Monday, November 2, 2009

According to Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), freedom of expression is suffering in Nigeria. The organization's most recent Press Freedom Index 2009 categorizes freedom of the press in 175 countries and Nigeria ranked 135, right above Mugabe-controlled Zimbabwe. The only question is whether this categorization by RSF is accurate - Is Nigeria's press free or not?

According to this ranking, Nigeria fell behind many other African countries such as Ghana (27), Mali (31), South Africa (33), Namibia (35), Cape Verde (44), Burkina Faso (57), Botswana (62), Liberia (63), Malawi (64), Tanzania (66), Togo (67), Benin (72), Seychelles (73), Central African Republic (80), Comoros (82), Mozambique (83), Uganda (86), Senegal (89), Guinea Bissau (92), Kenya (96), Zambia (97), Lesotho (99), Guinea (100), Mauritania (102), Burundi (103), Cote D'Ivoire (104), Cameroon (109), Sierra Leone (115), Congo (116), Angola (119), Morocco (127), Gabon (129), Chad (132), Madagascar (134).

It is useful to note that according to this ranking, countries like Guinea (100) which is controlled by a military dictator whose soldiers raped and assaulted various protesters, has a 'freer press' than Nigeria.

With every ranking that includes Nigeria, there is great discussion as to whether the index is accurate and how such an index was generated.  In this case, it seems RSF considered certain attacks against Nigerian journalists in recent months. For instance, given recent attacks on journalists, it seems it is open season on them. Bayo Ohu, a reporter for The Guardian was shot dead on September 20th, 2009 as he prepared to go to Church. Reaction from civil society was swift and condemnation came in from across the world with demands that his killers be found. During the recent political fracas in Ekiti as a result of elections, the beating of journalists and election observers was caught on film. But such violence against journalists has been going on for years. In 2006, Journalists Against Aids founder, Omololu Falobi was murdered and that same year, THISDAY newspapers lost Godwin Agbroko and then, Abayomi Ogundeji less than 2 years later. In 2008 alone, Channels TV was shut down, armed men raided and arrested journalists from Leadership newspapers and citizen journalists, Emeka Asiwe and Jonathan Elendu were arrested and unlawfully detained under order of President Yar'Adua. Additionally, it has been over 20 years since the assassination of journalist, Dele Giwa, and still his killers are yet to be found. These realities are a damning statement.

However, although some journalists have lost their lives specifically because of their profession and the stories they may have been investigating, it must be said that historically, Nigeria has been known to have a free press. As far back as 1960, TIME magazine described the Nigerian press as "the freest and most responsible press in black Africa." Undoubtedly, things are not exactly the same almost 50 years later, but still the country has a history of writers and journalists who have used their words to frame public debate and expose many a scandal involving those at every level of the social hierarchy. Unfortunately, that freedom to chase down and report the tough stories also requires certain protections for the press that are clearly lacking and these possibly contributed to Nigeria's poor showing in the RSF ranking.

What is lacking in Nigeria is the enforcement of the legal protections that will limit attacks on journalists and of course, a system that ensures that those who have a hand in those attacks will be swiftly brought to justice. That might be a more accurate and balanced description of the state of the press in Nigeria, and this description is missing when one simply looks at the RSF rankings without context. Unfortunately, a more balanced review of the freedom of Nigeria's press will not change the fact that journalists still face attack, and many citizen journalists and bloggers feel compelled to hide their identity for fear of reprisal as they have witnessed such against others.

No democracy can ever truly develop and thrive in a country where the press is shackled in its duty to report the very news that is crucial to the populace. Consequently, any nation in which the rights and lives of journalists are not protected is doomed to lack truly engaged citizens who are empowered with knowledge to decide their future. Thankfully, many Nigerians are engaged in debate over a variety of issues and rely on the traditional press and increasingly, new media in the form of blogs, such as Nigerian Curiosity, to not only get news, but have passionate discussions about issues of import to them. Regardless of the accuracy or inaccuracy of the RSF Free Press rankings, it is clear that Section 22 of Nigeria's 1999 Constitution provides that "the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people". Many of Nigeria's journalists are doing just that, and some pay the ultimate price, but as all citizens pay the price for a shackled press, Nigerians must in turn not allow those who attack and threaten the work journalists do to get away with their schemes

So what do you think. Is Nigeria's press free?

To see a complete list of murdered Nigerian journalists, since 1992, please visit Commitee to Protect Journalists.

Thanks, as always, to Webround for sending in this information.

Related Articles of Interest:
- Yar'Adua To Sue Nigerian Newspaper
- Channels TV Shut Down By Yar'Adua
- Yar'Adua And The Continuing Heath Issue
- The Consequences of Yar'Adua's Mysterious Health
- Suppression In A Democratic Regime
- Nigerian Blogger Arrested
- Turning Away from Democracy

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N.I.M.M.O said...

Solomonsydelle, how can you be talking of a Nigeria of 1960? That was a different country; a different clime entirely. We had derailed since ...

I was in Accra, Ghana a couple of years ago and what I read in the papers amazed me. In fact, to me as a Nigerian, it bordered on madness. And some of them actually launched into tirades of insults.

No Minister, Member of Parliament or official in government was spared. And it seemed ALL the papers were in agreement.

It was cutting edge journalism. or rather journalism that set your teeth on edge. Ironically, many of the older journalists credit the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe amongst others, for their firebrand journalism.

Compared to what I read and heard in Accra, our newspapers and radios are tame. Our journalists were just writing English compositions.

Maybe when our 'Lords' in the National Assembly finally decide to allow the Freedom of Information bill to pass. Maybe then, we will have a press.

However, I was in Nairobi, Kenya some time ago too and I wonder how anybody can call that a free press. Their newspapers were like the 'Daily Times' of the 90s; full of Obituaries and government announcements. Like the NTA we all know.

That was before the election though, maybe things have changed since then.


@ NIMMO: Well, I couldn't encourage a balanced look at the state of Nigeria's press without trying to be balanced as well, could I my brother? lol! Hence, I had to make the historical mention.

That being said, I tried to simply focus on the need to honor Section 22. There has been more than enough bashing of the Nigerian media, right or wrong. I didn't want to go there. Besides, my original version of this post was a tad harsh even by my standards.

But it is interesting you use the word 'firebrand journalism' to describe some of what you read in Accra. I like it. Your overall comment suggests that you believe Nigeria's press is far from free. A shame, isn't it? And, yes, the freedom of information bill would truly change things if it passed.

TheAfroBeat said...

Happy Belated Birthday Solo!

Interesting to think we'd rank THAT low. I know things are bad but I'm really not aware of how much better those other countries are in terms of press freedom, but given that the PFI is a globally accepted/endorsed index, i'll have to take their word for it.

I think it's quite difficult to have free press in our country when most newspapers / radio stations are 80-90% financially sustained by ad revenue from the country's "big shots" so to be fair, you can't bite the hand that feeds you. But then again, if, as you've said, the government / people enforce the necessary accountability and ensure that those who try to sabotage press freedom are duly prosecuted, we might get a few steps closer to a freer (or at the very least, neutral) press.

Thanks for sharing!

KT said...

I think that if the idea of a "free" press should be defined either as being independent from government influence and interference, then we're far from it in the true reality of the matter. I read a recent case of AIT pulling a popular political tv show so as not to offend the president. That's not what one would expect in a democracy that has a "free press". However, on the surface, the Nigerian press is technically free of government interference in that they are not gagged by any known law, like one would find in a dictatorship.

That is why I will not agree with any rating that brands the Nigerian journalist with the likes of Zimbabwe. Being "firebrand" is not a sign of a free press, but of one fighting to be free - just like we had in Nigeria during the Abacha and other Military govt eras. True freedom comes from independence from any legal or government gag. What they journalists do with such freedom is their own cup of tea, and should not be confused with the idea of freedom itself. Apparently in Nigeria today, we have not the zeal has gone down from what it used to be.

Have I made any sense?

Anonymous said...

Our journalists were just writing English compositions Don´t you just want to laugh and cry? The craft of conveying news appeared to have lost out in the same way old words like ethics disappeared from our land. However, the problem of last from bottom in everything global is an indictment on those that should be leading from the front. -Beauty

Azazel said...

Hmm wait lol, i mean i think it's wrong.. I honestly do feel that Nigeria's press is quite independent and free.. I mean from time to time, some journalists get killed but these things happen lol. Nigeria shouldn't be rated thatlow ahn ahn..

Seyi said...

I totally agree with NIMMO. There is no 'true' journalism anymore in Nigeria. The legacy of 'brown envelopes' has taken over the soul of most Nigerian journalists.

On the other hand, the ownership and structure of the news media also doesn't help. Most of the major media houses are owned by politicians. And whether we like it or not, there is a level of inteference. So the bottom is line, "free press" is not really that free.

didicharles said...

You sound suprised to see Nigeria ranked so low, but then why are you suprised. Is it not of late that Mr. President orders AIT to either get rid of Gbenga Aroleba the anchor man on FOCUS NIGERA or get the TV station closed. Tell me what type of freedom of press are you talking about. It seems while the rest of the world is heading in one direction NIgeria is heading towards darkness direction entirely and it pains me because we simply can't continue like this. We keep doing things the same way and we are expecting a different result. NTA is celebrating 50 yrs of existence and Awolowo the man with the vision to create it if he were to be alive today will cry to see what has become of NTA, these people just continue to rubbish everything for the rest of us.

LaPenseuse said...

What factors did they use to assign these rankings? I wonder... to be ranked just above Zimbabwe is just terrible. WTH, even Congo is higher on the list!

Adaeze said...

Well said. I agree. Nigerian press is far from as free as it should. I agree with you that what is lacking are the enforcement of laws that protect journalists. But you Solomonsydelle, is an example of an up-and-coming free speech journalist example. I love what this blog represents. Hope!

Poor African said...

"...What is lacking in Nigeria is the enforcement of the legal protections that will limit attacks on journalists and of course, a system that ensures that those who have a hand in those attacks will be swiftly brought to justice..." This isn't just Nigeria. I think all African nations must adopt certain law enforcements such as you mentioned above if democracy is to in in play.

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Nick Matyas said...

good article

רועי בן עמי said...

Very good.. thank you very much for posting this
a great article indeed

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