At least 14 journalists and media workers were detained, harassed, or attacked while covering Nigeria’s presidential and federal elections, including private news website WikkiTimes owner Haruna Mohammed Salisu, who remains in police custody without charge, the Committee to Protect Journalists said 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. The local PRNigeria news site reported that police had “received a formal complaint that the journalist was inciting the electorate.” Salisu remained in detention as of Monday evening.
Private citizens, political groups, or security forces threatened, attacked, or seized at least 13 other journalists and media workers during the elections, according to CPJ interviews.
“Nigerian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Haruna Mohammed 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 program 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.”
CPJ spoke to reporters involved in each of the following incidents on February 25:
- A group of men beat Dayo Aiyetan, executive director of the privately owned nonprofit International Centre for Investigative Reporting, 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 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 Nigeria for covering the elections, one of the crew told CPJ. Yinka Bode-Are, a camera operator, was traveling with a reporter and driver when the vehicle was set upon with sticks and dented.
- Security forces questioned Adesola Ikulajolu, a reporter with the local nonprofit Center for Journalism Innovation and Development, 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. DSS spokesperson 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 Bolanle Olabimtan, a reporter with the private news website TheCable, and knocked her over, while another seized her phone and deleted photos and video before returning it.
- Police detained and threatened to shoot Gbenga Oloniniran, a reporter with the privately owned Punch newspaper, in Port Harcourt, Rivers state, 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 his phone in a separate incident after he photographed them at a polling site, he told CPJ. CPJ’s calls to Rivers state police spokesperson Grace Woyengikuro Iringe-Koko went unanswered.
- A group of men stopped Ajayi Adebola, a reporter with the private news website 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 the privately-owned Daily Post newspaper was slapped and beaten; Princewill Sede and Jeany Metta, publisher and managing editor of the private 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 the private news broadcaster TVC, were intimidated and driven from the area.
CPJ called Bauchi police spokesperson Ahmed Mohammed 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, went unanswered.
CPJ’s calls to national police spokesperson Olumuyiwa Adejobi rang unanswered.
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. Reached by phone, PDP spokesperson Debo Ologunagba asked for a call back, but did not answer the call.
Days before the polls, journalists also faced attack or were denied access to cover election preparations, CPJ has reported.