At the end of May, new rules were introduced, to take effect on June 11, that would have severely limited the press’s access to the National Assembly. According to the Nigerian Guild of Editors, the rules are “primitive, undemocratic, and blatantly anti-press and anti-people.”
Under the new rules, to cover the National Assembly, a media outlet would be required to have a daily circulation of forty thousand copies or five thousand daily views online. Among other requirements, journalists must also show two years of experience in covering the National Assembly, and be members of the journalists’ union. Commentators had suggested that if the rules had gone into effect, the beneficiaries would be government-owned media because they are larger in readership and are more likely to meet other requirements.
There is speculation that the clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Mohammed Sani-Omolori, was behind the new rules. Sani-Omolori is by profession a lawyer and a member of the Royal Family of the Ohinoyi of Ebiraland. He was allegedly angry at media reporting of his six-hour grilling by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), published in mid-May. The EFCC had also seized his passport, and was apparently investigating the way the presiding officers of the National Assembly were elected. That the rules came shortly after the story went public could indicate a connection.
Happily, the proposed rules seem to have been withdrawn, however coverage of the swearing-in of members of the National Assembly will still be unusually restricted. Journalists still face an uphill battle. According to Freedom House’s press freedom reports, press freedom has been at the lower end of the “partly free” category since 2002, when Freedom House issued its first grade of Nigeria.
Retaliation against and intimidation of journalists are not uncommon. In Port Harcourt, it has been reported that a journalist was beaten by members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad for reporting on their alleged beatings of civilians. At the beginning of 2019, members of the military raided the offices of one of Nigeria’s largest circulation newspapers, apparently following coverage of setbacks in the fight against Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa. It was not clear if the raid was ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari, though he did order the security services to vacate the various offices they had occupied.