Nigeria: Endangered voices: Attack on freedom of expression in Nigeria



In Nigeria, the civic space continues to shrink. Clear examples of this are the consistent attacks on freedom of information and expression as well as media freedom, which are all constituent parts of a country’s civic space. Since 2015, attack on journalists and media activists have continued unabated. Between January and September 2019, at least 19 journalists and media practioners have suffered attack. Amnesty International has been closely monitoring these attacks and now reports on how they have contributed to the violation of other human rights in Nigeria. These attacks take the form of verbal and physical assault, as well as indiscriminate arrest and detention by Nigerian authorities. These violations are mostly perpetrated by Nigeria’s security forces - the Nigeria Police, the Nigerian Army and officials of the Department of State Service (DSS), and they occur when journalists and media practitioners seek access to information, share information or express critical views that could drive public opinion.

Oftentimes, dissenting views expressed by media practitioners are criminalised, particularly when they revolve around sensitive issues. Also, the stifling of freedom of expression for these groups occurs in circumstances where journalists are pressured to disclose their sources of information. Those who spoke to Amnesty International confirmed that they came under intense pressure from Nigeria’s security officials to reveal their sources of information, particularly when they published stories that focused on corruption, elections and armed conflict. Some of the journalists were kept under surveillance, while others received death threats via telephone calls from unidentified people. Many journalists also came under attack while reporting the 2019 General Elections across Nigeria.

The failure of Nigerian authorities to investigate cases of indiscriminate arrest, detention and prosecution of journalists and media practitioners ensures that perpetrators are not held to account for these human rights violations. Victims who suffered arbitrary arrest and detention told Amnesty International that they were tortured and pressured to write confessional statements, which were used to prosecute them in court. While many of them faced indiscriminate charges such as ‘defamation’, ‘terrorism’ and ‘cyberstalking’, others had charges such as ‘kidnapping’, criminal trespass and theft of state documents brought against them. Worse still, many of the journalists were prosecuted under the Cybercrime Act and Terrorism (Prevention) (Ammendment) Act 2013, alongside other laws. The Terrorism (Prevention) (Ammendment) Act 2013 prescribe the death penalty for those found guilty. Thus making journalism a dangerous venture.

In cases where journalists and media practitioners sought legal redress for violations suffered, the authorities have failed to obey court judgements, while halting access to justice and the right to an effective remedy. Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that conducts advocacy for freedom of information and press freedom, ranks Nigeria 120 out of 180 in its 2019 Data of Press Freedom ranking. The report also rated Nigeria as ‘difficult’ for press freedom and net freedom. Also, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in its 2018 Global Impunity Index, stated that there were thirteen unresolved murders of journalists in Nigeria within the reporting period.

Under national and international law, Nigeria has an obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right to freedom of expression and media freedom. This briefing, therefore, documents illustrative attacks on journalists and media practitioners in Nigeria. While rendering their testimonies, it reveals the pattern of violations and concludes by making recommendations to the Nigerian authorities at both federal and state levels.