Over the past 6 years, the media and President Muhamadu Buhari government have been in some sort of war.
Over the past 12 months, the battle appears to have escalated to the level of open confrontation between the executive and the fourth estate of the realm.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) emerged in 2015 at the start of the new media, as the Buhari Media Organization used social media platforms and influencers to sway opinions of Nigerians in the build-up to the 2015 elections.
Despite this history, the government has been pushing for stringent measures to regulate the media.
Here is a timeline of the ongoing battle between Buhari and the media.
Friendship turned sour
Back in 2015, the APC and its presidential candidate enjoyed massive support from the media, as most media organizations pilloried the then administration of Goodluck Jonathan.
Following the victory of the party in 2015, the president often speaks with foreign media than the Nigerian media. This had affected the relationship between the Nigerian media and the administration.
But that relationship has turned frosty, as according to a report by Amnesty International, 8 media houses were raided by the government between 2015 and 2019.
Some of the popular names include Agba Jalingo, Jones Abiri, Samuel Ogundipe and others.
The report stated that several journalists have been arrested for different reasons. Some by the federal government, while some by state governments.
Also, the NUJ in a report stated that, “At least 300 violations affecting about 500 journalists, media workers and media houses have been recorded in Nigeria under the regime of President Buhari.”
It would be recalled that in 2019, Punch Newspaper, following the storming of court by the Department of State Services to rearrest Omoyele Sowore, declared that it will be using General as the prefix to Buhari’s name and refer to the administration as a regime. A correspondent of the platform at the presidential villa was suspended.
Many other media organizations expected to be granted access to the Villa have been denied access for not being supportive in their news.
Another organization that has been having a running battle with the government is DAAR communications, the owner of AIT and Raypower FM.
The Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) had warned that it will axe AIT if the station should continue with “one-sided” broadcasting of the 2019 presidential election petition tribunal.
When the administration wanted to reduce the number of journalists covering State House events, Punch and AIT were excluded, despite their respective reach.
It would be recalled that the NBC also suspended the licence of the AIT and handed a hefty fine to Arise TV for the coverage of the EndSARS protest.
Twitter ban and Full-blown war
In the past couple of weeks, the fight between the government and the media has become more intense following the decision of the government to suspend the operation of a social media company, Twitter.
It would be recalled that the government on the 4th of June, 2020 announced the suspension of Twitter from operating in Nigeria in the aftermath of the deleting of a tweet by President Buhari, denying all Nigerians access to the platform. Till date, Nigerians cannot access the platform.
The Minister of information, Lai Mohammed and the NBC have been pushing for stringent regulations in the past couple of months.
At the public hearing on the NBC, NPC bills in the House of Representatives, the Minister called for online broadcasting to be included in the regulation of the NBC and online newspaper to be included in the Nigerian Press Council Act.
The bills have also created a new frosty relationship between the government and media, as the Nigerian Guild of Editor and Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria and the Nigerian Union of Journalists all kicked against the bills.
Last week Monday, adverts were sponsored on the front pages of major dailies in Nigeria, kicking against the bills.
Moreso, a Punch reporter was arrested at the Dunamis Church in Abuja while covering a live programme. This also generated outrage.
It would be recalled that Segun Odebunmi has announced the ‘suspension of the media bills following the outcry against them. He announced it while appearing on Channels TV.
NBC and reporting of terrorism, kidnapping
The NBC in a letter titled the ‘Newspaper Reviews And Current Affairs Programmes: A Need For Caution’, and signed by the Director, Broadcast Monitoring, Francisca Aiyetan, on behalf of the new Director-General of the Commission, Balarabe Ilelah directed radio and television stations to not report details of security on their shows.
According to the letter, media houses exercise caution and “Not ‘glamourising’ the nefarious activities of insurgents, terrorists, kidnappers, and bandits etc.”
I will not be part of media gagging, but- Gbajabiamila
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila had said he will not be part of any attempt to stifle the media, however, he has expressed support for the regulation of the media.
Gbajabiamila, while speaking at the dinner and award night organized by the House of Representative’s press corps, said media houses are being regulated all over the world.
Aside from this, the House also approved the ban of Twitter.
It would be recalled that the House joint committee had investigated the Twitter ban and recommended that the government should be given enough time to negotiate with Twitter.
Odebunmi, the chairman of the committee that investigated the bill, is also the sponsor of the two bills, NBC and NPC bills.
While Mr Odebunmi appears to have folded, the government seems determined to control media.
Amnesty International’s warning
The Amnesty International has called for press freedom in Nigeria. A publication on its website tagged ‘ Free the Press in Nigeria” said the Nigerian press have had enough. It alleged that Nigerian journalists are often harassed, detained, tortured and killed for doing their job.
”In Nigeria today, journalists are harassed, detained, tortured and killed for doing their job.
”And they’ve had enough.
”A free press makes for a free society. The work journalists do is crucial for everyone in Nigeria – and the law should never silence the truth.
”We have worked with journalists and media workers from across Nigeria to write a manifesto calling on the government to ensure their freedom. Freedom to do their vital work and to serve the people.
”They need your support to make the government listen. Rise up with them and sign up to make Nigeria a free and open society.
”Ensure that media houses are allowed to operate independently and journalists in government-owned media houses enjoy the right to freedom of expression and can carry out their job without fear of reprisals. Furthermore, the government should protect the operation of independent media agencies and their journalistic freedom.
”Train and instruct the police and other security forces to protect journalists and other media professionals and refrain from harassing, intimidating, arbitrarily arresting journalists and raiding media houses.
”Publicly acknowledge the important role of journalists in informing the public and promoting human rights and accountability of leaders in Nigeria,” It wrote on its website.
But the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has described Nigeria as the freest country to live in the world and that government promotes press freedom.
The Minister stated this when he received the Finland Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Jyrki Pulkkimen and his team, who visited him early this year.
He said the President Muhammadu Buhari government had not tampered with the freedom of speech or rights of individuals.
The Minister said the government was only sanitising the media on hate speech and abuse of the freedom of speech.
The Minister pointed out that if people were allowed to do whatever they want on social media in a country like ”ours with diversity of religion and political interests, there will be chaos.”
Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit, asking the Federal High Court in Abuja, “to stop the Federal Government and the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed from using their patently unlawful directive to all TV and radio stations not to use Twitter, and to delete their accounts as a pretext to harass, intimidate, suspend or impose criminal punishment on journalists and broadcast stations simply for using social media platforms.”