Gambia: MFWA says Nigerian media under siege for two months

Banjul, Gambia (PANA) - Over a period of two months Nigerian media came under siege by state actors, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) decried Thursday.

In a statement, obtained by PANA, the subregional rights body said between 12 July and 16 September, 2017, state actors in Nigeria have subjected the media to a blitz of violations, including physical attacks, arrests and detentions, surveillance and censorship.

This, it says, is becoming a vicious cycle that has the potential to induce widespread self-censorship among the media in the country.

"The prevalence of physical attacks is dreadful. But even more appalling is the fact that the perpetrators in all the cases are governors and security officers – state actors who are otherwise expected to play a leading role in preventing and addressing violations against press freedom."

"MFWA condemns the culture of machismo being displayed by state actors against the press in Nigeria," the statement added.

The press freedom body also called on the Committee on Information and National Orientation and the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters of the Nigerian Senate to take up the violations with the relevant authorities within the executive and to work together with the media towards ending the siege.

"The violations have grave implications for freedom of expression and access to information in Nigeria because they have the potential to weaken the morale of the media which is the interface between the citizens and the government."

MFWA argued that the acts of hostility against journalists infringed directly on Nigeria’s 1999 constitution, (as amended), which imposed on the media the obligation to scrutinise the activities of the government and to hold the government accountable to the people.

According to the statement, the most recent incident of attack was recorded on 16 September when the Governor of Imo State, Chief Rochas Okorocha, banned Amby Uneze of THISDAY and Chidi Nkwopara of the Vanguard newspaper from covering activities at the State House, the seat of government.  

Describing the two as “enemies of government”, Chief Okorocha said the two journalists were fond of writing unfavourable reports about his administration.

MFWA pointed out that the above act of censorship by the governor came four days after some 20 soldiers stormed the Abia State Secretariat of the Nigerian Union of Journalists in Umuahia, on 12 September and assaulted journalists there, smashing and seizing their smartphones and ipads.

The soldiers accused the journalists of unauthorized coverage of their parade, dubbed “Operation Python Dance.’’

There was another incident of physical attack on 11 September when some members of the Department of State Services, (DSS), a paramilitary group, brutalized Toba Adedeji, a reporter of the Osun Defender newspaper and Timothy Agbor, a correspondent of The Point newspaper.

Agbor’s mobile phone was also destroyed by his assailants. The journalists’ only ‘crime’ was that they were covering a protest over poor working conditions by the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees in the state capital, Osogbo.

Furthermore, it said ten days earlier, on 1 September, security aides attached to the Kogi State Government House assaulted Segun Salami, a reporter working with Channels Television.

About six policemen beat up the journalist whom they accused of showing disrespect by being on the phone while the national flag was being lowered. Other accounts said one of the police officers accused Salami of taunting him.

MFWA noted that in a startling revelation that could have a chilling effect on the online media and abuse the rights of individuals online, the Director of Defence Information of the Nigerian Army, Major-General John Enenche, had said on Channels Television on 23 August, 2017, that the military was monitoring social media for "troubling activities and misinformation."

"We have our strategic media centres that monitor the social media to be able to sieve out and react to all the ones that will be anti-government, be anti-military, (and) be anti-security," Enenche was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, MFWA said earlier on 30 July, a cameraman from Liberty Television was wounded and his video camera broken in an assault on journalists and participants at a press conference organized by the opposition All Peoples’ Congress.

The assailants were thugs reportedly led by a Divisional Police Officer, CSP Abdullahi.

According to the statement, the onslaught by state actors began on 16 July with Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, arraigning Luka Binniyat, a journalist with the Vanguard newspaper, before a High Court.

Binniyat was charged with "breach of public peace" and false reporting in connection with an article he wrote on 24 January, 2017, in which he alleged that some herdsmen had killed five students of the State College of Education.

It said although Binniyat was recovering from an accident and arrived in court on clutches, the Judge ordered him to be remanded in custody until 20 July.

On the adjourned date, the trial judge, Alhaji Bashir Sukola, set impossible bail conditions of N10 million (US$ 28,000) with two sureties, a bank bond in same amount and the surrender of the sureties’ passport.

Unable to meet the conditions, Binniyat was again remanded in prison.
-0- PANA MLJ/VAO 5Oct2017

05 october 2017 13:26:54

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