Nigeria | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Nigeria

Nigeria

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

54

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

21

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

18

Even though the 1999 constitution guarantees the rights of freedom of expression and of assembly, the state uses arbitrary actions and extralegal measures to suppress political criticism and expression in the press. The access to information bill that was introduced in December 1999 and approved in August 2004 by the lower house of Nigeria's bicameral legislature is still awaiting approval in the Senate. Libel is criminalized, with penalties ranging from one to seven years in prison, and is used to intimidate the press. In September, the vice president, Atiku Abubakar, and his wife, Titi, dragged Newswatch magazine and five of its top employees to court in a multimillion-dollar libel suit that has yet to be adjudicated.

Although the press is vibrant and generally vocal against government policies and official wrongdoings, a number of government actions stifled freedom of the press, encouraged self-censorship, and promoted an atmosphere of violence and fear. A number of media personnel were arbitrarily arrested, detained, and brutalized by the state police and other security agents. For example, Owei Kobina Sikpi, publisher of the Weekly Star, was jailed for a month without charge and the entire print run of the Weekly Star was confiscated after the paper published an article accusing a local official of money laundering. It was only later that Sikpi was charged with publishing false information. Other journalists who faced similar extrajudicial harassment in 2005 included Orobosa Omo-Ojo, publisher of Midwest Herald, a Lagos-based publication; Jerry Needam, publisher of a Port Harcourt-based weekly tabloid, National Network; and Haruna Acheneje, the Akwa Ibom state correspondent of The Punch. In April, two Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalists were arrested and questioned in Port Harcourt while they were attempting to film the demolition of a shantytown. They were released without charge a few hours later. In January, police in Abuja brutalized journalists covering the National Executive Council meeting of the ruling People's Democratic Party, hospitalizing 1 and injuring 10 others-allegedly on the orders of the party, which did not want the event covered by the press.

In 2005, the State Security Services (SSS), Nigeria's intelligence service, arbitrarily raided and shut down media houses with increased frequency. SSS agents raided the offices of The Exclusive, a Lagos-based weekly, and confiscated over 200 copies of the publication in response to an article on Igbo secession movements. In November, Rhythm FM, a private radio station in Port Harcourt, was shut down by a team of soldiers and police officers working for the SSS. In October, another agency of the state, the National Broadcast Commission (NBC), the broadcast industry's watchdog, closed down the country's leading independent broadcast network, African Independent Television, and its radio network, RayPower FM, for several hours following its report on the crash of an airliner that killed 117 people. However, President Olusegun Obasanjo criticized the NBC for its actions and instead commended the broadcaster for its integrity in reporting.

There are about 100 national and local publications, the most influential of which are privately owned. Nevertheless, the federal and state governments as well as prominent politicians do continue to own or influence the editorial content at some media outlets. The broadcast industry has been liberalized, and by 2005, about 280 radio and television licenses had been granted by the NBC. However, most of the stations have yet to go on air owing to financial difficulties. Radio tends to be the main source of information for Nigerians, while TV is used mostly in urban areas and by the affluent. Foreign broadcasters, particularly the Voice of America and the BBC, were an important source of news in the country, although in April 2004 the NBC banned live broadcasts of foreign news and programs. Over 1.5 million Nigerians were reported to have had access to the internet in 2005, but that is only about 1 percent of a population of nearly 160 million. There are no government restrictions on the internet.