Nigeria has a highly vibrant and varied media landscape in Africa and print sector in particular with outlets that openly criticize some government policies; nevertheless, self-censorship remains a major concern to practicing journalists.
A free press is fundamental to a democratic society. It seeks out and circulates news, information, ideas, comment and opinion and holds those in authority to account. The press provides the platform for a multiplicity of voices to be heard. At national, regional and local level, it is the public’s watchdog, activist and guardian.
A debate on does a free press exist anywhere in the world continues as many journalists, bloggers and reporters continue to pay the price for investigating and filing reports on issues that put their lives at risk, so that we, the public are kept informed. Criminal and civil laws applicable to the entire country punish various press and speech offenses, including sedition, criminal defamation, and publication of false news.
However, the media occasionally face interference from public officials and regulators over government criticism or coverage of sensitive issues, such as high-level corruption and national security. The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the agency responsible for processing applications for broadcast licenses and upholding the broadcast code, has come under particular scrutiny for processes and decisions that critics view as opaque and politically biased because government appoints those who head the agency.
A Frivolous Petitions Bill, which passed its second reading in the Senate in December 2015, would mandate a two-year prison sentence and/or a 2 million naira fine for posting on social media outlets abusive statements against a person, group, or government institution. Nearly two dozen Nigerian and international organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), called on the government to reject the bill because it marked an encroachment on freedom of expression. However, the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari sought better relations with the country’s independent media.
Many journalists have been charged with criminal defamation in recent years, though in most cases the charges were eventually withdrawn. One of the more serious cases involved Leadership newspaper editor Tony Amokeodo and political correspondent Chibuzor Ukuibe, who were charged in 2013 over the publication of a memo allegedly written by then president Goodluck Jonathan on plans to increase fuel prices and disrupt the merger of opposition political parties. The two journalists and the paper’s parent company faced 11 criminal counts, including forgery, conspiracy to commit a felony, and incitement of public disaffection against the president. The government withdrew the charges shortly thereafter.
The 2011 Freedom of Information Act guarantees citizens’ right to public information and has put pressure on government agencies to release records in response to petitions by media and activist groups. Some state governors have balked at complying with the law, arguing that the federal legislation is not applicable to the states.
In 2014, the NBC issued a directive requiring all broadcasters to submit written notice 48 hours before live transmissions of any political program. The NBC claimed that the directive was meant to preserve national unity ahead of the 2015 elections by stemming “inciting, provocative, and highly divisive comments.” The following month, the NBC suspended the broadcast of a popular radio show on Splash FM after a promotional clip referred to a federal lawmaker as a criminal.
In recent years, security forces and Boko Haram have impeded reporting in the country’s northeast region, where the militant group has been most active. However, the relative success of Nigeria’s military campaign against Boko Haram in 2015 led to greater access for journalists, particularly toward the end of the year, though Journalists continue to face intimidation, harassment, and physical attacks in the course of their duties.
By Rukaiya Muhammad Dauda,
300 level Student
Mass Communication Department,
University of Maiduguri