The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent non-governmental organization that defends press freedom globally, has called on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration to take urgent and deliberate actions to improve press freedom in Nigeria
CPJ made the call through a letter addressed to Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, signed by CPJ’s President, Ms. Jodie Ginsberg, to draw President Tinubu’s attention to the need to rejuvenate press freedom throughout the country as he marks three months in office.
CPJ implored the President to ensure justice is served for attacks on the press and that he reforms legislation and regulations to prevent the jailing and surveillance of journalists as well as ensure undisrupted access to the internet, online platforms, and news websites.
CPJ said in the statement that it has documented consistent accounts of threats, harassment, and physical attacks by security officers, politicians, and their supporters against journalists in the course of their work, including as they covered protests and elections. The group said during this year’s presidential and state elections, it documented intimidation attempts, physical attacks, and detention of over 40 journalists.
The organization said since 1992, it has documented the killing of at least 22 journalists in Nigeria, as well as two others who are missing and presumed dead, adding that at least 12 of these journalists are confirmed to have been killed in connection with their work.
CPJ stated that on June 21, 2023 a local court ordered the Nigerian Police to pay 50 million Naira (US$65,353) to the family of Mr. Alex Ogbu, an editor with the privately owned outlet, Regent Africa Times, who was shot and killed by the police in January 2020, while he covered protests in Abuja.
It also cited the July 2021, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court decision ordering the Nigerian government to compensate journalist Mr. Agba Jalingo 30 million naira (US$39,211) for his prolonged detention and mistreatment in police custody. It said neither payment has been fulfilled by authorities.
According to the organization, over the years, it has documented repeated cases of law enforcement authorities prosecuting journalists under laws that criminalize journalism including:
Section 24 of Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act, which punishes communications considered false, offensive, or intimidating with three years in prison and a fine of 7 million naira (US$9,000). It named Mr. Agba Jalingo and Mr. Luka Binniyat as just two recent examples of journalists who have faced prosecutions under this law, and whose cases are ongoing.
CPJ also noted that in March 2022, the ECOWAS Court directed the Nigerian government to amend Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act because it violated freedom of expression. It cited the Penal Code, applicable in Northern Nigeria, and the Criminal Code, applicable in Southern Nigeria, which CPJ says contain sections that criminalize defamation and other offenses that are used to jail journalists. It also cited Sections 97, 114, and 392 of the Penal Code, which relate to criminal conspiracy, defamation, and “breach of public peace,” which have all been used in recent years to jail journalists. Similarly, it noted that Sections 375 and 517 of the criminal code, which relate to defamation and offenses against the state, also carry prison terms and have been used to prosecute the press.
CPJ added that Nigeria’s communications regulations permit police and a range of other authorities to obtain telecom subscribers’ call data, including the location, time, and numbers used in regular phone calls and SMS messages, without a judicial warrant saying between 2017 and 2020, it documented at least three incidents of Nigerian police using telecom surveillance to track down and arrest journalists for their work noting that military investigators have also sought to reveal journalists’ sources using digital forensics technology.
CPJ noted that Nigerian journalists and civil society organisations have kicked against social media regulation and online censorship, including the ban on Twitter, now known as X, which ECOWAS declared illegal. It also cited the case of Peoples Gazette, whose website was blocked by telecom providers on the orders of the Nigerian government.
CPJ urged President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration to urgently improve the press freedom environment in Nigeria and reinstate its commitment to advancing the rights of journalists to work freely and safely.