Nigerian authorities must comply with a federal high court judgment ordering the government to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for attacking journalists in Nigeria, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday. 

In 2021 Nigerian local press freedom group Media Rights Agenda (MRA) filed a lawsuit requesting the court to compel the federal government to investigate and prosecute attacks on the press. On February 16, the court ruled in favor of MRA, calling “the failure of the federal government of Nigeria to take effective legal and other measures to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and other media practitioners” a breach of the government’s statutory duty, according to the ruling, which CPJ reviewed. The court ordered the government to “to take measures to prevent attacks on journalists and other media practitioners.”  

“Authorities in Nigeria must take swift and transparent steps to comply with the federal high court ruling instructing them to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for attacking and killing journalists,” said Angela Quintal, head of CPJ’s Africa program, in New York. “Investigations that deliver justice for slain or attacked journalists would be a demonstration of political will on the part of Nigeria’s government to improve press freedom in the country.”

While the judgment addressed journalists’ rights generally, MRA’s lawsuit listed several examples of unsolved journalist killings, including NewsWatch magazine co-founder Dele Giwa, killed by a letter bomb in 1986; Bolade Fasasi, shot dead in 1998; and Omololu Falobi, shot dead in 2006.

In August 2023, CPJ wrote to Nigerian President Bola Tinubu requesting “swift and deliberate actions to improve conditions for the press in Nigeria.” The letter highlighted the killing of at least 22 journalists in Nigeria since 1992, as well as two others who are missing and presumed dead. At least 12 of these journalists are confirmed to have been killed in connection with their work. 

CPJ called Federal Ministry of Justice Spokesperson Kamarudeen Ogundele, but he declined to comment. Nigeria’s former Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami previously misrepresented CPJ’s research on attacks against journalists, erroneously stating that no journalist had been killed in the country.

Nigerian authorities have a track record of disregarding court rulings in support of journalists, their families, and press freedom. Last year, an Abuja high court ordered Nigeria’s police to compensate the family of Regent Africa Times editor Alex Ogbu, who was shot and killed by police officers in January 2020. In 2021, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice ordered authorities to compensate CrossRiverWatch publisher Agba Jalingo for his prolonged detention and maltreatment in custody. Nigerian authorities have yet to comply with these rulings.