Nigerian journalists, accustomed to cruel military juntas and police raids, have good reason to be disappointed. The restitution of power to a civilian government, in 1999, under former military figure President Olusegun Obansanjo, has not protected them from political persecution or abuses by the infamous State Security Service (SSS). Around 20 journalists suffered physical attacks in 2005, around a score spent time in prison. The hospital or the police station are often a forced part of a Nigerian journalist’s rounds.
Meanwhile, the head of state, holding the rotating presidency of the African Union (AU), promoted himself to be the continent’s “peace-maker”. Deaf to the appeals of international organisations for greater democratisation, unmoved by repeated press freedom violations, he is a poor manager of a diverse federation made up, among others, of an oil-rich delta in the south and a northern region now under the sway of fundamentalist imams.
The privately-owned press is robust, pluralist and populist. It does not mince its words about the powerful. Its outspokenness, won through years of “guerrilla journalism”, secret meetings and under-the-counter distribution, is general.