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Nigeria Govt suppresses free speech via threats, intimidation, arrest, violence —US

The United States Government has accused Nigerian Government of abridging the right to free speech amidst other acts of human rights abuses.

This was contained in the executive summary of the “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nigeria”.

In the segment of the report titled “Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media”, the Department of State noted:

“A large and vibrant private domestic press frequently criticized the government, but critics reported being subjected to threats, intimidation, arrest, detention, and sometimes violence.”

The report acknowledged that the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, yet, the government restricted these rights at times.

The document reads: “The constitution entitles every individual to “freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”

“Although federal and state governments usually respected this right, there were reported cases in which the government abridged the right to speech and other expression.

“Authorities in the north at times restricted free speech by labeling it blasphemy.”

Also, “at times civilian leaders instructed security forces to harass journalists covering sensitive topics such as human right abuses, electoral malpractices, high-level public corruption, and the government’s war against terrorism.”

It observed with satisfaction that security services detained and harassed journalists, sometimes for reporting on sensitive problems such as political corruption and security.

“Security services including the DSS and police occasionally arrested and detained journalists who criticized the government.

“Moreover, army personnel in some cases threatened civilians who provided, or were perceived to have provided, information to journalists or NGOs on misconduct by the military.

“On at least six occasions, journalists were charged with treason, economic sabotage, or fraud when uncovering corruption or public protests.

“Numerous journalists were killed, detained, abducted, or arrested during the year,” it stressed.

Below are a few incidences:

  1. On January 21, Alex Ogbu, a reporter for the RegentAfrica Times magazine and website, was shot and killed in a cross fire while covering an IMN protest in Abuja.
  2. On October 24, police arrested Onifade Pelumi, an intern reporter for Gboah TV, as he conducted interviews in a crowd gathered outside a food warehouse in Agege near Lagos. His family was unable to locate him until his body was found in a Lagos morgue two weeks later.
  3. On November 28, soldiers assaulted and detained Voice of America Hausa-service reporter Grace Abdu in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
    Abdu was interviewing residents of the Oyigbo community about allegations the army had committed extrajudicial killings of members of the proscribed separatist group the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), as well as killed or indiscriminately arrested civilians during a crackdown against IPOB. She was released later that afternoon.

The report continues:

“The government used regulatory oversight to restrict press freedom, notably clamping down on television and radio stations.

“Citing violations of amendments to the sixth edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, in August the NBC fined local radio station Nigeria Info 99.3 FM for comments by the former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Obadiah Mailafia, on insecurity in the country.

“Mailaifia alleged that a northern governor was a sponsor of Boko Haram.

“The NBC also sanctioned private television stations Africa Independent Television, Channels TV, and Arise News during October’s #EndSARS protests, alleging their reportage of the nationwide protests relied on unverifiable video footage from social media handles.

“Some journalists reported they practiced self-censorship. Journalists and local NGOs claimed security services intimidated journalists, including editors and owners, into censoring reports perceived to be critical of the government.

“In February, Samuel Ogundipe, a reporter for the newspaper Premium Times, went into hiding after receiving numerous threatening telephone calls, having his email hacked, and being told to stop his reporting that relations between the country’s national security adviser, the army chief of staff, and the chief of staff for the presidency were strained.

“The newspaper’s editor, Musililu Mojeed, also reported receiving threats and the online edition of Premium Times suffered cyberattacks.”

It also noted that allegations of libel were also used as a form of harassment by government employees in retaliation for negative reporting.

Other incidences:

  1. On October 13, police arrested Oga Tom Uhia, editor of Power Steering, a magazine covering the electrical power sector, at his home in Gwarimpa near Abuja. Uhia was charged with defamation, based on a complaint by Minister of State for Power Goddy Jeddy Agba. As of November, Uhia remained in detention.
  2. On April 28, police arrested Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, for allegedly posting blasphemous statements regarding the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook.
    On December 21, the Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the inspector general of police, Mohammed Adamu, and the Nigerian Police Force to release Bala, ruling that his detention without charge for almost eight months violated his rights to freedom of expression and movement, among others.
    At year’s end the inspector general and police had not complied with the court’s decision, and Bala remained in detention.

Some local and state governments used the law on cybercrime to arrest journalists, bloggers, and critics for alleged hate speech.

On August 17, authorities in Akwa Ibom State arrested journalist Ime Sunday Silas following his publication of a report, Exposed: Okobo PDP Chapter Chair Links Governor Udom’s Wife with Plot to Blackmail Deputy Speaker.

Authorities charged Silas with “cyberstalking.” Silas’s case was pending before the court at year’s end.

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