Journalists will recall 2017 as a very challenging year laced with intimidation and harassment from government officials
By Anayo Ezugwu
For some media houses in Nigeria, 2017 was a year of unlawful detention and harassment for journalists. But for Realnews Magazine and Publications Limited, publishers of Realnews, a pioneer investigative online magazine in Nigeria, it was a year of celebration as it marked its fifth anniversary on November 16, with a grand lecture.
The lecture entitled: “African Leadership in a Turbulent Era,” was delivered by Oby Ezekwesili, former minister of education who became the first female to deliver the Realnews Anniversary Lecture series. The lecture had Prof. Akpan Hogan Ekpu, director general, West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management, WAIFEM, as chairman while Ahmed Kuru, managing director, Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria, AMCON; Waheed Olagunju, executive director, Bank of Industry, BoI, and Maikanti Baru, group managing director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, were discussants.
Realnews’ choice of topic in 2017, according to Maureen Chigbo, publisher/editor, was informed by leadership crisis in Africa at a time of an emerging global trend, especially the emergence of Donald Trump, as America’s 45th President of the United , with Russia and China increasingly wielding more influence on the continent.
The lecture was attended by prominent Nigerians from oil and gas, banking and finance, civil society and the academia. They include General Martin Lurther Agwai, former minister of defence, J.K. Randle, former chairman of KPMG; Nkechi Ali-Balogun, chief executive officer of NECCI Limited, Ogechukwu Udeagha, manager, Media, Mobil Producing Nigeria Limited; Sola Adebawo, Communications Manager, Chevron Nigeria Limited; Precious Okolobo, Manager, Media, Shell Petroleum Development Company and Ann-Marie of the Nigerian Liquefied Petroleum Gas among others. Media heavy weights at the events include Ray Ekpu, Soji Akinrinade, Yakubu Mohammed, all executive directors of MayFive Limited; Ted Iwere, former managing director of Independent Newspapers, Mike Awoyinfa, former managing director of SUN Newspapers, Abraham Ogbodo, Editor of The Guardian, Martin Oloja, former Editor of The Guardian, Eze Anaba, Editor of the Vanguard, Victory Ibanga, secretary general, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Rose Moses, publisher of an Online newspaper, Abimbola Toki, managing director, Business World and Nick Ogbulie, Editor-in-Chief, Business World.
Despite Realnews celebration, media professionals in the country had it rough in the hands of government and its agencies. On January 19, the Nigerian Police stormed Premium Times head office in Abuja, and arrested two of the newspaper’s staff after conducting search at the property.
Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of the online newspaper, was arrested alongside Evelyn Okakwu, its judiciary correspondent, by several plain-clothed officers. The journalists were taken to the Federal Capital Territory police headquarters at Garki 2, Abuja, where they were held for hours before being transferred to the police office at Wuse, Abuja. The arrests came days after Premium Times turned down the army’s demand to retract news stories about the Nigerian Army and its operations.
As if the arrest and illegal detention of Premium Times journalists wasn’t enough, on September 12, about 20 soldiers on Operation Python Dance exercise of the Nigerian Army beat up journalists and smashed their phones, Ipads and other gadgets as they invaded the state secretariat of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, in Umuahia, Abia State.
The soldiers, who were parading the streets of Umuahia on a show of strength under the exercise, alleged that the journalists took pictures of their exercise without authorisation.
On April 20, Midat Joseph, correspondent of Leadership newspapers in Kaduna State, was arrested in his house over a story he allegedly wrote against the state government. According to reports, the journalist was arrested because he published a report considered to be critical to the state government. His arrest brought the number of journalists arrested on the orders of Kaduna State government to six since Governor Nasir El-Rufai assumed office in May 2015.
Likewise, on December 7, security operatives took over the head office of the Leadership Newspapers located in Utako, Abuja, over a N100 million debt. It was gathered that the media house is allegedly indebted to one Senator Isah from Niger State.
The operatives working under a court order mandated them shut down the office and claim all Leadership property including all vehicles found within the premises belonging to the organisation. About six vehicles were towed away by the assigned officers. Journalists also discovered that the official vehicle of the general editor was equally towed away by the officers.
On June 12, the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, invaded the headquarters of The Sun newspapers. The operatives disrupted the circulation of the day’s edition of the newspaper. According to the management of the newspaper, the EFCC operatives intimidated staff of the company who was within the premises.
It said the operatives prevented passage in and out of the premises by both workers and distributors of the newspaper. The management alleging vendetta by Ibrahim Magu, chairman of the EFCC, saying he was trying to achieve self-help on issues that are still before the courts for adjudication.
Also on July 25, Kwara State High Court froze bank accounts linked to Sahara Reporters, online portal for failing to honour the court’s order. The court had awarded N4 billion against Omoyele Sowore, publisher, and his medium, Sahara Reporters, who were the defendants/respondents in cases of libel brought before it by Senate President Bukola Saraki. Consequently, Justice Adeyinka Oyinloye, issued an order to the United Bank for Africa, UBA, and Guaranty Trust Bank, GTB, bankers of Sowore and Sahara Reporters, to seize all funds held in a string of accounts associated with the defendants.
The judge also said Sahara Reporters and Sowore must pay 10 percent (N400 million) interest on the N4 billion monthly until both the principal damages and accrued interests are finally cleared. Saraki, instituted the case in Ilorin, where he ruled for eight years as governor, accusing Sahara Reporters of publishing defamatory content against his personality. The four stories at issue, which included news and opinion contents, were published between September and December 2015, acccording to court filings published by Vanguard Newspapers.