Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Even though the 1999 constitution guarantees freedom of expression, of the press, and of assembly, the state often uses arbitrary actions and extralegal measures to suppress political criticism and expression in the media. Libel still remains a criminal offense, and the burden of proof rests with the defendant. In 2006, two journalists were jailed for two months for allegedly libeling a state governor and were released only because of strong international and local pressure. In July, the government issued new accreditation requirements for journalists covering the House of Representatives, causing even journalists with proper accreditation to reapply. On November 15, the Senate finally approved the much awaited freedom of information bill to facilitate access to information, particularly important for media practitioners. Among other things, the bill makes it a criminal offense, punishable by three years’ imprisonment, for any officer, government administrator (including the head of state), or public institution to destroy or falsify any official record before its release. But President Olusegun Obasanjo has so far refused to sign the bill into law, saying it would undermine Nigeria’s security. Despite the passage of this bill by the National Assembly, the situation for access to information is not yet ideal in Nigeria, as there are still laws that restrict public access to government-held information, speech, and assembly, including the 1962 Official Secrets Act and the Sedition Law, among others. On August 28, the Senate rejected guidelines that would have limited the number of reporters covering the federal legislature from four to two.
Despite these encouraging legislative actions, various security agencies, particularly the State Security Service (SSS), continued to use arbitrary detention and extrajudicial measures in attempts to suppress expression in the press and to muffle political activism and criticism. This was a particularly acute problem for journalists who chose to critically cover President Obasanjo’s attempts to change the constitution in order to legally run for a third term. For example, in March Mahmud Jega, editor of the New Nigerian, was sacked after running a story that criticized Obasanjo’s ambitions to continue in the presidency. Also, on May 14 SSS officers raided the Abuja station of Africa Independent Television (AIT), the leading independent television station, during its broadcast of a documentary program comparing Obasanjo’s ambitions to the failed efforts made by previous presidents to extend their respective term limits. The security officers confiscated a master tape of the documentary after stopping its further transmission. AIT was targeted a number of other times by the SSS throughout 2006. The editorial staff was threatened as a result of their plans to broadcast live the parliamentary debates on the term limit extension amendment; and in June, the SSS detained AIT presenter Mike Gbenga Aruleba for a program he hosted investigating the cost of Obasanjo’s presidential jet. Later, Aruleba and another journalist, Rotimi Durojaiye—who worked for the Daily Independent but contributed to the controversial report on the presidential jet—were both arrested, detained, and charged with sedition. By October, the courts had dropped the charges against Aruleba but refused to do so for Durojaiye even by year’s end.
In 2006, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) clamped down and imposed sanctions or bans on a number of media outlets. In March, the privately owned Kano-based Freedom Radio was shut down for five hours and fined approximately US$1,700 for an alleged infraction of the broadcasting code. The NBC threatened to revoke the station’s license if it failed to pay the fine. In January, the NBC also suspended the operations of five private television stations and five private radio stations owing to their failure to pay their licensing fees. There was no apparent political motive behind the suspension of these stations. Violence against journalists is also a common occurrence, but often this is more a factor of the environment in which they report than the particular content of their work. In one especially violent incident in December, Godwin Agbroko—the editorial board chairman of the privately owned ThisDay newspaper—was assassinated while returning home from work. He was found dead in his car. However, at year’s end no evidence had been put forward to suspect that the murder had been tied to his work.
There are about 100 national and local publications, the most influential of which are privately owned. The press is vibrant and vocal against unpopular state policies and was particularly critical when covering Obasanjo’s third-term ambitions. The broadcast industry has been liberalized since 1992, and by 2006 about 300 licenses had been granted by the NBC, although most of the licensees have yet to take off or remain on the air owing to financial difficulties. Radio tends to be the main source of information for Nigerians, while television is used mostly in urban areas and by the affluent. Foreign broadcasters, particularly the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corporation, are important sources of news in the country. Over five million Nigerians reportedly had access to the internet in 2006—more than three times the figure from last year. While this is only 3 percent of Nigeria’s 140 million people, the percentage of Nigerians making use of this new medium is rising significantly every year, even if access is limited primarily to urban areas and the wealthy.