Nigeria: Terrorism Against The Mass Media

Nigeria: Terrorism Against The Mass Media

By: Idumange John

This article is meant to achieve three objectives. First, to demonstrate that since the Farouk Mutallab incident of attempted suicide bombing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
has been making frantic efforts at de-listing Nigeria from the list of
countries tagged state sponsors of terrorism. This writer insists that Nigeria
has been neck-deep in domestic terrorism even against the mass media. Secondly,
the article is not only designed to catalogue state terrorism against the mass
media but to make a clarion call to all Nigerians to urge the National Assembly
to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI)
Bill, which has been confined to the morgue for upwards of two years, to
pass it into an Act. Finally, to thank the online media for the courage to
publish articles which, otherwise would not have seen the light of day in the
conventional print media in Nigeria, some of which operate on the basis of
market principles .

The freedom of expression and the press is one of the rights nature has given man. Democratic countries around the world have clamoured for the sustenance of this
fundamental right. Similarly, democratic constitutions have provided for the
enjoyment and protection this unique freedom in tandem with the law of natural
justice and the ethos of constitutionals.

This right enables the citizens to express their opinions concerning public policy. And such views, when expressed in a constructive manner can help to chart a safe
direction for government in policy formulation and Implementation. The freedom
of expression and the press is a veritable tool in the hands of the fourth
estate of the Realm to articulate the views of the masses on issues that bother
on governance it is the freedom of expression that empower the citizens to
engage constructive criticism and make their input into the business of

It is on the strength of this law that Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution stipulates the right to freedom of expression and the press, which entitles every citizen to
hold opinions, and to receive and impart ideas and information without
interference. In Nigeria, the ordinary man was denied this natural right during
the despicable era of military tyranny. But now, the suffocating mask of
military rule has been unveiled Nigerians are breathing the free air of
democracy, and those who exercise their freedom of expression in the benefit of
society should not be subjected to any form of discrimination or victimization.

When people express their frank opinions about what they feel should be the ideal, such opinions should not be interpreted to mean an affront on political power
holders. The press owes the Nigerian public the obligation of fighting for progress
and reform. In doing so, the press should never tolerate injustice and
corruption; oppose privileged class and plunderers of the common wealth without
regard for the welfare of the masses. The fundamental sense of freedom is
freedom from chains, oppression and injustice. And the protection of this
freedom is the obligation of the press journalism is not a flotsam jetsam
profession but a profession of serious minded people committed to fighting for
the survival of the people.

From 1979 to the return of the Military in Dec. 1983, several decrees and anti-press laws were made to curtail press freedom. Some of the laws include:
Circulation of Newspaper Decree No 2, 1966; The Defamatory and Offensive
Publications Decree No. 44, 1966; Newspaper Prohibition of circulation Decree
No 17 1967 and the Public Officers
(Protection against false accusation) Decree No 11 1976. Others are the
Newspaper (Prohibition of circulation) (validation) Decree No 12, 1978;
Nigerian Press Council Decree 31, 1978, Daily Times of Nigeria (Transfer of
Certain Shares) Decree No 101, 1979.

From Dec. 31, 1983 when the military returned to power till the Buhari Idiagbon regime, most of the anti-press laws were churned out. Some of them deserve a
mention here. There was the Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree
No, 1 1984; the State security
(detention of Persons) Decree 2, 1984 public officers (protection against false
accusation) Decree No 4 1984; and the Federal Military Government (Supremacy
and Enforcement of Powers Decree No 13, 1984. This trend continued till the
time of General Sani Abacha.

The Buhari regime promulgated the (Public Protection Against False Accusation) Decree No 4 of 1984. Under this law, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor were jailed for one year and the Guardian fined
N50,00 on July 4, 1984. In October 17,
1989, Dele Giwa was invited by the State Security Service and accused him of
gun running. Two days after, Dele Giwa was killed by parcel bomb. This was
followed enough, in April 1984, s proscribed for reporting the decision of the
Cookey led political Bureau. Decree No 6 of 1987 was later promulgated to lift
the earlier proscription.

Under the Babangida and Abacha regimes newspapers/magazines were proscribed and media houses were shut at will for daring to “inform the public of their dubious activities.” As if closing
down would not do, arsonists, hired killers and hit squad (Strike Force) were
let loose on the press, to burn media houses (arsonists were caught setting
Guardian Newspapers office on fire in 1996 or thereabout), kill journalists
(Dele Giwa got ‘
parcel bombed’ in 1986

In August 1998, Okozie Amarube, a journalist working for News Service in Enugu State, a magazine that has been forthright in its criticism of officialdom and corruption, was shot by the police when they
raided the magazine’s printing press and later died in hospital from his
wounds. Latest reports suggest that a policeman was arrested and remains in
detention in connection with Amarube’s death.

In November 1998, Ayodele Akele, a civil servant working for Lagos State, was sacked by the state administration for his trade union activities and criticism
of the military government. He remains out of work. The outgoing military
governor of Lagos State has stated that he should never be re-employed and
should be re-arrested if he tries to enter government premises.

In early February 1999, a team of policemen stormed the editorial offices of The News and the premises of the Satellite Press, a printing company, and detained three journalists for several
hours before releasing them. They also seized and confiscated copies of The News. The News was intending to
publish a story on official corruption during the Abacha era.

On 11 February 1999, Lanre Arogundade, Chairman of the Lagos State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), was arrested and briefly detained,
apparently in connection with his peaceful trade union activities. On 25 April
1999, he was once again arrested. On 4 May 1999, he was formally arraigned
before a Magistrates Court in Ibadan on charges of conspiracy and murder in
connection with the death of Bolade Fasasi, the former treasurer of the Lagos
State Council of the NUJ in March. The police acted on the basis of petitions
from well-known political opponents of Arogundade who had been expelled from
the Lagos State Council of the NUJ. On 14 May 1999, Lanre Arogundade was
granted bail by Ibadan High Court on payment of Naira 250,000 (US$2500) and the
nomination of two sureties of the same value, one of which should be based on
landed property in Ibadan. These bail conditions were met only with great
difficulty by supporters of Lanre Arogundade. Several days later, Lanre
Arogundade was released on bail. ARTICLE 19 calls for the dropping of all
charges against him.

There were also incidents of harassment of journalists working in the publicly owned media at state level. For example, in late February 1999, two journalists
working for the Nigerian Observe in
Benin City, Edo State, were suspended for having published criticisms of the
parliamentary elections by international observers.

There are a number of unresolved cases which need to be addressed urgently. By the new civilian government, one of those is the politically-motivated charges
against Lanre Arogundade. But there are also the cases of Bagauda Kaltho,
Kaduna correspondent of The News, and
Chinedu Offoaro, a journalist with The
When the UN Special Rapporteur on Nigeria visited Nigeria in
November 1998, ARTICLE 19 and Media Rights Agenda asked him to raise the cases
of these journalists, who “disappeared” in 1996. The Nigerian authorities
claimed during 1998 that Bagauda Kaltho died while engaging in an act of
terrorism. Both men are rumoured to be dead after being detained by security
agents. ARTICLE 19 calls on the new civilian government to institute an
independent judicial inquiry into these “disappearances”. Such a step would
represent a blow against the culture of impunity which has reigned in Nigeria
for so long and bring hope to the families of both men that the truth about
their fate may be finally uncovered. Failure to do so will only strengthen the
case made by some within the human rights and pro-democracy movements that an
independent truth and reconciliation commission is required in Nigeria if the
country is to honestly reckon with the past. This is, in any case, something
which the new civilian government should actively consider. The
“disappearances” of Bagauda Kaltho and Chinedu Offoaro are specifically
referred to in the Ota Platform of Action.

On 13 January 1999, Kennedy Esi, aged 30, was arrested by police officers in Omoku, Ogba-Egbema, Ndoni Local Government Area in Egiland, Rivers State, in
possession of IYC leaflets. He was detained for 22 days before the intervention
of the Civil Liberties Organization helped to secure his release on bail. He
came before Omoku Magistrates’ Court on 23 March 1999. The charge sheet gave
the charge as possession of two leaflets “likely to cause a breach of the
peace”, citing Section 430(1) of the Criminal Code of Eastern Nigeria. The
Civil Liberties Organization pointed out that this section actually referred to
the offence of burglary and called for the case to be struck out by the
magistrate on the grounds that it was a political case. The prosecution applied
for permission to amend the charge sheet, without specifying how or why. The
magistrate adjourned the case.

Godfrey Okolo, the 49 year-old External Relations Coordinator of the Movement for the Survival of the Ijaw Ethnic Nationality for the Niger Delta (MOSIEND), related
to ARTICLE 19 and Media Rights Agenda the circumstances surrounding his recent
detention and brush with death at the hands of “Operation Salvage”, the Bayelsa
State variant of the special anti-crime squads established across large parts
of the country established during the Abacha period. These squads, whose
equivalent in Lagos is the notorious “Operation Sweep”, combine army and police

Okolo was amongst those who ousted a more “moderate” MOSIEND leadership in 1995. In 1998 he became involved in a dispute between youths and elders within the
Peramabiri community, near Diebu Creek flow station over 5 million Naira (about
US $50,000) which had allegedly been paid to the elder dominated Community
Development Committee (CDC) by Shell. He supported the youths against the
elders, who lost control of the CDC. Some of the youths were later accused of
embezzlement and seizing Shell equipment. The elders sought to regain control
over the CDC.

On 6 March 1999 Okolo alleges that he was arrested by “Operation Salvage” personnel in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, at the instigation of one of the elders
from the Peramabiri community, who called him a “terrorist” and “subversive”.
He claims that he was taken to an “Operation Salvage” office for interrogation.
While there he was allegedly beaten on the back with a horse-whip and told he
was going to be killed. Shots were fired close to where he sat on the ground.
He claims that he was rescued by the officer in charge, a Major Oputa, who took
him to the main police station, where he was held until 19 March before being
released without charge. Okolo showed a representative of ARTICLE 19 the scars
on his back from the horse-whipping.

In Nigeria, the trial and execution in 1995 of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni minority activists prompted widespread international revulsion. Yet hundreds of
Ogoni had already died during 1993-4 in a campaign of informal repression
orchestrated by the security forces, who had encouraged rivalry between the
Ogoni and the Andoni, Okrika and Ndoki. Else where in Nigeria, the authorities
have a long track record of using religious and ethnic divisions to weaken the
opposition and target individuals and communities opposed to military rule for
example, the Zango-Kataf conflict in Kaduna State in the north in the early

Decree No. 35 of 1993, the Offensive Publications (Proscription) Decree was promulgated to prohibit the publication of what government regarded as offensive. This was followed by the promulgation
of Decree No. 48 of 1993 while proscribed Concord Group of Newspaper. The Newspapers
registration decree was an attempt by the Babangida regime to regulate the
press by laying down stringent conditions. However, on Nov. 18 1999, Justice
Ilori of Ikeja High Court annulled the Decree.

The military government went to the bizarre extent of prescribing death sentence for any journalist that published what the government perceived to be inciting. The Abacha regime clamped down on three
privately owed newspapers: Guardian, Concord and Punch. When Babangida mounted
the podium of power he repealed Decree No 4 which turned the press into a
toothless bulldog. Within a year the Abacha administration descended heavily on
the privately owned press. The Tell Magazine was prohibited from circulation
and vendors who were found with the magazine in public were promptly arrested
and detained without trial.

On September 10, 1997, Arit Igiebor wife of the Tell Editor-in-chief was arrested and detained. On November 18 1997, Nduka Obaigbena Editor- in-Chief of ThisDay was detained by security operatives. In
1996, the offices of the Guardian, the News were torched by government
arsonists. Chris Anyawu, publisher of TSM, Kunle Ajibade, editor the News
George Mba Senior Editor Tell, Charles Obi, Editor of defunct Classique
all were jailed 15 years for making unbiased reports on the 1995 video coup
saga. Niran Malaolu, editor of the Diet also bagged life imprisonment
(Daramola, 1999:43-44.

Journalists in performing their civic responsibilities are often accused of subversion, espionage and plotting coup. Baguada Kaltho-the Kano State correspondent of the News was branded a terrorist
and murdered in mysterious circumstances. Femi Adeoti, Editor Sunday Tribune
and 40 others were charged with sedition in May 18, 1998. A Journalist with the
Champion was attacked and robbed in Abeokuta before Tunde oladekpo was
assassinated. Indeed the press in Nigeria has suffered violence and Journalists
have passed through the crucible of fire especially under military tyranny.

Since the return to civil rule on May 29, 1999, the Nigerian press has not witnessed too much official harassment.” But there are few reported cases of isolated official high-handedness against the press. The one
that readily comes to mind is the brutalization of the Vanguard newspaper’s
photojournalist by security operatives attached to the Vice President, Atiku
Abubakar, early 2005.

The journalist was beaten to a state of coma and almost lost his life. However, lately, the government seems to be after the press again. Two journalists, Gbenga Aruleba and Rotimi Durojaiye of African Independent
Television (AIT) and Daily Independent newspaper respectively, were arrested
and arraigned in June 2006 for calling the recently purchased Presidential Jet
a fairly used or Tokunbo (second-hand) jet while the Federal government
claimed the jet is brand-
new. The irony of it all is that the
journalists were charge under a moribund law, the Sedition Act, a law that has
been declared null and void by a competent court of law, the Court of Appeal,
since 1983.

Under the military, the freedom of expression and the press is repressed because a free press exposes the evils of primitive accumulation and its attendant negative effects on the society. Corruption is said to have rendered our social
infrastructure inefficient and has contributed to the prevailing problem of
Nigeria is a nation where there is
high level of contract inflation, embezzlement and diversion of monies in
banks, industries and other parastatals. All these evils weaken the rule of law
and constitutionalism. A nation that neglects accountability pushes her
population to frustration, anomie and criminality. It is high time world
leaders knew that the horrendous calamities caused by the Nigerian ruling class, amount to
terrorism at least in a domestic sense. It then remains to be seen whether the
terrorist-minded 23 year old Farouk Mutallab is not as guilty as the corrupt,
inept leaders who have imposed untold suffering to the people. My verdict is
that the ruination and bastardization of the economy by the corrupt political
poses a growing and graver danger than terrorism in our landscape.

This is why the National Assembly should resurrect the FOI Bill and fast-track its passage into an Act to enable media practitioners have access to vital
information that would enable them carry out their social responsibility
functions to the Nigerian society and the global community. For now, the
Nigeria state is notorious for terrorism against the mass media, and only in
2009, more than 15 Journalists were assassinated. Until the FOI Act is past and the state stops
press censorship, Nigeria should also be listed as a terrorist nation by the
International Union of Journalists and other associated international pressure
groups, Civil Society Groups, Non-Governmental Organizations and media
organizations. Nigeria is a terrorist country in more ways than one and the
earlier we crusade against it the better for our children.

Idumange John, is a University Lecturer and Activist

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