Nigeria is one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often monitored, attacked and arbitrarily arrested, as was the case during the 2023 elections.
Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria has a rich and diverse media landscape. The print media have been in sharp decline in recent years but there are still around 100 publications, of which The Punch, The Nation, Vanguard, Guardian and The Premium Times are the most well-known. Most of the 36 states also have a state-owned daily newspaper that is directly controlled by local authorities. There are several hundred radio stations and TV channels alongside international media. The popularity of social media has helped to diversify the media landscape but has also contributed to disinformation.
The level of governmental interference in the news media is significant. It can involve pressure, harassment of journalists and media outlets, and even censorship, and it increases during elections campaigns. Addressing political issues in a balanced way can also be difficult depending on the media outlet’s owner. To a large extent, government officials have a say in the appointment and dismissal of media officials, whether in the public or private sector. In August 2022, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Nigeria’s broadcasting regulator, announced the suspension of 53 radio stations for failing to pay their licence fees, but the decision was overruled by the federal high court.
The constitution protects freedom of expression and opinion, but there are many laws whose provisions make it possible to obstruct the work of journalists, such as the laws on cybercrime, terrorism and state secrets, and the penal code continues to treat defamation as a crime. Several very dangerous laws regulating social media have been proposed in recent years, causing an outcry. Access to information remains very difficult.
While there are many media outlets, very few are in good economic health. Salary arrears can reach several months or even years for journalists, which makes them vulnerable to corruption and cash-for-news coverage. Like politicians, businesspeople and advertisers can influence editorial content.
Covering stories involving politics, terrorism, financial embezzlement by the powerful or conflicts between communities is very problematic. This was seen yet again in 2020, when an investigative reporter was threatened and several of his sources were killed or died in suspicious circumstances after the reporter investigated massacres in the central state of Kaduna. Media outlets have been the targets of attacks based on religious, gender, or ethnic considerations.
In recent years, most of West Africa’s violent attacks, arbitrary detentions, and shooting deaths of journalists have taken place in Nigeria. Fearing for their lives, some journalists choose exile. Since 2019, three journalists have been killed. Crimes against journalists continue to go unpunished, even when the perpetrators are known or apprehended. There is almost no state mechanism for protecting journalists. In fact, the authorities keep journalists under close surveillance and do not hesitate to threaten them.