Journalists In Nigeria Express Safety Concerns, Share Security Tips Ahead Of 2023 Polls
Even though Nigeria has a subsisting security problem, states considered to be relatively safe are not conducive for journalists during elections.
Ahead of Nigeria’s general elections in February and March, journalists have expressed concerns for their safety and shared security tips for election coverage, which they likened to “going to the war front.”
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent Non-Profit Organisation committed to global press freedom, spoke to more than 50 journalists and members of civil society groups regarding the elections, and according to the organisation, “safety concerns were paramount,” among the issues that the interviewees discussed.
From tips such as the use of “local freelancers to cover difficult areas” to having adequate airtime for mobile phones and backup power support, as well as the use of small devices for recording, the journalists that CPJ spoke to urged their colleagues to protect their lives as much as they could.
In the Northwest region of Nigeria, for instance, where there is a huge security issue, reporters have been advised to use community members to get proper reportage. Still, in cases where they find themselves in unsafe communities, they must take appropriate security measures.
While some of the interviewees shared tips to ensure maximum security, some frowned at the idea of even covering the elections in volatile communities: “I will not be telling a reporter to go to Isa town in the Northwest State of Sokoto; it is the operational headquarters of terror leader, Bello Turji. I will not be sending them to Kagara, Mashegu, or Shiroro areas; but they can operate in Minna, Suleja, Lavun, Bida,” an Editor, Nuruddeen Abdallah, told CPJ.
The fright is justifiable
While the security situation across Nigeria may vary according to regions and states, the safety of journalists, especially during elections, is not particularly guaranteed: In the Northeast and Northwest regions of the country, for instance, journalists are at risk of possible assault, abductions, or death from Boko Haram, ISWAP, and other local and emerging terror groups.
In the Southeast, journalists face similar threats from political thugs and the separatist group IPOB, who have previously threatened elections.
In the Southwest, where armed thuggery has been known to occur frequently during elections, journalists are at risk of getting caught in armed fights between different political thugs.
The Southsouth region shares similar problems: “ The level of violence in Calabar South is very high. Don’t identify yourself as a journalist there. If you are [slightly more north] in Calabar Municipality, you can brandish yourself as a journalist and still be safe,” Agba Jalingo, a publisher, said while speaking to CPJ.
The Northcentral is not left out, as there have been different reports of political thuggery and attacks on journalists covering elections there in the past.
Can security operatives help?
While the presence of deployed security agents reassures and secures journalists, sometimes, that is not the case.
In 2019, for instance, Chinedu Asadu, a journalist with The Cable, an online newspaper, “was forced to flee a polling station after he was threatened by police officers.”
In the same year, two journalists, Musa Mingyi and Hamisu Kabir Matazu, were detained for over an hour by members of the Nigerian military. The journalists said that although they were unharmed and later released, they were barred from carrying out their duties; the Nigerian army had, however, denied the incident: “no journalist was held hostage. The journalists’ car was stopped as part of routine checks on vehicles as part of security measures during the elections,” the Nigerian army had said, in a statement issued via its official Facebook page.
However, threats from non-state actors greatly outweigh the ones cited. As such, journalists feel at ease with the presence of security agents while covering elections in the country.
In view of the numerous threats facing journalists, CPJ said that it reached out to Nigeria’s Ministry of Defence and National Police with questions “about their plans to ensure journalists’ safety,” but was unable to receive a response.
But in an event held in January by the Center for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), in collaboration with the Canada Fund for Local Initiative (CFLI), however, Peter Afunaanya, spokesperson of Nigeria’s Department of State Services (DSS), directly addressed concerns about the safety of journalists covering the polls.
While he noted that some security-related issues shared by journalists at the event were “exaggerated,” he assured the journalists that “efforts during the elections were geared towards protecting citizens and that journalists should inform security forces of their needs.”
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