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)
Although the 1999 constitution guarantees freedom of expression and of the press, the state often uses arbitrary actions and extralegal measures to suppress political criticism, and a culture of impunity for crimes against journalists persists. Libel is a criminal offense, and the burden of proof rests with the defendant. Journalists face criminal prosecution for coverage of sensitive issues such as government corruption, separatist movements, and communal violence. In addition, Sharia (Islamic law) statutes in 12 northern states impose severe penalties for alleged press offenses. In 2007, both houses of the National Assembly passed a long-awaited freedom of information bill—which among other provisions would criminalize the destruction or falsification of any official record by any officer, government administrator, or public institution—but then president Olusegun Obasanjo declined to sign it. In 2008, the resubmitted bill was rejected by a committee in the House of Representatives. Under the current legal framework, access to information remains restricted by laws like the 1962 Official Secrets Act and the Sedition Act. In a legal victory for journalists, an appellate court ruled in June 2009 that President Umaru Yar’Adua could not sue the private daily Leadership until his term ended; he had filed the case over a 2008 article about his poor health. The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is responsible for licensing broadcast media and upholding the broadcast code, and some analysts allege that these processes are opaque and politically biased. In May, the NBC suspended the license of a radio station in southwest Nigeria, Adaba 88.5 FM, for two weeks after it failed to pay a fine of 500,000 naira (US$3,350) for violations of the broadcast code. The station had been providing commentaries on regional political issues.
Journalists face arbitrary arrests and detention, threats, and other forms of intimidation by various authorities. One journalist was killed in 2009. Bayo Ohu, assistant news editor of the Guardian, was assassinated by six gunmen in front of his children in September. He had been investing a fraud scandal in the Customs Department. The police were still investigating the incident at year’s end. In December, Ohu’s colleague at the Guardian, Saxone Akhaine, received a death threat.
Several other instances of intimidation occurred in the southeastern state of Imo. In August, Steve Uzoechi, a correspondent for the privately owned National Daily newspaper, was threatened by two government consultants and forced to go into hiding because of his investigation of a state government buyback scandal worth US$40 million. Jude Ohanele of Development Dynamics, a freedom of expression organization based in Owerri, the capital of Imo state, was driven into hiding in September after two agents from the State Security Service (SSS) came to his office demanding to see him and saying they needed to interrogate him. Also in Owerri, Radio Nigeria correspondent Wale Oluokun was beaten by four government security agents in September. The incident was linked to a report Oluokun filed on a protest by visually impaired youth.
Various security agencies used arbitrary detention and extrajudicial measures to deter political activism and press coverage of sensitive issues such as official corruption, violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta, or Yar’Adua’s health. After private broadcaster Channels Television was shut down in 2008 for reporting that Yar’Adua might resign for health reasons, many media outlets refused to comment on the president’s health in 2009, even as it deteriorated late in the year. SSS agents detained the editor of the People’s Daily newspaper in December following a report on succession plans in the event of Yar’Adua’s death. The editor, Ahmed Shekarau, was required to reveal his sources for the story.
While national media outlets are considered to be relatively free in their reporting, their local counterparts experience frequent harassment and intimidation by government officials. Security forces continued to restrict journalists’ access to the Niger Delta. In June, six journalists were harassed and three attacked by police after they attempted to report on the government-ordered demolition of several buildings on public land in Delta state. Officials later apologized for the incident. In November, three journalists were detained for two days for a story discussing a conflict between Nigerian soldiers and residents of Port Harcourt.
There are more than 100 national and local publications, the most influential of which are privately owned. However, a number of state and local governments own print and broadcast media, as do individuals directly involved in politics. The print sector is generally vibrant and outspoken in its criticism of unpopular state policies. Licensing fees and taxes for broadcast media remain high, and many outlets experience financial difficulties, limiting their viability. The only two nationwide broadcast networks are state-owned: the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria and the Nigerian Television Authority. Radio tends to be the main source of information for Nigerians, while television is used mostly in urban areas and by the affluent. Private television stations must ensure that 60 percent of their programming is produced locally. A 2004 NBC ban on the live broadcast of foreign programs, including news, on domestic services remains in force. Foreign broadcasters, particularly the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corporation, are important sources of news in the country.
Approximately 28 percent of Nigerians accessed the internet in 2009. There were no reports that the government restricted access or monitored e-mail, although online news sites that were critical of the government occasionally experienced disruptions, possibly because of authorities’ attempts to impair service. Unlike in 2008, no local or expatriate bloggers were arrested in 2009.