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Media Advocates Accuse Nigerian Government of Stifling Free Reporting

FILE - A newspaper vendor uses rocks to stop the day's front pages from blowing in the wind in Kano, northern Nigeria, Feb. 24, 2019.
FILE - A newspaper vendor uses rocks to stop the day's front pages from blowing in the wind in Kano, northern Nigeria, Feb. 24, 2019.

Advocates of press freedom in Nigeria are accusing the government of blacklisting The Punch, a leading national newspaper. In December, the paper criticized President Muhammadu Buhari for allegedly defying the rule of law and illegally detaining citizens. Supporters of the government argue the allegations are vague and lack proof.

A paid commentary published on January 1 in national newspapers contained President Buhari's annual New Year goodwill message to Nigerian citizens.

For years, the government placed the ad in The Punch, considered the most read newspaper in Nigeria, along with other papers around the country.

But this year, it didn't, in what activists and press freedom advocates like Raphael Adebayo regard as a form of punishment for The Punch's strongly worded editorial against Buhari in December.

Until The Punch newspaper came out to flay General Buhari's government, they never a time omitted them from their advertorials. So it is very obvious that they're taking a stand against the Nigerian people, because The Punch newspaper sticking it's stance to stand with the Nigerian people, to speak the truth to power and to flay misgovernance and bad governance," said Raphael.

The Punch editorial strongly condemned Buhari's alleged refusal to obey the rule of law, and the detention of citizens who had been granted bail.

The newspaper was lauded by many citizens for its bold standing on the issue, and the government was strongly criticized on Twitter for omitting The Punch in its New Year's advertorial.

But government supporters like Abuja resident Yusuf Alibaba say the allegations are vague and lack substance.

"I disagree with that opinion. The reason is that so many of these media houses like I have said before don't balance information," said Ali-Jafaru. "They will go ahead and feature people who do not have idea about what is going on but for the fact that they have hatred in their hearts against the government, they'll say all manner of things just to make sure that their voice is heard."

Officials at the newspaper declined to comment on the matter.

Critics say Buhari's All Progressives Congress (APC) party has shown significant hostility to the press.

But Ahaziah Abubakar, the director of news for the Voice of Nigeria, disagrees with the idea that press freedom is threatened in Nigeria.

"Press freedom in Nigeria as far as I am concerned is a relative term in general terms," said Abubakar. "We pride ourselves in Nigeria as the freest in terms of press freedom in Africa. By the grace of God I have been to main economies of Africa, south Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Ghana, and I know the level of freedom these countries have and I will rate Nigeria higher than them particularly during this democratic era"

However, press freedom advocates will be watching closely to see what happens next.