Out of the six geo-political zones, data has singled North Central as the most unsafe region for press freedom in Nigeria.
The data was collated by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) and published in its State of Press Freedom Report: Trends and Reflections, released on Thursday, based on information gathered from the Press Attack Tracker.
The tracker, which is a civic technology tool that documents attacks against journalists and media organisations, has recorded over 300 cases in the past five years.
It was developed as a response to the increasing trends of attacks against journalists to provide a data-driven advocacy response to the continued repression of the media through physical attacks/assaults, arrests and detentions, unconstitutional legal proceedings, repressive laws and cyber attacks.
While the Global Press Freedom Index is a marker for how countries perform on press freedom issues and it ranks countries accordingly, the Press Attack Tracker provides details of the nature, trends, prevalence, and types of press freedom issues that are peculiar to Nigeria.
Data from the Press Attack Tracker helps to properly contextualize press freedom issues in Nigeria and make sense of its repeatedly poor ranking.
The analysis in the recent PTCIJ report looks at data from 2018 to 2020 and spotlights trends, perpetrators of attacks, most prevalent types of attacks and regions with the highest prevalence of abuse of journalists.
The analysis also examines the reason for these data outcomes and both answers and raises questions on how the results shape the state of press freedom in the country.
“Certain regions and states are notorious for media repression and the data below serves a dual purpose; naming and shaming these zones so that the administrators in these regions are made aware of the toxicity of their States to journalists and media, and put them on their toes by this spotlight.
“The second purpose is to serve as advisory to journalists and media organisations as well as aid their risk assessment and consequently, safety and security planning for safe operations in these zones,” PTCIJ programme manager, Adenike Aloba, noted in her analysis.
North Central recorded 47 per cent of the recorded attacks, South West – 36 per cent, South-South – 32 per cent, South East – 17 per cent, North West 15 per cent and North East – 13 per cent.
In North Central, Abuja recorded 70 per cent of the attacks with Nasarawa trailing at 16.2 per cent and Kogi at 10.8 per cent.
In South West, Ondo – 20 per cent, Osun – 46.7 per cent and Lagos – 33.3 per cent. For South East, Anambra – 50 per cent, Ebonyi – 28.6 per cent and Abia – 21.4 per cent.
In the North West, Kaduna – 69.2 per cent, Jigawa – 15.4 per cent and Kano – 15.4 per cent. For South-South, Bayelsa – 47.4 per cent, Rivers – 15.8 per cent and Akwa Ibom – 36.8 per cent.
Meanwhile, in the North East, Yobe – 11.18 per cent, Bauchi – 55.6 per cent and Adamawa – 33.3 per cent.
Aloba noted that North Central recording the highest volume of attacks of all the six geopolitical zones is unsurprising considering that the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the seat of power, is in this zone.
“The reality is reflected in a deeper look at the cities with the highest volume of attacks with the FCT hosting 73 per cent of all attacks in the region.
“This is likely a pointer to the government’s attitude towards the freedom of the press and its constitutionally guaranteed rights to hold the powerful to account.
“The North East has the lowest volume of attacks of all the regions and begs the question, are journalists really safer in this region?
“Or does it shed a light on the absence of media coverage in this region, which consequently means the absence of journalists and media organisations?” Aloba asked.
According to her, the insurgency and insecurity in the region may explain this dearth of journalists.
“At various times, journalists and media organisations have been the target of the Boko Haram terrorists with direct threats made at both individuals and media outfits.
“Unfortunately, there is no reprieve for the media as security agencies also cast the media in the light of adversaries rather than partners in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism, going as far as labelling some media outfits as mouthpieces for the terrorists and on several occasions arresting and/or destroying journalists and media equipment on allegations of some variation of espionage.
“Hence, the low volume of attacks in the North East, rather than a mark of thriving freedom of the press in that region. This points to a more sinister and dangerous form of limitation on press freedom; insecurity and conflict.
“The inability of the press to effectively cover zones of conflict and insecurity has many implications and might carry a snowballing effect with the true victims, which are the people.
“It is also important to point out that while the data clearly spotlights specific cities with a high volume of attacks, there is a question of representation of non-urban localities.
“There is consensus among press freedom watchers that a lot of violations against journalists especially in non-urban regions go unreported,” Aloba reflected.
This, she stressed, places a burden on press freedom watchers to design a process that will effectively capture all violations against journalists and media organisations irrespective of their location.
The report also showed that physical attack is the most preferred approach to silencing journalists in Nigeria as it recorded 46.8 per cent of the cases.
Physical attack is followed by arrests (24.7 per cent) and detentions often without recourse to due process.
In her contribution to the report, Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International’s Country Director said it is important to support efforts to seek the truth, to publish fairly and to bring unheard or marginalised voices to public attention.
She said, “Increasingly, press freedom is needed more than ever under the cloud of constant surveillance, repression, and attacks. We are in times that have been described as the post-truth era.
“While the international and regional frameworks provide clear provisions and have been ratified and incorporated in many national legal systems all over the world, it is not enough.
“State authorities should implement and enforce the protections afforded in these instruments,” Ojigho added.
Meanwhile, introducing the report, PTCIJ’s Programme Director, Oluwatosin Alagbe, stressed that freedom of the press is needed in every democracy because it allows the people to be informed about their rights and makes the government accountable.
“A free press allows for difficult and challenging questions to be asked and answered. This can be seen as destabilising, but the accountability that comes with the answered questions, in the long run, is worth it,” she said.