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Paris, France – Following World Press Freedom Day on May 3, Reporters Without Borders takes a look at the breaches of freedom of news and information in Nigeria during the first quarter of 2012, turning the spotlight on one of the most dangerous countries in Africa for journalists.
For the first time, it has included the Islamist militia Boko Haram in its latest list of Predators of Freedom of Information, just published (http://en.rsf.org/nigeria-boko-haram-02-05-2012,42487.html).
The press freedom organization outlines all breaches of freedom of information recorded between 24 December and 24 March. It highlights the almost daily arrests and assault of journalists and the obstruction of access to, and distribution of, information, and describes the insidious atmosphere in which journalists have to carry out their work.
During the period in question, Reporters Without Borders recorded: the murder of one journalist, the killing of another with no proof that it was linked to the victim’s work, nine assaults, seven arrests, three journalists threatened, four instances of seizure of equipment or deletion of files, three cases of access to information being cut off, three court cases against journalists and news organisations, the closure of a press centre and a media outlet’s premises vandalised.
The report also covers disturbances in April when there were bomb attacks on the offices of two newspapers, in Abuja and Kaduna (http://en.rsf.org/nigeria-government-urged-to-protect-media-27-04-2012,42384.html)
Whether these abuses – obstruction of information and control of the government’s image, or gratuitous violence and threats – were carried out by the government or private organizations using armed groups, they confirm the authorities’ desire to silence journalists who try to report on the instability now gripping the country.
Nigeria embodies a paradox. On the one hand, it is a country where freedom of news and information is effective so far as the pluralism and vitality of the media are concerned, and on the other, it has one of Africa’s worst records for infringements of press freedom and a worrying level of danger for journalists.
Murder, threats and violence
Since 14 March, when it became known that talks were taking place between Boko Haram and the government, the freelance journalist Ahmad Salkida has received several anonymous telephone threats. The reporter, who has covered the activities of Boko Haram for several years, was accused among other things of being a member of the Islamist group and of being the instigator of the talks. He was also told that he and the group “are not supposed to exist”. The next day, he was followed by a white Lagos-registered 4×4 for several hours in Abuja.
In July last year he was forced to move away from the northern city of Maiduguri after receiving threats from people claiming to belong to Boko Haram. The threats followed the publication in the magazine Blueprint of an article he wrote on the Islamist group’s first suicide bomber.
On 11 March, Boko Haram threatened to take action against three newspapers, National Accord, Vanguard and Tribune, in a tele-conference in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state. The group said the newspapers attributed statements to the group which were not made by its members and showed bias against it in their reports. It said they portrayed the group in a negative light while praising government forces.
On 9 March, Boko Haram had threatened to “take care of” any journalist that misrepresented its views in an article. The Nigerian Tribune and Vanguard Newspapers were among those mentioned specifically by the group’s spokesman, Abul Qaqa.
On 13 February, six journalists from the New Nigerian, Blueprint, Aminiya, Voice of Nigeria, Hausa Service and the Nigerian Standard, and a Nigerian Television Authority cameraman were attacked by a dozen unidentified assailants in Katami village in the Silame local government area of Sokoto State, where they were covering the election campaign of the All Nigeria Peoples Party’s candidate for the state governorship, Alhaji Yusha’u Ahmed. The bus in which they were travelling was attacked by men armed with machetes, knives, cutlasses and sticks.
On 7 February, Akinola Ariyo, a photojournalist for the New Nigerian, was threatened by an officer who aimed his weapon at him and ordered him to leave while he was accompanying a group of people trying to negotiate the reopening of the press centre at Murtala Mohammed airport in Lagos, closed by the airport authorities in early February.
On 1 February, three security guards assaulted Hassan Adebayo, marketing executive with the Port Harcourt newspaper Daily Trust and Sani Musa, the driver of the company’s distribution vehicle, as the pair were delivering copies of that day’s edition to vendors in the area. The attackers, in a white Toyota Hilux with the registration number RV 96 AO1, first attacked the driver, who managed to escape, then vandalised the vehicle, smashing its side mirrors.
On 20 January, Enenche Godwin Akogwu, 31, the Kano correspondent of Channels TV, was shot dead while trying to cover Boko Haram suicide bombings, which killed at least 185 people earlier that day. The journalist was interviewing victims outside the Farm central police station, which was a target of one of the attacks, when an unidentified gunman fired several shots at him.