The Council of Foreign Relations (CFR), a United States foreign policy institution, has said that Nigerian press freedom is in danger under President Muhammadu Buhari.
CFR in an article published on Thursday, said that the endorsement of Koo shortly after banning Twitter proved the Nigerian government’s ongoing attempt to suppress free expression.
“In recent months, Koo, Twitter’s Indian rival, has begun advertising to Nigerians with the support of a powerful brand ambassador: President Muhammadu Buhari. The endorsement comes more than two months after Buhari banned Twitter from Nigeria, in response to the social media company deleting a controversial tweet from Buhari threatening violence against supporters of a secessionist movement in the South East.
“Endorsing a specific media company is just the latest development in the government’s ongoing attempt to suppress free expression. Last month, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Nigeria’s media regulatory body, issued a letter to broadcast stations in Nigeria requiring them to downplay the worsening security situation in Nigeria, particularly, the threats of Boko Haram and banditry.
“NBC justified their position by arguing that reporting these issues has a tendency to ignite more violence. This explanation might have merit if the government had not been progressively rolling back rights to free speech. For example, last October, after the #EndSARS protests against police brutality, NBC fined media organizations for reporting on the protests.
“Nigeria is ranked 120 on the World Press Freedom Index, a drop of five spots from its ranking in 2020. Reporters Without Borders describes Nigeria as “one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists,” and the situation seems to be getting worse.
“Following the Twitter ban, NBC directed all social media platforms and online broadcasting service providers operating in Nigeria to apply for a broadcast license. This was followed by a controversial amendment to the NBC Act which sought to stifle media organizations. These actions have prompted huge protests from all the major media houses in Nigeria, with each outlet publishing a front-page advertisement campaigning against undue media regulation in the country.
“In a political environment where the government has shown its proclivity for dictatorial action, restrictions on free speech pose significant challenges for civil society. The failure to report news freely could lead to a situation where the government controls what is regarded as fact or fiction. This portends grave consequences, especially for a country that is facing its most significant security challenges since the 1967 Civil War,” the article reads in part.
CFR added that the suppression of the Nigerian media seems to be a desperate attempt to keep Nigerians in the dark about how little the government has been able to deliver on its promises to curb insecurity.
“Many of the government’s supporters have argued that improper reporting of conflict news—both on social or mainstream media—could exacerbate deep divisions in the country, then leading people to take laws into their hands. While this is a potential risk, it should be stated that the country already has laws in place to address this risk and punish offenders. For example, the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act (2015) [PDF] addresses threats to cyberspaces, including internet usage and safety with regard to preventing and combating cybercrimes. The Defamatory and Offensive Publications Act (1966) also exists to criminalize defamation. The government’s focus should be to implement these laws rather than continuously chipping away at freedom of the press.
“In his 2015 inauguration speech, President Buhari stated that democracy is the chosen route to national development and pledged to “consciously work the democratic system.” Safeguarding free speech and guaranteeing fundamental freedoms are responsibilities of a democratic government. It is important that the government strives to fulfill these responsibilities.”
There has been a clampdown on journalists by the Buhari-led government in recent times.
In August 2019, Nigeria’s secret police with a history of repression arrested human rights activist and Publisher of SaharaReporters, Omoyele Sowore in Lagos.
Sowore was moved to the agency's headquarters in Abuja where he was illegally detained for 144 days despite different court orders issued for his release.
The Department of State Services (DSS) accused the activist of baseless crimes like money laundering and that he was plotting to overthrow President Muhammadu Buhari even though it failed to produce any evidence to substantiate its claim.
In March 2018, the DSS arrested Daily Independent Abuja Bureau Chief Tony Ezimakor. Later in the year, the secret police arrested Jones Abiri and detained him for two years for allegedly having links with ‘rebels.’
He was re-arrested in March 2019.
In August 2019, former Editor at Daily Trust Ibrahim Dan-Halilu was arrested for a Facebook post expressing support for the ‘RevolutionNow’ campaign.
In December 2019, TVC’s journalist Bukola Samuel-Wemimo was detained by the secret police at its Magodo office in Lagos.
In 2020, former Premium Times investigative reporter Samuel Ogundipe was hounded by the DSS because he reported on the rift between the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno and President Muhammadu Buhari’s late Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari.