…the ongoing pandemic provides a rare opportunity to acknowledge the important work that journalists are doing to provide the society with vital information and to hold governments accountable to their commitments. On their part, the Nigerian authorities should ensure that critical voices of our journalists are not stifled by incessant harassment and intimidation.


Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, journalists have been contending with challenges that make their job difficult and sometimes dangerous. In the last two years, several journalists were attacked, arrested and threatened for just doing their job. Some journalists were imprisoned and others were slammed with ridiculous charges for daring to carry out their constitutional roles. Journalists who exposed corruption and reported sensitive national issues, such as security and human rights violations, were not spared. Journalists like Jones Abiri, Ahmed Salkida, Ohimai Amaize, Agba Jalingo, Obinna Don Norman, and Samuel Ogundipe represent the different faces of attack on freedom of expression in Nigeria.

At least 19 journalists across Nigeria suffered one form of harassment or the other in 2019. This disturbing trend has continued, even as the world battles COVID-19. It is shocking to note that journalists working tirelessly during the raging pandemic are harassed. Recently, the Ebonyi State governor David Umahi ordered the arrest of Chijioke Agwu, a journalist with The Sun newspapers for reporting on the outbreak of lassa fever in the state. The disease, which is silently ravaging communities not only in Ebonyi state but across the country has been drowned amidst the huge reportage on COVID-19. One would have expected the state authorities to investigate the gaps in its health sector revealed by Chijioke’s piece, rather than ordering his arrest. Ebonyi State authorities also reportedly arrested Peter Okutu, a reporter of Vanguard newspaper for reporting an alleged invasion of Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo community by the Nigerian military. In a paradoxical twist, the two journalists were released at different times, only to be placed on a life ban from accessing government facilities in the State. All these examples point to growing intolerance for press freedom, which endangers journalists and undermines freedom of expression.

Also, few weeks ago in Ibusa, Oshimili North Local Government Area, Delta State, Mr. Nobert Amede, a photojournalist with the Pointer newspapers was brutally assaulted by members of the Nigeria Police. Worse still, on April 15, unidentified persons also attacked the officials of the Delta State Broadcasting Service, while covering the violations of social distancing in Warri, Edo State.

Nigerian authorities at all levels must not use journalists as scapegoats, they must not prevent the media from telling the public all they should know in this critical time of facing a pandemic that has affected all aspects of life. It is in the good interest of Nigerians if authorities place priority on handling COVID-19, instead of harassing journalists.


In this era of the COVID-19 pandemic, the courage, passion and professionalism displayed by journalists, while carrying out their duties, should be lauded and not criminalised. Banning and harassing journalists is not the right approach. They must be protected now more than ever, particularly at this time when the world is struggling to end a deadly pandemic. It also goes without saying that journalists and media practitioners fall within the category of those performing essential duties and in the frontlines of the war against COVID-19. Daily, they brave all odds to share critical information and help to wage the tireless war against misinformation and fake news. Now and always, ensuring an enabling environment that is free from fear for journalists and protecting their rights to freedom of expression should be a top priority for the Nigerian authorities.

Nigerian authorities at all levels must not use journalists as scapegoats, they must not prevent the media from telling the public all they should know in this critical time of facing a pandemic that has affected all aspects of life. It is in the good interest of Nigerians if authorities place priority on handling COVID-19, instead of harassing journalists.

As the world commemorates Press Freedom Day, the ongoing pandemic provides a rare opportunity to acknowledge the important work that journalists are doing to provide the society with vital information and to hold governments accountable to their commitments. On their part, the Nigerian authorities should ensure that critical voices of our journalists are not stifled by incessant harassment and intimidation.

Esther Ikubaje is a campaigner at Amnesty International Nigeria.