At least 14 journalists and media workers were detained, harassed, or attacked while covering the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections, including private news website WikkiTimes‘ owner, Haruna Salisu, who remains in police custody without charge, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Monday.
Police detained Salisu on February 25 in Duguri town, southeastern Bauchi state, shortly after he and other reporters had met with the state governor, according to WikkiTimes editor, Yakubu Mohammed, who spoke to CPJ, and a local coalition of press freedom groups.
Police said they took Salisu into custody to protect him after supporters of the governor attacked him as he interviewed local women protesting, but then refused to release him, according to Mohammed, who visited him after he was transferred to police headquarters in Bauchi, the state capital.
A local news website, PRNigeria reported that police had “received a formal complaint that the journalist was inciting the electorate.” Salisu remained in detention as of Monday evening.
The PUNCH reports that private citizens, political groups, or security forces threatened and attacked at least 13 other journalists and media workers during the elections, according to CPJ interviews.
“Nigerian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Haruna Salisu, and bring to account all those responsible for intimidating and attacking at least 13 other journalists and media workers,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa programme coordinator, from New York. “Press freedom is an integral component of Nigerian democracy, and the media should be able to cover national polls without fear of reprisals.” She noted.
CPJ spoke to reporters involved in each of the following incidents on February 25:
A group of men beat the executive director of a privately-owned nonprofit, International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Dayo Aiyetan, tore his clothes and stole his phone and belongings after he filmed them disrupting the voting at a polling site in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
Aiyetan said one man tried to stab him, and he reported the attack to the local police. Some of his belongings were returned, including his phone with content deleted.
Youths in Ibadan, Oyo state, attacked a vehicle from the state-owned News Agency of Nigeria for covering the elections, one of the crew told CPJ.
Yinka Bode-Are, a camera operator, was travelling with a reporter and driver when the vehicle was set upon with sticks and dented.
Security forces questioned a reporter with the nonprofit Center for Journalism Innovation and Development, Adesola Ikulajolu, about his work and deleted image folders from his phone as he moved between polling places in Lagos.
Ikulajolu said he believed they were from the Department of State Services because of their equipment and black clothing. However, the spokesperson for the DSS, Peter Afunanya told CPJ he was not aware of the incident and that black clothing did not prove a DSS affiliation.
In Agbor town, Delta state, a supporter of the Peoples Democratic Party, one of Nigeria’s main political parties, punched a reporter with TheCable, Bolanle Olabimtan, and knocked her over, while another seized her phone and deleted photos and video before returning it.
Also, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, police officers detained and threatened to shoot Gbenga Oloniniran, a reporter with The Punch Newspaper, then drove him across town and deleted photos from his phone before releasing him. Local media advocacy groups condemned the incident.
Police officers also deleted photos from Oloniniran’s phone in a separate incident after he photographed them at a polling site, he told CPJ. CPJ’s noted that calls to Rivers state police spokesperson Grace Iringe-Koko went unanswered.
A group of men stopped Ajayi Adebola, a reporter with Peoples Gazette, at a polling site in Lagos, and deleted content from her phone.
Some wore vests representing the All Progressives Congress, another major party, she told CPJ. APC spokesperson Felix Morka told CPJ that he would investigate the incident and that the party did not want its supporters to target journalists.
PDP supporters threatened or assaulted five reporters in three separate incidents in Sagbama, a council area in Bayelsa state; Akam James, a reporter with Daily Post newspaper was slapped and beaten; Princewill Sede and Jeany Metta, publisher and managing editor of Upfront News magazine, were hit in the face and had their camera smashed; and Joe Kunde and Miebi Bina, a reporter and camera operator for TVC, were intimidated and driven from the area.
CPJ noted that it called Bauchi police spokesperson Ahmed Wakil for comment regarding Salisu’s detention and sent questions via messaging app, which were marked as read, but received no response. Calls to Bauchi Governor Bala Mohammed and one of his aides, Muktar Gidado, also went unanswered.C
“CPJ’s calls to the spokesperson for the Nigeria Police Force, Olumuyiwa Adejobi rang unanswered.” The organization noted.
PDP presidential campaign council spokesperson Kola Ologbondiyan told CPJ that reports of incidents involving their supporters were “falsehood” and asked to review details, but did not immediately comment on those that CPJ provided to him.
When contacted, the spokesperson for PDP, Debo Ologunagba, asked for a callback, but did not answer the call.
The PUNCH reports that days before the polls, journalists also faced attacks or were denied access to cover election preparations, CPJ had reported.
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