Nigeria is one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often watched, attacked, arbitrarily arrested and even killed.
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 best known. Most of the 36 states also have a state-owned daily newspaper that is directly controlled by the local authorities. There are several hundred radio stations and TV channels.
The level of governmental interference in the news media is significant. It can involve pressure, harassment of journalists and media outlets, and even censorship. In 2021, the Peoples Gazette news site was blocked after it revealed that privileges were given to the son of a member of the president’s inner circle. Twitter was suspended for seven months after it deleted one of the president’s tweets. Media outlets were ordered to delete their Twitter accounts as a "patriotic gesture".
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.
While there are many media outlets, very few are in good economic health. Journalists are often paid late and sometimes the salary arrears can run to several months or even years. This makes them vulnerable to corruption and to “cash for news”, whereby journalists give favourable news coverage to someone in exchange for a reward. As such, 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 had investigated massacres in the central state of Kaduna.
In recent years, most of West Africa’s violent attacks, shooting deaths and cases of arbitrary detention of journalists have taken place in Nigeria. Fearing for their lives, some journalists flee abroad. Four journalists have been killed since 2019 and there has been no serious investigation to identify the perpetrators. The major protests that shook the country in 2020 also brought on violence against media outlets, some of which were set on fire.