Africa Media Watch, the Press Freedom arm of Africa Media development Foundation (AMDF) calls on Nigerian Authorities to investigate reported cases of assault and harassment faced by journalists in the course of their work on Saturday 9th March 2019, while monitoring gubernatorial elections across the country.
In Nigeria, preparing for elections is like preparing for war, where there are reports of casualties as a result of one form of violence or intimidation regardless of who is at the opposition.
The 2019 general elections came with a lot of expectations for a more peaceful electoral process, and the media on its part started the preparation since the last 2015 elections to see that it fulfils its duty by tracking and reporting electoral activities, as a result, safety of electoral reporters was top on the list of its preparation.
In February 2019, the Independent National Electoral commission called on all security agencies in the country not to stand in the way of accredited journalists deployed to cover the 2019 elections. According to the federal commissioner in charge of Anambra, Enugu, and Benue states, journalists are critical stakeholders in the process and must be granted unfettered access to voting, collation, and distribution centres.
Never the less, this plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears as journalists are reported to have fallen victims of one form of harassment or the other by security personnel.
The arrest of Nwanosike Onu of the Nation, Geoffrey Anyanwu of the Sun, David –Chyddy Eleke of Thisday, Vincent Ujumadu of Vanguard and Tony Okafor of Punch by a team of fully armed police officers close to the residence of Mr. Peter Obi (Vice Presidential Candidate PDP), in Anambra where they had gone to cover him during the voting exercise, among other reported case of barring journalists from monitoring results collation in different parts of the country clearly shows that the media in Nigeria does not enjoy freedom to carry out its responsibilities.
Furthermore, two correspondent reporters were detained in Damaturu, Yobe state capital by the Army officers at ORO3, located behind Union Bank.
It was reported that the soldiers confiscated the vehicles and other personal properties of the reporters, and also threatened to resort to brutality if they insist on leaving.
According to Daily Trust newspapers, the army lieutenant in charge said he was acting under the command of the GOC, saying he will not listen to any journalist’s appeal. “Do you think you have any right? Go there and stay until I decide what to do with you,” the newspaper quoted the soldier.
In Kaduna, two journalists, Shindong Bala of Radio Nigeria, who is also the Assistant Secretary of Nigeria Union of Journalist, Kaduna State Council and Amos Tauna of Daily Post were attacked by a mob in Zonkwa town, at about 2pm of the gubernatorial election day. Some of the personal effects alongside working devices were seized.
According to Bala, “we were at the police station to find out more on the uprising against thugs who were allegedly sent to the area to cause confusion during the elections. The mob thought we were part of the people sent, and they rushed to us as soon as we parked” he told Africa Media Watch.
The Electoral Act, the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, and the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage guarantees the journalist the right to monitor and report electoral activities, if that is the case, why then did the army officer infringe on the rights of those journalists with impunity, and saying they do not have any right?
We condemn every act of intimidation on the media and journalists in whatever form, by any arm of government and will not stop emphasizing the fact the media is not a puppet in the hand of anyone, neither is it a second fiddle. The media as a very important part of the polity has to enjoy certain level of independence in other to carry out its duty effectively.
We call on all heads of security agencies in Nigeria to sensitize its personnel to avoid any possible future occurrence of events like this. The media is not a sidekick and must not be treated as such by any individual, group, or organization.
Sahara Reporters also reported how Journalist and observers resorted to escaping from the INEC office in Rivers through the windows after Chaos erupted as a result of disagreement on the announced result of at the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Rivers State.
This incident occurred because an APC agent challenged the state collation officer claiming that the result was mutilated against President Muhammadu Buhari.
Furthermore, journalists were barred by the Electoral Officer in charge of the commission’s office at Ughelli North LGA of Delta state from gaining access to monitor and report at the collation centre.
The EO Andrew Akhigbe said, “We are still collating results and can’t afford to allow you be inside here for now.
This is contrary to the provision of the electoral act which states that INEC should allow accredited journalists access to monitor the collation of results. Why then is INEC acting against this provision without any justifiable reasons.
Another incident was reported how soldiers manning the entrance of the Collation Centre of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at Amuwo/Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos State barred journalists from entering the centre to observe and report the official declaration of result for the Amuwo/Odofin Federal House of Representatives Constituency election.
Daily Trust correspondent alongside journalists from other media organisations were about moving into the Collation centre when soldiers manning the entrance gate insisted journalists were not needed inside the Centre. “When journalists are needed, you will be called upon. But for now, we have not been told that your attendance is needed here.
All explanations by the journalists and the tendering of identifications as well as INEC accreditation lapels were ignored by the soldiers.
A Premium Times reporter was briefly detained and harassed at Ward 1 in Ogboko village, Idea to South Local Government Area of Imo state. In Imo, the journalist who was duly accredited to cover the elections was banned from the centre by men who appeared to be thugs after they temporarily seized his working materials.