Violation of Freedom of Expression and Press in Nigeria

Violet Andrew Saliu

Nowadays, freedom of expression is acknowledged in international and regional instruments of human rights law. Even though, the concept is not recent. Yet, freedom of expression is under attack in Nigeria media. The issues of human rights are more extensively widespread than customarily understood, as its ramifications cover political, social, cultural and economic rights[1]. Nonetheless, today the constitutional provisions for ensuring these rights have been made by virtually all states,[2][3] including Nigeria. Nevertheless, Human rights infringement has gradually become a problem of most extreme concern in Nigeria media. Event though, Article 22 of the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, provides that, “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”.[4][5]

Historically, human rights in Nigeria dates to the initiation of colonial rule.[6] When certain values, such as right to clan, family, freedom of speech, belief and association, right to private property and so much more were jealously protected. Human rights as well as essential freedoms were known in the traditional Nigerian society during this period. However, the idea of rights was not conceived in the contemporary view.[7] Nevertheless, the contemporary breach of fundamental human rights in Nigeria could be traced to the Independence Constitution of 1960 and subsequent constitutions. In addition, the independence constitution of 1960 as well as the Republican Constitution of 1963, provides for the protection of fundamental human rights. This shows that since the Nigerian independence in 1960, there has been different waves of adjustments and amendments to the constitution. Sadly, some of these adjustments includes, limitations to certain rights such as the right to freedom of expression and press which could be said to be for political interest of the Nigerian government.

Yet, freedom of expression and press in the Nigeria media continues to gradually decline, because of several challenges such as, arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention of journalist in Nigeria. Obviously, according to article 9. of the African Charter,[8] this is a violation of the right to freedom of expression. Also, in relation to the above-mentioned fact, in 2015, the Cybercrime Act was implemented,[9] which further shrunk the actual right to freedom of expression and press in the nation.

In 2015, the Cybercrime Act was implemented, and ever since there have been several cases of arbitrary arrest. For example, in January 2018, two Premium Times (online publication) journalists were arrested, in Abuja.[10] In the same way, In June, a Hausa radio service journalist named Ibraheema Yakubu, was unlawfully arrested and detained in Kaduna. While also, In August, another journalist named Danjuma Katsina, was arrested and detained by the police in Katsina state for a Facebook post about a politician, he informed Human Rights Watch,[11] and he was also tortured by the Nigerian police. Of which, cases like this are not new in Nigeria, as this is always the case with the Nigerian Police.

Often time, when journalist finds themselves in such situation, they risk the chance of being physically assaulted by the Nigerian security forces who have often resort to torture of citizens regardless of their crime, to obtain a confession from them. The Cybercrime Act thus undermines the provisions on prohibition against torture.[12] However, long before the Cybercrime Act came into existence, there we several existing cases of violation of freedom of expression in Nigeria. for instance, even though journalist and human rights organizations could freely carry out their duties without government interference, there were still several situations where the state authorities obstruct their duties. Which vehemently infringe on their right to freedom of expression and press.

In modern democratic society, fundamental human rights and freedom is very essential and it goes beyond just paper objective.[13] Yet in Nigeria, this seem to be more of theory than practice, as it is all politics as usual and the government does not take into consideration the fundamental rights of its people, and their right to freedom of expression and press which is provided in its national law and by article 9 of the African Charter.[14] In fact, it is a state responsibility (Nigeria) under national and international law to protect individual human rights and freedom of expression. This constitutional right is provided for and included in its constitution. Without proper provisions to see that these rights are correctly implemented and respect by both individual and the state. This clearly shows that although, Nigeria signed and ratified the African Union obligations and duties under the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. It however, does not implement it in practice. The consequence of this is that it paves the way for spontaneous human rights violation regarding freedom of expression and press in the nation. A democratic civilization such as Nigeria, which lacks ample press freedom, is at a risk of violence and increase of human rights violation. to promote democracy and human rights, it is necessary for the Nigeria government to provide a legal support for freedom of expression and press, since its constitution made provisions for these rights.

The Nigeria government should uphold its obligations to the international and regional instruments of human rights, by not only ratifying laws, but to also make sure that law is correctly implemented into its domestic laws for the sake of its people. In addition, the government needs to push for reform in the Nigeria police to better educate and orientate them about the importance of human rights and the need to respect and protect individual rights in any situation and avoid infringement of the people’s fundamental rights.

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