the attacks call for urgent actions. Speaking on Daniel’s incarceration, she said:

“It is very worrisome to subject journalists to attacks while in the line of duty. Daniel was only carrying out his duties as a journalist. If anybody has a problem with his reports/publications, the court is there to seek redress instead of taking unlawful actions.”

She added that the IPC has a Centre called the IPCs Centre for the Safety & Protection of Journalists (I-CSPJ), which documents attacks on journalists and takes necessary advocacy actions.

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