On Saturday, March 18, while coming out of his home to cover the gubernatorial elections in Lafia, North-central Nigeria, Edwin Philip, a dedicated and committed journalist, knew there might be some attacks on journalists.
Edwin, who heads the news and current affairs department of Breeze 99.9 FM, a private radio station in Nasarawa state ended up being among the 28 journalists that were attacked during the polls.
“We were reporting live to our situation room, the coverage of the election across the State, we got to know that at polling unit 061 Chiroma ward opposite Lafia main market gate, the Polling Officer there asked the electorates to do accreditation and and come back by 2:30 pm to vote, which is against the electoral law. Meanwhile they inked their fingers while undergoing accreditation which means that they have voted.
“The place became rowdy. The only policeman there seemed to be overwhelmed or was bought over. I called the A division Divisional Police Officer but he was not picking,” he said.
It was during that period that Edwin saw some thugs disrupting the entire process.
Immediately he saw the officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), he thought they were there to protect the people. On their arrival, he said, the man who appeared to be the principal of the thugs directed them to assault him.
When asked about his current health condition, Edwin said he had stitches on for his head injuries.
“I am still in pain, the injuries on my left wrist are still open, my x-ray report is still not out to be sure of the degree of the injuries,” he said.
Like the presidential election, many journalists were attacked and disrupted from carrying out their constitutional roles during the March 18 elections conducted in Nigeria by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for 993 state house assembly and 28 governorship positions.
During the just concluded governorship elections, at least 28 journalists and media workers have been attacked, according to a statement released by Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Domestic observers were also brutalised by overzealous security operatives and armed thugs in different states of the country, despite the admittance by Mahmood Yakubu, the chairman of the election umpire before the elections that “the progressive improvement in our electoral democracy since 1999 draws in part from the reports of observers and the study tours”.
Both Feb. 25 and March 18 elections threw into jeopardy the role of media workers and observers as watchdogs monitoring voting processes and documenting malpractices.
Abiodun Jamiu, a journalist who observed the governorship poll for the Centre for Journalism and Innovative Development (CJID) in Sokoto, was also harassed at a polling unit in the Bodinga area of the state.
“Some men approached me and told me to identify myself which I did. They left, came back and told me to leave. They ensured that I was chased out of the local government. “I had to leave to avoid being beaten up.”
Jamiu’s experience was similar to what one of HumAngle’s reporters encountered in Lagos as thugs forced him out of different polling units where malpractices were taking place in the Oshodi/Isolo area of Lagos.
Prior to the beginning of voting, thugs in the Oshodi axis had intimidated non-Yoruba residents and they successfully suppressed the voting activities with little or no coverage from pressmen and observers who were repeatedly chased away from polling units.
While Jamiu and a few other reporters were lucky to leave their places of assignment without being hurt, it was not the same for many.
For using a drone to film voting points in Eti-Osa area of Lagos, mobs used sticks to brutalise a TV crew with the privately owned Arise TV. A member of the crew, Oba Adeoye, said he was injured alongside Opeyemi Adenihun and Yusuf Hassan.
Richard Ekeke who also covered the poll for CJID in Esit Eket local government in Akwa Ibom, said he was attacked for taking a picture of vote buying. His tag was snatched and torn by an angry mob that later broke his phone screen.
“As I tried to identify myself, I was barraged with slaps and punches from the angry mob that descended on me,” he said.
In Nasarawa, three state security officers attacked Edwin Philip, a reporter with private broadcaster Breeze 99.9 FM, on orders from a palace official at a polling unit. He was later taken to a hospital for stitches after sustaining a deep cut to his head.
While Nigeria’s Security and Civil Defence Corps had condemned the attack and apologised, the reporter carries bruises as he hopes that the personnel who carried out the act would be investigated and punished.
Condemning these irregularities, Angela Quintal, Africa program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York, said no fewer than 28 journalists and media workers were harassed and attacked while covering the March 18 elections.
“Nigerian authorities should swiftly identify and hold accountable those responsible for the recent attacks, harassment, and intimidation of journalists covering state elections and ensure that members of the press feel safe to report on political issues,” the committee said.
“Freedom of the press during elections, which of course includes journalists’ safety to do their work, is fundamental to the democratic process.”
HumAngle found in previous reports that some journalists who are still traumatised by previous attacks said they were scared of putting their lives on the line in 2023.
While authorities in 2022 made a commitment to ending violence against journalists, media practitioners on election duties continue to face intimidation while carrying out their duties.
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