One Year After: How the Media, Press Freedom Fared Under President Tinubu

One Year After: How the Media, Press Freedom Fared Under President Tinubu

One year after President Bola Tinubu was sworn in, press freedom has been a contentious phenomenon, and free media practice is under threat from the activities of both state and non-state actors. There has been an increase in the clampdown on media practitioners in the country. This is an unexpected turn of events given the

One year after President Bola Tinubu was sworn in, press freedom has been a contentious phenomenon, and free media practice is under threat from the activities of both state and non-state actors. There has been an increase in the clampdown on media practitioners in the country. This is an unexpected turn of events given the background of the president as a pro-democracy activist and media owner.

Speaking with the owners of media platforms last December, the President promised to support press freedom in his administration, with assurances to eschew any form of restraints, even when the media does not sing praise his administration in some cases. “You have held our feet to the fire, and we will continue to respect your opinions, whether we agree or not. One thing I must say is that I read every paper, various opinions, and columnists,’’

“I promise you a very transparent government. We will try our best to draw water from a dry well and create a good economic environment that will serve the people,” the president said.

Despite those promises, available pieces of evidence have suggested something to the contrary in the past year. The media has faced several attacks on different occasions, to the point that some are now drawing parallels between this administration and some past military regimes. In one year, there have been reported direct attacks on journalists by both state and non-state actors while performing their constitutional duties. This is against Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, which says that “it is the constitutional duty of the press, radio, television, and other mass media agencies to ensure that the government is accountable and responsible to the people.”

IPC logo

According to a report by the International Press Centre’s Centre for the Safety and Protection of Journalists (I-CSPJ) as of May 3, 2023, there were no fewer than thirty-three (33) documented cases of attacks on forty-four (44) journalists and six (6) media outlets in the last year, affecting 35 male journalists and 9 female journalists. The Media Rights Agenda also stated in a report that “between May 2023 and April 2024, there were at least 45 attacks on journalists and media houses. In 37 of these attacks, the victims were male journalists, representing 82 percent, while in four of the attacks, the victims were female journalists, representing 9 percent of the attacks. However, the organisation reported that only four attacks were recorded against media houses, organisations, or outlets that were invaded.

Social Media Regulation and Weaponization of Cyber Crime Act

Amid the recorded attacks, the administration of President Tinubu additionally sought a way to gag the media with a proposal to regulate social media, describing it as a societal menace. Representing the President at a book launch in February 2024, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, Chief of Staff to the President, insisted that social media is capable of causing harm to society, “social media has become a societal menace and must be regulated”.

IGP Kayode Egbetokun

The government has also decided to weaponise the Cybercrime Act (2015), specifically Section 24(1), to suppress the freedom of information and press liberty, a legitimate way to hold the political class accountable. Signed into law in 2015, towards the end of the administration of the former president, Goodluck Jonathan, the Cybercrime Act was to curtail assumed threats to information and technology that are inimical to the country’s economic, political, and national security.

But in the last two months, the Tinubu administration has implemented section 24(1), which reads, “A person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter using computer systems or network that is grossly offensive, pornographic, or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character, or causes any such message or matter to be sent, or he knows to be false, to cause annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will, or needless anxiety to another, or causes such a message to be sent commits an offence under this Act and is liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7, 000, 000.00 or imprisonment for a term, not more than three years, or both.” This move has led to the abductions and detainments of journalists.

Journalists as Major Victims of the Cybercrime Law
On March 15th, the (now former) editor of First News, Mr Segun Olatunji, was reported to have been abducted in commando style from his home in Lagos by Nigerian Army personnel for allegedly violating the Cybercrime Act. This stirred widespread reactions from different media practitioners, civil society organisations, and professional bodies, condemning the incident and also describing it as anti-democratic practices by the Defence Intelligence Agency of Nigeria Army.

Abducted Editor, Segun Olatunji

The Nigeria Union of Journalists, described the act as an attempt “to intimidate journalists and force them into self-censorship. The professional work of journalists is clearly in the public interest, and acts of impunity against them should not be condoned”.

The Nigeria Guild of Editors also fumed at the high-handedness of the military for keeping the journalist in custody without following the legal due process as stated by the law.

On March 23, the National Cybercrime Centre (NCC) of the Nigerian Police Force invited Mrs. Bukky Shonibare, Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BOT) of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), to investigate a case involving the FIJ. The NCC demanded that Mrs. Shonibare should produce Mr. Fisayo Soyombo, the founder of the media platform, for unknown reasons.

On May 1, police operatives from the Inspector General of Police’s Intelligence Response Team (IRT) arrested Mr Daniel Ojukwu, a reporter with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), on an allegation of cybercrime.

Recently, Nurudeen Akewushola, a reporter with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, was invited by the police National Cybercrime Centre based on an alleged petition of cyberstalking and defamation of character without stating the report on which the petition was filed with the police, nor did it state the name of the petitioner.

The International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Abuja, on May 28, reported the unexplained detention of its Executive Director, Dayo Aiyetan, and reporter, Nurudeen Akewushola, by the Nigeria Police Force National Cybercrime Centre (NPF-NCC). The two journalists, accompanied by legal counsel, had reported to the Centre earlier Tuesday in response to an official summons.
Victims of Other Harassment

Aside from the Cybercrime Act, some journalists were also victims of victimisation at the hands of law enforcement agencies in the past year. For instance, Marcus Fatunmole, a journalist from the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), was at the EMr.e Square car park in Abuja while investigating the transportation scheme. Similarly, Dele Fasan, Bureau Chief of Galaxy Television in the South-South, was brutalised by soldiers while covering a labour protest over economic hardship on February 23, 2024.

Flicker of Breakthrough
Despite the recorded attacks on journalists and media houses in the past year, there were also a few cases of breakthroughs for the media industry, which could be pointed to as achievements for the press in the past year.

Following a legal battle with the National Broadcasting Commission in 2021, the Media Rights Agenda received a positive ruling this year from the Federal High Court, stating that the regulatory body lacks the authority to fine media outlets for violating its code.

The court also struck down provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code that authorised the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to fine broadcast stations for alleged Code violations, ruling that administrative and regulatory bodies could not exercise judicial powers.

Also, courtesy of another lawsuit by the MRA, a federal high court ordered the federal government to reopen the investigation and prosecution over the murder of Dele Giwa, a journalist. Mr Giwa, who was the founding editor-in-chief of Newswatch Magazine, was killed by a parcel bomb at his Ikeja, Lagos residence on October 19, 1986, and to date, the case of his death remains unresolved. The judgment was extended to other journalists who were also killed extrajudicially.

The World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also ranked Nigeria 112th position out of 180 countries with freedom of the press, an improvement from the 123rd rank in 2023. While the improvement should be a celebratory development for the country, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) noted that Nigeria is being beaten by countries including junta-ruled Burkina Faso and troubled neighbour Niger which are placed on 58th and 61st respectively.

Experts Opinion on Press Freedom Under One Year of Tinubu

Based on the figures, media experts have expressed their dissatisfaction with the current administration and the growing activities against journalists in the past year. Abisola Ajibola, Deputy Director, Journalism Programme, Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), lamented the continuous shrinking of the media freedom and civic space under the presidency Tinubu administration.

“My assessment of the state of media freedom and safety of journalists in the past year is that things are not looking good. The Civic space is shrinking and that causes a bit of worry for media practitioners and civic actors. Restrictive laws that limit freedom of expression and the press are still in place making it difficult for information dissemination and accountability reporting – a major constitutional obligation of the media.

“Notably, Section 45 of the Constitution undermines the promises of press freedom guaranteed under Sections 39, 40, and 41, by allowing press freedom to be curtailed in the name of national defense, public safety, and public morality.

“From February 2024 to today, the Press Attack Tracker of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) has documented five different instances where the Cybercrime Act has been weaponized against journalists, affecting ten journalists.

“The government needs to cease being obsessed with regulating the media. Such efforts mostly come across and are usually with the intent of clamping down on the media. If the government sees the media as a watchdog with accountability functions in a democracy, the best approach would be for it to support a self-regulatory approach by the media itself”.

The Executive Director of the International Press Centre, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, decried the growing attacks on journalists, calling on the government to provide a conducive atmosphere to operate in the country. “The media once again is under attack. The rate at which journalists and media practitioners are being arrested is alarming and should be of serious concern to all.”

Mr. Lanre Arogundade

“We recognise the challenges facing journalists and media professionals across the country, including censorship, intimidation, violence, and online harassment. In the face of these threats and attacks, we commend the resilience and courage of journalists who continue to pursue the truth, often at great personal risk. We also promise that we shall continue to render whatever support we can to ensure that the atmosphere is conducive for them to ply their trade.”

Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin

Mr Lekan Otufodunrin, the Executive Director of Media Career, called on the government to wake up and avoid the bad reputation of gagging press freedom in the coming year. “Until recently, I would say that the media has fared well under the Tinubu administration. What I mean by until recently is that before the recent abduction of journalists, we did not hear of media or journalists being harassed or attacked by security agencies. But all of a sudden, we have two incidences, and these are very worrisome trends where the freedom of the press is not guaranteed in a democratic dispensation.

“Those in charge of media for this government need to be wary of going down on record as an administration that allowed what was experienced under the military to resurface…All of a sudden, cybercrime has become a famous tool for security to track journalists and make them uncomfortable. The government needs to wake up and avoid that image of being a government that will not guarantee press freedom.

Mr Edeatan Ojo, the Executive Director of the Media Rights Agenda scored President Tinubu’s administration low concerning how press freedom has fared in the past 365 days. He stated that the administration failed to meet the expectations of promoting democracy, as he was viewed as a pro-democratic activist before his prominence in politics. He highlighted that several cases of suppression of media under his watch have suggested otherwise. He condemned the pervading impunity against journalists, in which perpetrators have not been brought to justice

Mr. Edeatan Ojo

Mr. Edeatan Ojo, Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda

“The performance of the Tinubu Administration over his first year in office, as far as media freedom and freedom of expression are concerned, has been horrendous. This is particularly disturbing because, in addition to the fact that President Tinubu owns multiple media outlets across print and broadcast, including radio and television stations, he rose to national prominence about three decades ago as a pro-democracy activist.

“Between the time he was sworn into office on May 29 last year and today – a period of less than one year – there have been about 50 incidents of attacks on journalists and media organizations recorded under his watch, including arbitrary arrests and detention, abduction of journalists, reports of torture by security personnel, threats of physical harm to media personnel, battery, and killings”.

NUJ Rates Tinubu Administration Average.

Mr Chris Isiguzo

The national president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Mr Chris Isiguzo, said the media experience under the current administration has not been rosy. He referred to the cases of journalists’ repression, which included the cases of arrests in which media stakeholders had to rise to the occasion while the government yielded.

“The security situation was in bad shape. And, of course, talk about the media. Of course, the media is not the only thing that is in bad shape. It cannot be removed from the larger political landscape. So the situation affected different sectors, including the media.

“We have had journalists or media practitioners that have got themselves hurt in the course of their practice. We have a number of them that have been arrested, that have been detained, and what have you. But one thing that is very, very significant in this whole thing is that each time such a thing happens, and the media stakeholders rise to the occasion, the government listens.

“That in itself says a lot. People may not understand. We’ve had times where journalists were arbitrarily incarcerated. And even when you shout to the highest rooftop, nobody listens. But this time around, the fact that the government heard that a press conference was going to take place, immediately the person that was detained, was released. And that’s what we’ve been having. A government that is listening. And as I speak with you, even though it’s supposed to be something that will still come up, the government is making efforts on how to increase its partnership, and working relationship with the media.

“So in summary, I would say that so far, not so bad, but not so good”. To end the attacks on press freedom, The NUJ national president explained that the body is already working with the authorities and the security outfits to end the persistent attacks on the journalists in the country.

Mr Isiguzo further explained that the media stakeholders are also working together to self-regulate the media practice, for ethical balance in the country.

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