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Press freedom threatened in Nigeria, 36 journalists attacked in six months–Report

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At least 36 Nigerian journalists were attacked between January and July this year, with 30 of the attacks recorded during the 2019 general elections.

A civic tech platform that tracks attacks on journalists in Nigeria, Press Attack Tracker (PAT), gave the statistics in a statement on Wednesday.

The Press Attack Tracker was set up by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) in collaboration with the Coalition for Whistleblowers and Press Freedom (CWPPF) and Leaks.NG, in response to the unrelenting attacks on the press.

The platform tracks these attacks and reports them for the purposes of advocacy tool that is data-driven.

The platform observed that despite the clamour for a peaceful, free and fair elections, the majority of the press attacks in Nigeria occurred during that event.

The attacks on the press during the elections included illegal arrests and detention, harassment, physical attacks, denial of access and the death of a journalist covering the elections in Delta State.

The platform noted that the attacks were perpetrated by both thugs and state-actors and were recorded mostly in the south-south, south-east, and north-central part of the country.

“The Bayelsa government house photographer, Reginald Dei, was shot dead in his house on February 23 by gunmen in military uniform while waiting for the Presidential and National Assembly election results.

“During this period, 44 other broadcast stations were sanctioned such as the Jay 101.5 FM, based in Jos, which was shut down for what the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) described as ‘inciting broadcast’ in a letter it sent to the station on March 2.

“Most recently, on June 6, the NBC suspended the licence of Daar Communication PLC, owners of African Independent Television (AIT) and Ray Power till further notice because they promoted what the government termed as ‘hate speech’.

“On a global scale, according to UNESCO, over 1,327 journalists have been killed around the world in the line of duty since 1993. According to the Press Tracker, 349 of these attacks happened in Nigeria.

“One of Nigeria’s most prominent press attacks was on Dele Giwa, one of the front-runners of investigative journalism in the country who was killed in October 1986 by a parcel bomb. From then till date, several murders, unlawful arrests, and harassment have been meted out against journalists across the country,” the platform reported.

Press Attack Tracker

The Press Attack Tracker (PAT) works by tracking attacks on the press so that interventions and advocacy efforts are data-driven and the fight for a free press is continued and sustained.

According to the project officer for the Media Freedom project of PTCIJ, Stephanie Adams, “since its inception, the Press Attack Tracker has data of attacks on Nigerian journalists since 1985, and attacks against the press have worsened in the last ten years”.

She said Nigerian journalists remain largely unprotected from rogue elements like Boko Haram, who have listed journalists among their enemies. She listed one consequence of that as the 2012 killing of Channels TV reporter, Enenche Akogwu, while covering a conflict in Kano.

The Tracker has data of over 349 verified attacks that happened in the country between 1986 and 2019. The most prominent categories of attacks are threats, equipment seizure or damage, harassment, arrest or physical attack, while the agents of those attacks are mostly political thugs, Nigerian security operatives and politicians.

“Despite a campaign against these election-driven attacks led by theCoalition for Whistleblowers and Press Freedom (CWPPF) and coordinated by the PTCIJ, similar attacks were recorded in the re-run elections in Kano State.

“Journalists from several media organisations were threatened, harassed and locked out of election collation centres, hindering them from performing their duties effectively.

Unlawful attacks and murders

In 2018, over 21 attacks were recorded with seven unlawful arrests, which include the arrest of PREMIUM TIMES’ reporters, Samuel Ogundipe and Azeezat Adedigba, by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) on the order of the Inspector-General of Police.

In 2017, PAT recorded 16 attacks and 3 deaths including the gruesome murder of Famous Giobaro of Bayelsa radio station, Glory FM 97.1, who was shot dead on April 16.

“Another such murder was that of Lawrence Okojie of Nigerian Television Authority, Benin who was shot dead in July while returning from work and the suspicious death of Ikechukwu Onubogu, a cameraman with the Anambra Broadcasting Service, on November 16.

“Other attacks include of Amadin Uyi of Silverbird Television, Abuja who was brutalised by police officers during a protest organised by ‘Our Mumu Don Do’ group on August 8. Segun Salami of Channels Television Statehouse was also attacked in Kogi by security personnel attached to the State House detention centre on 28 August.

“Wale Odunsi, an editor with Daily Post, was attacked by security officials at Kogi state government house on 11 October. The Nigerian Union of Journalists secretariat, Abia state was invaded by Nigerian soldiers of Operation Python Dance on September 12 and a number of journalists were assaulted.

“Ikechukwu Ibe of the Daily Trust Newspapers was allegedly brutalised and assaulted by an Army Captain at Jabi area of Abuja on October 26, and so on.

“Unfortunately, journalists are not only attacked for what they write, they are often arrested on false charges. An example is the case of PREMIUM TIMES reporter Cletus Ukpong whose investigative report exposed the rot in public schools in Akwa Ibom. The report was fought against heavily by the Akwa Ibom state government who launched a serious attack against the reporter.

“Another case is that of Timothy Elombah, the Editor of the news website ELOMBAH, who was arrested on the 1 January over a story that he did not write.

“It is sometimes as bad as the police threatening to frame journalists for crimes they did not commit such as in the case of George Williams and three other journalists who were threatened by Policemen attached to the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, Imo State command to pay the sum of N10,000 or they would be falsely accused.

“Family members of journalists are not exempt from these attacks. On the 28th of February, a reporter for Voice of America (VOA) Nasir Birnin-Yero’s wife and child were kidnapped and were not released until a ransom of N2 million paid.

Unlawful arrests

“Examples of unlawful arrests against the press include the arrest of PREMIUM TIMES publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi, and its judiciary correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu, on 19 January 2017.

“Another one is the arrest of Jerry Edoho of Akwa Ibom State on the 6 January, the arrest of Nseibet John of the Ink Newspaper, Akwa Ibom state, who was detained for a night, arraigned and granted bail to the sum of N250, 000 on 6 January.

“Jones Abiri, the Bayelsa-based journalist who was accused of leading a gang of activists to blow up pipelines in Bayelsa State, is perhaps one of the more publicized attacks in recent times.

“Mr Abiri was accused between June and July 2016 and he ended up in the custody of State Security Service for 2 years without trial. Nine months after his release, he was arraigned in court.

“The journalist has strongly denied all allegations stating that he was being targeted for his media work that put a spotlight on the controversial conduct of oil companies and the Nigerian government in Niger Delta.

“His ordeal has been a major topic of discussion amongst media rights advocates,” PAT noted.

Credits| PT

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