CPJ Accuses Justice Minister of Misrepresenting its Research Report on Attacks Against Journalists

Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN)
Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has accused the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), of “falsely characterizing” the organization’s research on the press freedom situation in Nigeria and called on the Federal Government to revise the minister’s statement.

In a statement issued on April 28, the organization noted that the previous day, on April 27, “the state-run News Agency of Nigeria” reported that Mr. Malami described CPJ’s research in a meeting 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.”

CPJ said the NAN report of Mr. Malami remarks at a briefing to promote the Nigerian government’s human rights agenda, which was chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari, quoted him as saying that no journalists had been killed in the country “arising from infractions, relating thereto.”

However, the organization said its research has “for years documented a steady stream of attacks, prosecutions, and harassment of journalists in Nigeria, including for publishing alleged false news.”

It stated that its 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.”

According to the statement, “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.

It stressed that “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.”

The CPJ alleged that in January, Ministry of Justice spokesperson Umaru Gwandu similarly mischaracterized its research at an event on the safety of journalists during elections and that earlier, in 2020, Mr. Malami also mischaracterized the fact that Nigeria was not included in CPJ’s annual Impunity Index as an achievement by Nigerian authorities.

It explained, however, that 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.

CPJ insisted that Nigerian authorities have not achieved full accountability for any journalist deaths that CPJ has documented, adding that “Malami repeated that claim in 2022, according to local media reports.”

The organization said when it contacted Mr. Malami for comment via messaging app, he asked to see CPJ’s evidence on journalists’ killings and that 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 said it also called Justice Ministry spokesman Gwandu for comments but that he did not answer.

It claimed that it also contacted via messaging app, presidential spokesperson, Mr. Garba Shehu, who asked if CPJ had found the Nigerian government responsible for the killings of journalists.

CPJ said it sent findings in its database showing that since 1992 government officials are suspected of involvement in the killings of at least four journalists, namely: Okezie Amaruben in 1998, Fidelis Ikwuebe in 1999, Precious Owolabi in 2019, and Onifade Emmanuel Pelumi in 2020.

According to CPJ, in response, Mr. Shehu said “I work as spokesman to the President” adding that Mr. Malami could speak for himself.