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Nigerian Journalists Fear Violence in Election Run-up

FILE - Journalists hold placards as they protest along a road days after a journalist was assaulted by mortuary attendants at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, in Lagos, Aug. 16, 2012.
FILE - Journalists hold placards as they protest along a road days after a journalist was assaulted by mortuary attendants at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, in Lagos, Aug. 16, 2012.
As Nigeria gets ready for national elections in 2015, the Nigerian Union of Journalists is warning that politicians may try to intimidate reporters. Nigerian journalists say they already face regular hostilities, including beatings by both officials and the public.

It is not unusual in many parts of the world for journalists to get harassed. Many people feel the cameras and questions are invasion of their privacy or run counter to their country’s best interests.

The Nigerian Union of Journalists says the problem is particularly common in Nigeria around election time when politicians go out of their way to manipulate the news.

“Politicians will recruit thugs to beat journalists up simply because we write the truth. We present issues as they are in this country,” said Dominique Eze Uzo, secretary of the journalists’ union in Kaduna.

Journalists in danger

Journalists say they are also in more danger during a security crisis, and many Nigerians fear the upcoming elections will be bloody. After the 2011 presidential elections, more than 800 people were killed in clashes in Kaduna.

Newspaper reporter Walter Uba says journalists become targets during clashes, because participants fear getting caught.

“Many journalists are wounded and when they are wounded these people that are actually perpetrating this kind of thing is not brought to book," he said. "The journalist is left alone to suffer the pain. He is left in the cold while the perpetrators go scot free.”

Human Rights Watch says 3,000 people have been killed in “horrific sectarian violence” in Nigeria since 2010, and almost no one has been held accountable. Islamist insurgents have also killed thousands of people in attacks, including the bombings of three newspaper offices.

A radio reporter in northern Nigeria, Sani Ahmed Lere, says that besides being targets of terrorists, reporters unintentionally antagonize security forces following attacks, by continuing to work after the the area has been locked down with a curfew.

“Like me, just like me. I was one time beaten by soldiers just because I was on my way going to work and there was curfew in Kaduna,” said Lere.

Offical reply

Officials in Kaduna say security forces never attack journalists because they are journalists. If reporters get hurt, it may be because they were behaving in a way that provoked security guards, says the media chief for the Kaduna State government, Ahmed Meyaki.

“There are deliberate plans between government and security agencies to ensure that journalists, you know, are treated as professionals. Then also, we also have to equally call on journalists to conduct themselves as professionals,” he said.

Media rights group Freedom House calls Nigeria’s press “partly free” but many in Nigeria would call it a "free for all."

Union secretary Uzo says the erratic nature of the press in Nigeria is partly responsible for the tensions. Newspapers frequently issue identification cards to reporters, but no salaries. As a result, many journalists make a living by taking pay-offs from politicians, government officials and other people interested in manipulating the news.

No great surprise, Uzo adds, in one of the most corrupt countries on earth.

“It boils down on the system that we find ourselves on in this country," he said. "The corruption that is eating the fiber of this country that is responsible for what you are seeing within the journalism profession in this country.”

But amid the chaos, he says, Nigeria is also home to many credible media houses that need to operate freely to prepare the public for the upcoming elections. If the press is intimidated into reporting lies, he asks, how will people know how to vote?

Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna.