Press and Military Rule in Nigeria

Press and Military Rule in Nigeria

Press and Military Rule in Nigeria

A Virile press is the conscience and voice of the people, it plays and optimises this Role only in an atmosphere of complete freedom termed “press freedom” an atmosphere where ideas, information and opinion are expressed freely without intimidation, fear or favour.

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Unfortunately, this atmosphere can hardly, if ever, be guaranteed by any form of dictatorship and military dictatorship in particular. These military dictators are only accountable to themselves and owe nobody any subordination.

From medieval times, the hallmark of dictatorship anywhere in the world is to whip every segment of society into a streamlined position of society into position of their choice, held rigid with “Iron Bars” and any deviant either by way of thought, speech, act, opinion, or behaviour expressed privately, publicly or secretly is summarily crushed. Using various instruments of intimidation and coercion such as imprisonment, physical assault, confiscation and destruction of properties up to death penalty for “culprit” and members of family including wives an children.

One then appreciates the magnitude of problems facing the Fourth Estate of the Realm from 1985 to 1993 years of military dictatorship which bore in the Herculean task of information educating and mobilising the populace for and against perceived government ill policies.

The mass media literally rolled out the red carpet to welcome Babangida’s administration who in turn remained a darling and toast to them while capitalising on the “New found love” to gain wide credibility and acceptable, both locally and internationally. Soon enough the honeymoon and funfair was over. The press had sung the praises of this man (Babangida) too soon. Subsequent evidence however contradicted these praise songs.

Media houses were shut down with magazines and newspapers confiscated. Journalists were harassed, detained and draconian decrees enacted to curtail press freedom. In October 1987, Mr. Dele Giwa, one of the Nigeria’s finest Brain in Journalism was killed buy a parcel bomb. This ended the new found love between the press and the General Ibrahim Babangida. From then on, it was the closure of one newspaper house or the other, numerous detentions without trials, numerous death threats, countless physical harassments and mal-handling destruction or confiscation of a whole publication machineries and vehicles. In 1990 the Punch Newspaper was sealed from April 29 to May 20. Their offence was that the government viewed their News item on the Abortive Gideon Okar’s coup too detailed and informative.

Also, the premises of John West Publishers of Lagos News was sealed off and the top Editorial staff incarcerated for similar reasons. It was the turn of Vanguard Newspaper on June 11 when it carried a story on the demonstrating traders of Alaba international Market. This time, it was the order of Lagos State Governor under Col. Raji Rasaki.

Following an interview granted by Mrs. Braithwaite, wife of Tunji Braithwaite, a frontline politician on July 7th 1990 the office of T.S.M Magazine was ransacked and the entire week’s publication seized or destroyed. The Editorial staff was arrested and the publisher Mrs. Chris Anyanwu began her match to a subsequent seven years imprisonment.

Several journalists were also arrested and detained in similar circumstances including Chris Maman, Egbosa Aimufua Toye Akinjode, Emma Agu, Dan Bala Abu and a host of others. Non of these journalists was arraigned before a civil court or charged with any offence.

This wanton arrest and detention did not stop at members of the press alone, it extended to their immediate family, wife, children, friends ad well-wishers with no respect for age, sex and social status. In June 24 1990, nursing mother Mrs. Ladi Oloruyomi wife of Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, a wanted editor of the News was detained at Alagbon along with her three month old baby, when the military authority could not get her husband arrested.

Similar and countless number of arrest was recorded for notable “friends” of the press, such as Human Rights crusade like Gani Fawhimi, Mr. Femi Falana Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba.

This oppression is not limited to print media; it transcended all segments of journalism from print media to photo journalism, and electronic media. On July 22, 1993, the premises of Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation (OGBC) was shut down along side the premises of Sketch, the Punch and Concord Press. On August 11 of same year, the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) dismissed Mr. Ladi Lawal a newscaster for casting the Day’s News without prior vetting by the military.

To show that every paraphernalia of military dictatorship is involved in the oppression of the press, the Nigerian Army as an institution warned journalists, on the 4th of May 1990 that it would ruthlessly deal with any media house that publishes news items which intentionally or unintentionally embraces or seem to embarrass the military or members of their family, relations and friends.

Overall, the members of the press were arrested, detained or killed for exposing the corruption , nepotism, insincerity and brutality of the military as typified by General Ibrahim B Babangida junta.

Apart from caging the press by way of denying the press freedom, government licensing of the electronic media, that is, Radio and television services was a very strong control mechanism, considering the potency of both media in mass education and mobilisation among Nigerians; majority of whom are illiterates and rural dwellers. Hence, for a long time and indeed throughout the military era in review, only government owned the electronic media. The workers of such outfits were usually turned into propaganda machine often against the dictates of their conscience with demotion, stagnation and outright termination of appointments as the price for choosing to uphold your conscience and ethics of the profession. A case of he who pays the piper dictates the ‘dance’ not only the ‘tune’.

The press is not completely innocent and in fact some media practitioners could be directly and indirectly linked with the military government. The corruption that has pervaded every sector of the nation has not spared the press either.

More so, members of the press engaged in destructive criticism of democratic government. Sometimes out of sheer ignorance but mostly deliberately in order to get undue attention, sell their product or the services of their pay-master who may be disadvantaged in the political terrain. This always occur after a national election.

The over-blowing of normal democratic process such as debates and disagreements often portray the politicians as incapable of running the affairs of the state. The press in its report always fails to highlight that the disagreement are healthy to the polity; in the second and fourth Republic, a lot of disagreement between the legislature and executives were reputed in bad light instead of bringing out the real issues. Hence the passive turbulence between the former senate president Chief Anyim Pius Anyim and the executive.

At times, press often over-heat the system with provocative news against the interest of the state, especially in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and democracies like our society Nigeria. Such over-heat news items helps enthroning military rule. A vivid case was the alleged contract scandal for planting of flowers by late Dr. Okadigbo, senate president federal Republic of Nigeria as well as the alleged numerous fabulous estate of chief Pius Anyim in Abuja, and the likes of other serving governors and federal executive members. Such news items reoccurring on the news stand before proper investigation only serve one purpose of over-heating the system thereby inviting the military indirectly.

Even though the politicians are more responsible for the arrival of the military, it is often done in tight collaboration with members of the press under partisanship of the press and the perceived tribal nature of the Nigerian press, the acronym of WESTERN PRESS, EASTERN PRESS and NORTHERN PRESS, e.t.c all play a great role in enthroning military rule. Corrupt pressmen collect the Brown envelope in order to publish a deliberate falsehood, thereby portraying their benefactor in an underserved favourable limelight while his enemy is portrayed as worse devil and enemy of the state. In other instances, corrupt members of the press can actually collaborate with enemies of the state to plot and execute the over-throwing of a democratic government.

The arrival of General Ibrahim B. Babangida government was highly welcomed by the press who actually ‘danced’ round town with Brilliant Headlines screaming the praises of a man who later turned to be “Evil genius”. The press was highly instrumental to his being accepted locally and internationally.

The press were rewarded with the abrogation of Decree 4 of 1984. This however, turned out to be a creek gift. They also benefited with juicy political appointments as members, Board of Directors of parastatals, ministers and commissioners as well as press secretaries to political appointees, thereby creating a symbiotic relationship with the government of Ibrahim Babangida indeed. It was a great ivory of creation for two “parallel line” to suddenly meet. The cat suddenly became friendly with the fish. That marked the beginning of his baptism as “maradona”. It also marked the beginning of compromise in the duties of the Nigerian press during the military rule.

Also, Babangida penetrated the media high command, enlisted practising journalist as propaganda agents and employed a combination of intimidation and coercion against forms or dissent. He was subtle yet determined and ruthless.



The ill-advised and ill-fated Dimka coup of February 13, 1976 inadvertently threw into National spotlight a leader that will rule Nigeria in the name of Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, who was born in August, became president in August and left office in August. Numerologist and Astrologists could have some explanation of his personality.

The question is , “Did IBB actually manipulate the media for self perpetuation?” The media was contaminated by IBB and forced into perceived compromise from which it is yet to recover.



The issue of repression of the press was a recurrent phenomenon of the military era. This work attempts to highlight the uneasy relationship between the press and the military in Nigeria. It aims at reviewing the performance of the press under military dictatorship and in performing its societal role.

Equally this work will examine both endogenous and exogenous factors responsible for press repression.



This study is expected to help its readers to know how the military affected the press in Nigeria.

It also shall serve as a reference tool to scholars in the field of History and international Relations. It can equally be of immense aid to the Nigerian populace and can also help to examine the working conditions of the press in the fight against tyranny and suppression of the press and the populace at large.



The research work is premised on these major factors:

1. That free press is a sine-qua-non for good government.

2. That the nature of the military cannot ensure press freedom.

3. That realisation of virile press freedom is through democracy and rule of law.



This project will cover the nature and dimension of the military and the press relationship in Nigeria between 1986 to 1993.



The methodology of this research, in the main will be content analysis of books, journals, newspapers and magazines.

The research work is based on the information gathered from secondary sources. These sources include published books, journals, newspapers and magazines. A combination of secondary and primary sources will be too broad and cumbersome or burdensome for any meaningful and adequate research especially given the space and time available for the project.



To make for clarity and objectivity, this study was carried out in the guiding light of the rational decision making theory.

The decision-making is propelled by considerations of the best interest and is constructed in charge by precedents, history, the complexity and the institutional environment and the perpetual instruction of an alert and informed public.

The state as a rational decision maker aggregates the nation’s interests and moderated them to suit the nation’s fundamental activities. The state’s policy decisions are hammered out through a pluralistic process that combines elements of official leadership, domestic interest groups, public debate and various forms of power leverage and other external factors.


Press – This refers to the conscience and voice of the people. It also plays a leading role to the freedom of the people.

Government – This refers to the organisation within a state which makes and enforces the law of the state. Decides and carries out with the states policies and conducts its official rations with other states operating in the international system.

Nation – A nation here is a territory and group of people politically organised under one government with sovereign rights and recognised by other sovereign states as having legal status.

Military – This refers to a body that takes care of the security of the people.



In the course of the research work, the researcher encountered limitations principal of which are too-financial and limited time frame. Various book centres and libraries could not be visited partly due to financial problems and time limitations.

The short nature of the academic session equally restricted the researcher in his attempts at more elaborate analysis of materials available. It also impacted negatively on the efforts to each known authorities for their assistance in getting published books, articles and monographs on the topic.


The literature review constituted a vital part of any research work. This essentially deals with delineating the advancement made in the field by eminent scholars even before this piece. The literature review, therefore offers the chance to pick the grains from the chaff and know the path towards a fruitful research work. Consequently, here, an attempt is made to discuss briefly the theories of the press, what has been the role of Nigerian press?

Among the dominant theoretical perspective or model that have been very useful analysis, the role of the press anywhere are the four theories of the press. The four theories of the typology formulated by Fred Siebert Theodre, Peterson and Wilber, has four prototypes. The first theory, the Authoritarian theory of the press, posits that government has a monopoly of wisdom and it only knows the truth, the press is supposed to serve the purpose of the government or that of the powers that be, and shall do so at the pleasure of those in authority who shall grant them license, and withdraw it when the press is not doing their bidding.

The second theory, the Libertarian theory of the press, postulates a free market place of ideas where truth and falsehood contend, presuming that truth will triumph. The purpose of the press in the Libertarian theory is to serve as a watchdog over government to which the press does not deter.

Third theory of the press is the communist theory. This theory conceives the press as being the part and parcel of the government, in that, this kind of press system actually existed in the communist countries, notably the former Soviet Union. But, with the recent disintegration of the Soviet Union and current wind of democratisation in the world today, the communist theory of the press has become virtually untenable.

The fourth theory of the press is most relevant to discourse of this chapter. This is the social responsibility theory. According to this theory, the press in any country should be responsible in the performance of its function. It recommends the following functions:

i. Servicing the political system, by providing information discussion and debate on public affairs.

ii. Enlightening the public so as to make it capable of self-government.

iii. Safeguarding the rights of the individuals by serving as a watchdog against government.

iv. Servicing the economic system primarily by bringing together the buyers and sellers of goods and services through the medium of advertising.

v. Providing entertainment.

vi. Maintaining its own self-sufficiency so as to be free from the pressures of special interests.

The above functions are no doubt veritable and expansion of the original functional model provided by Harold Lasswell in 1948. According to that model the functions of the press in any society or country are surveillance of the environment, correlation of the competency of the society in responding to the environment and transmission of social heritage.

The social responsibility theory is also closely related to the development – journalism perspective. The key message of the development journalism perspective model is that for any system to be considered useful or relevant, it must identify with and contribute to the socio-economic development of the society or country in which it exists.

In other words, the press is expected to be a partner with government and other social institutions in achieving local and national objectives in the country where it operates to be considered responsible. Even though, development journalism has been criticised by Western scholars and other exponents of the free-flow of information as a mere excuse by journalist in developing countries to serve as a lap-dogs (as opposed to watchdog) of government, it is skill or pure form as a useful press philosophy or model for journalists operating the developing countries.

The sociology of news perspective which was popularised by communication experts like Bernard Roscho, Todd Hutt, Gaye Tuchman, Chris Agyris and Jeremy Tunstall has been found to be a useful tool for understanding and assessing the work of the news media and pressmen in any society.

It posits that media outputs like news, articles, editorials and other journalistic genres can be best understood and assessed as organisational processes and organisational products. It seeks to explain why pressmen of what they do and how certain peculiar organisation (intra-medium) constraints, and external societal constraints and how it can negatively affect the performance and output of the journalists in any country. The sociology of news perspective is popularised by the Gatekeeper’s studies of David Manning White and others.

According to Obafemi Awolowo, “the foundation of the press is principally to disseminate news and to pass judgement when it so desires, on matters of the moment or tropical interest by means of printed words, illustrations, cartoons, caricatures, and other visual symbolisation.” So, the influence of the press on every society, democratic or autocratic is perceived and pervasive.

The first tenet of social responsibility theory states that to be considered useful responsible and responsive in any society, the press as a social institution should serve the political system by providing information, discussion and debate on public affairs. How has the Nigerian press as a social institution feared in this regard? Generally, the post-independence press in Nigeria has performed well in informing the Nigeria populace and even foreigners and providing useful discussion and debate in all respects of a national and human existence. It has remained one of the most vibrant press systems in Africa to date, a tradition it inherited from the very vibrant nationalist press in the country. Through pungent news, editorials, articles, letters to the editor and potter such journalistic genres, the Nigerian press has regularly provided information and opinions on issues of the day including politics, agriculture and health. Leisure on earth, the Nigerian press definitely had some lapses in meeting its responsibilities under this first tenet.

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With regard to the second tenet of the social theory, which requires the press to enlighten the citizenry so as to make it capable of self-government, the Nigerian press can again be said to have done appreciably well, in spite of many external and internal odds. An obvious recent example is the very active role, which the press played in educating, and mobilising Nigerians to participate massively in the series of elections at the local government, state and national levels that culminated in the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential elections under Babangida. It would have been impossible to massively mobilise the Nigerian citizenry to participate in those elections because before then the long period of military rule in the country had traumatised and benumbed their political lives and interests, making mainly apathetic to politics.

Without the Nigerian press, whatever contributions were made by MAMSER, ministries of information and other government agencies would have been to no avail. The agencies had to depend on the page of the vibrant Nigerian Newspapers and magazines as well as the airwaves provided by the broadcast media to reach, educate and mobilise Nigerians in all nooks and crannies of the country. The positive contributions of Nigeria’s rich interpersonal and tradition communication systems would also have been possible without the initial massive awareness creation and publics can only be said in other areas like health and agriculture.

In health, for instance, the necessary public enlightenment and mobilisation campaigns that made the Oral Re-hydration Therapy (ORT), Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and others would not have been successful without the active role played by the Nigerian press, during these campaigns in all parts of Nigeria.

A third tenet of the social responsibility theory is that the press should safeguard the rights of the individual, serving as a watchdog over government. The post colonial privately owned press has done quite well in this respect, in spite of many legal measures that include obnoxious laws or decrees. They could have even done better despite these odds, moving from being watchdogs to being active “crusade dogs”, but active intra-media problems related to low professionalism, in the poor training , poor motivation and job mobility in the media houses. However, we must point out that whatever successes recorded in performance of watchdog function by the Nigerian press, it cannot be shared by the government owned newspaper, radio and television houses which were more or less government position in almost every issue of situation. ‘

The fourth requirement of the social responsibility theory is that, the press should improve the economic system, primarily by bringing together the buyers and sellers of goods and services through the medium of advertising. Here, the post-independence Nigerian press have been well, though the level of success will vary from medium to medium.

Some press houses are definitely more aggressively and successful than others in having dynamic advertising policies and executing them seriously. But, generally no business individual, group or advertising agency can say that its problem is lack of media outlets for its advertising message. Even the FRCN that was broadcasting or advertising. Despite this, the policy with an active advertising policy and with the advent of privately owned broadcasting stations, the advertising media outlets in Nigeria has increased tremendously.

With regard to providing entertainment, which is the fifth tenet of the social responsibility theory, the Nigerian press has not done badly either Humorous and entertaining satire, cartoons are regular features in Nigerian newspapers and magazines. The radio and television houses also have many interesting musicals and other entertaining and even information programmes that provide both relaxation and information to the people. And while the so-called junk journalism outlet like Ikebe, Climax and others may be accused of vulgarism and opportunities for precarious escapism, especially in these hard times.

The sixth and final tenet of the social responsibility theory is that the press should maintain its self-sufficiency so as to be free from the pressure of special interest. This is where we can unequivocally but unfortunately state that the Nigerian press has not done well. Virtually, all the media houses in Nigeria are either owned and financed by the government or by private individuals or groups. There is no news media in Nigeria owned and financed entirely by pressmen or journalists. There is no equivalent of the Trust of India in Nigeria. Attempts made in the past to set up such funds or trusts in Nigeria failed. The dual role of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) as a professional body and Trade Union, has not helped in this regard, professional press organisations like the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), and the Newspaper proprietor Association of Nigeria (NPAN) do not seem to have the doubt or coverage to establish media trust funds or self-reliant media houses. As long as this situation persists, press freedom in Nigeria will continue to remain a mirage and Nigerians will complain or hide under the diche that “He who plays the piper dictates the tune”. This is because who ever invests in the media (government or private individuals) will always try to control it directly or indirectly factors that determine or influence what goes into publication significantly. This is not a forum to invalidate that the press is subject of its proprietor, organisation, editor and government regulations.

This is supported as it is written in Encyclopeadia of the Social Sciences that “ they (press) are order to immediate control of person of the most socio-cultural and political ideas, and their content to reflect these differences in the aspiration and the interest to the public to which they are addressed. They are shaped by governmental regulations varying from one jurisdiction to another.

For any institution to be purposeful, it must be guided by principles and policies, which motivate its establishment and serve as a framework for its activities. It is in view that the correlation between the proprietor of newspaper and the news it disseminates can be appreciated. This means that the owner of newspaper will be close and continuous. On the other hand, the government uses its paper for mass education. This is supported by Wilcox when he argues that African government controls the mass media because they consider them as a primary tool of mass education”. Others argue that, it is more than this but also to get public informed of its activities. Collins remarked that “ in 1951, Lugard felt that a newspaper should be established which should explain government policies”.

Duyile in his own case contends that “the chief determinant of the successes of newspaper broadcast depends on the extent of the dynamism with its editorial policy it operates”.

Also according to Will Lee Herbert, editorial policy…as one of the needs that are common to all newspapers and which must be met. It is plausible to assert that editorial policy guides a newspaper’s editorial board in its selection of what news to publish or determining what editorial board should write or publish or determining what editorial to write or publish in its advertisement, headline and business practices.

Perhaps, the most far reaching effect on the freedom of government regulations is a factor beyond the control of the press itself because of the hemming in effects of canous contentions and laws operating in a given society from one jurisdiction to another.

According to Duyile “the freedom of the press is the freedom of citizen to know and to express their opinions on current affairs”. Duyile goes further by saying “a free from censorship where the paper can say what it likes, about whom it likes, as long as the paper will take this responsibility.”

Based on the analysis highlighted above, if the Nigerian press is given the enabling environment to perform, will definitely do much better than it has done so far. While Nigerian journalist should work hard to find solutions to their intra-professional and intra-media problems and the contradictions that have been examined here. The Nigerian government should abolish anti-press laws, stop other extra legal crippling measures against the press, make laws that are favourable to the pres and adopt a posture that is conducive to the positive press performance.

Again Luke Uka Uche examined law, censorship and freedom of the press and this will among other things, analyse certain press laws that are considered important due to their ramifications on the mass media industry and freedom of the press. More so, references will be made to the first and second Republic and the concept of press freedom. The Nigerian press laws as they relate to deformation, libel and slander, national security, contempt of court, copyright, sedition, reports of parliamentary and judicial proceedings, civil suits, obscenity e.t.c. are patterned after the English laws. Every other institution in Nigeria has made a rapid change in the process of Nigerianisation since independence, but the Nigerian national press laws are still patterned after the period, Nigeria only enacts some new laws and decrees to accommodate the interest of the ruling elites.

Put differently, according to this author Luke Uka Uche, the Nigerian press laws define a newspaper to mean any paper containing public news, intelligences or any remarks or observations there in printed anywhere in Nigeria periodically or in parts or in numbers at intervals not exceeding twenty-six days between the publication of any two such papers, parts or numbers, and includes any paper printed in order to be dispersed and made public weekly or more often or at intervals not exceeding twenty-six days, containing only or principally advertisements. It is surprising to see that Nigerian leaders would engage in such a double standard when they become lawmakers of their country.



The history of Nigerian press dates back to mid-1800 when the missionaries blazed the trial in Newspaper publications and since then there has been enormous remarkable development in the news business. The history of the Nigerian indigenous press began in 1859. In 1880s, its effort became remarkable.

In 1986, it was stated that history of the Nigerian press can conveniently be classified under three broad parts. They are: The early press (1800 – 1920). The nationalist press (1920 – 1960), and the modern Nigerian press 1960 to date).

The earliest Nigerian press began during the colonial era. They were published by Missionaries who needed a channel for disseminating their religious doctrines and by printers who were inclined to exercise their technical and literary attainments by establishing their own press.

The first printing Press in Nigeria was installed by the Presbyterian mission when they arrived in Calabar in 1846. Eight years later, Reverend Henry Townsend, an Anglican missionary, set up a printing press and inaugurated a printing school in the mission compound at Abeokuta. The first newspaper, “Literary newspaper for Egba and Yoruba” was set up on December 3, 1859 in Abeokuta by the Reverend Henry Townsend. The newspaper was published fortnightly and became bilingual (in Yoruba and English) when supplement was added from March 8, 1860.

Though Townsend came to West Africa not to establish press, but saw press as helpful for his missionary work. The paper circulated in Egbaland and so captured the mind of the Egba people. It helped in the abolition of slave trade in Yoruba land. However the paper disappeared from news stands in October 1867, its proprietor and other Europeans having been expelled from Abeokuta and its printing press was destroyed during a revolt.

The 1863, Robert Campbell of West Indian and Scottish parentage set up the weekly Anglo-African which was in circulation for only two years and was folded up in 1865 in spite of its efforts to attract a wider readership. Its basic concept was more radical than that of Iwe Irohin. It also established more editorials mostly against slave trade.

The demise of Anglo-African created a gap since there was no other newspaper in Nigeria except those of other West African countries which tried to bridge the gap. One of the reason for such a gap was the absence of political activities in Lagos which lasted for almost 13 years. There was the proliferation of newspapers in Lagos from 1800 .About a score of them were listed by L. Nnanme (1976) among Record (1891 – 1930), The Lagos Standard (1934 – 1936) and the Nigerian Daily Times [1926 to date). Just as English newspapers were being produced, so were some vernacular ones, for instance, Unwana Efik (Light of the Efik) started in 1885 by church of Scotland mission. Iwe Irohin Eko 1888. by Andrew Thomas, Aurora [1914) by Mr. William Caulsion in Onitsha. In 1939, Gaskiya Tafikwabo was established in the North, by Northern literate agency sponsored by British colonial government in Nigeria. It was an Hausa weekly Newspaper. The North has lagged behind in newspaper production and readership. Also, in the 1930s, a news bulletin known as Jarida Nigeria Ta Arewa was launched in the North by the Lieutenant Governor of Northern Protectorate. In 1948, the Gaskiya Corporation in Zaria published The citizens and The Northern Advocate [1949) by Mr. B.E. Ogbofu in Jos. There was no nationalist newspaper in the North as in the South.

Most of these newspapers were based in Lagos; owned and published by foreigners. They carried both local and foreign news and event of the time. Some of the publications were on anti-colonial rule, they attacked and condemned the British domination. For instance, The Lagos Weekly Record was purely nationalist and pursued a pan Africanist policy. It highlightened the writings and activities of pan-Africanist, it was used as a political force against all political injustices. There were also pro-Government newspapers, The Nigerian pioneer published in 1914 by Sir Akintoye Ajasa was purely pro-Government. It worked for the promotion of government policies. Educated Africans were becoming disillusioned and frustrated because of colonialism and its alienating, exploitative nature and because of racial indignities heaped upon them continually by the colonial intruders. Taking advantage of a growing literate population and the expansion in the printing industry, some Africans founded newspapers were at the forefront of a kind of nationalism that was cultural and political in nature.

The first set of papers that emerged in 1800s was The Lagos Times and Gold Coast Colony Advertiser published by J.B. Thomas (1800-1885). The paper lasted for a short period, reporting events in Lagos and areas of Gold Coast where it operated. Though short lived, the paper stimulate the later was proprietors. On February 4, 1882, Lagos observer, a fortnightly newspaper was established by Blackall Benjamin and the newspaper died in July 1890. This was followed with the establishment of The Eagle and Lagos critic, by Herbert Macauley, the grandson of Bishop crowther.

Two newspaper are worth mentioning out of those that later emerged. The first one is The Nigerian chronicle founded in November 20, 1908 by two brothers Christopher Josephus Johnson and Emmanuel T. Johnson but it died by 1915 to give birth to the second one, The Nigerian Times on April 5, 1910 by James Bright Dallies. In 1914, Akintoye Ajasa, the urban lawyer, founded the Nigerian pioneer, which was one of the best-organized newspaper enterprises of the time and longest lived of the early newspapers. The paper folded up in 1936. John Pagne Jackson founded the Lagos weekly Record. The paper was described as ‘an arsenal’ from which opponent and government took ideas. The ‘press and politics in Nigeria 1880 – 1937’ became the ‘pivot of the inter-war nationalism”.

From the 1920s to the 1950s there were tremendous improvements in the press. There were more trained and competent journalist even though no school of journalism was in existence. Most of the journalists were trained by the few experienced ones, with some keen competition amongst the various publications and this enhanced the quality in terms of production and professionalism. The leadership has increased as a result of increased literacy and awareness. The first editor produced by Nigerian educational institution was Ernest Sesei Ikoli. He established his own newspaper in March 10, 1921 although it folded up in 1925. messrs Adeyemo Alakija, Ernest Ikoli and Richard Barrow initiated a proposal for the establishment of a daily newspaper. This gave birth to the Nigerian Daily Times in 1926 with Ernest Ikoli as the first editor of the paper. It was officially launched on June 1, 1926.

Other Newspapers Launched during this period were Eko Akete by Adeoye Daniya. It was launched in July 7, 1922, Iwe Ironhin Osese launched in 1925, Akede Eko was launched in 1928. Nigerian spectator founded by Dr. Richard Akinwadde Savage, a medical doctor and journalist was launched in 1925, the Nigerian Daily Telegraph was established on November 12, 1927 and in 1933, the comet was launched by Duse Mohammed Ali. However, all these newspapers were faced with financial difficulties, thus allowing some of them to fall into the hands of political proprietors who subsidized the papers and in return dictated the tune. The Daily Times outlived all these newspapers because it was politically stable and support the government of the day.

In 1927, Herbert Macauley brought the Lagos Daily News and made it ferociously anti-government newspaper as well as a political springboard from whence derived his recognitions as the “father of Nigerian Nationalism” and his subsequent designation as a national hero.

Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, a one time editor of the African morning post in Accra, resigned in April 1937. he came back to Nigeria and joined a political organization “the Nigerian Youth Movement”. In order to publicize his movement, he started a chain of newspaper known as the Zik Press, among which was the popular West African Pilot.

After the Second World War with the growth of nationalism, more papers sprang up: this include Daily service which later served the Action Group, Iwe Irohin Yoruba and Gaskiya Ta Fikwado the latter being a bilingual Northern government newspaper. By 1947. the Daily Times which has been in existence since 1926 by Nigerian expatriate businessmen was incorporated in the mirror Group of London and became the technical leader of the Nigerian press, the Nigerian Tribune was launched on November 16, 1949 by chief Obafemi Awolowo. It was based in Ibadan and also very much involved in Nationalist struggle, at the same time as the propaganda organ of the Action Group (AG). In 1951, the Action Group (AG) under Awolowo leadership in Alliance with Roy Thompson group, published several newspapers spread across the country. For instance, mid-west Echo based in Benin, Middle Belt Herald (Jos), the Northern Star (Kano), Eastern Observer (Onitsha) River Advocate (Uyo) and the Sunday Express.

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During this period, the growth of Newspaper industry was an important development in Nigeria’s political history and the newspapers attracted many intellectuals ands competent people. As the number of readers increased due to the development in Lagos in the realms of education and political awareness, there was subsequent need to improve on the quality of the press through which public opinion was reflected.

According to O.S. Coker, “the history of newspaper in Nigeria has not yet crystallized. We are in the process of finding out what happened then, but as far as we know today professional journalism on newspapers started in Nigeira about 1890”.

From all the things said above, it could be inferred that the first set of newspaper that we had in the country contributed seriously to the emancipation of the country. At the same time, the press championed the Nigerian cause when there were conflicts between African Nationalist and colonial administrators. The early newspapers were owned and edited in the liberal situation of the crown colony, mostly by eminent persons in the society.

On the whole, it can be said that the newspapers of the period before independence were effectively used in whipping up nationalism in west Africa. However, in 1951, the press became glaringly identified with political parties in which they made conscious effort to uphold the ideas of their political sponsors and at the same time sustain the interest of their reading public. The press played serious role in the struggle for Nigeria independence.



By 1960, the Nigerian press was probably the most influential and the most developed press in Africa. This was largely due to the entry of government into the newspaper industry. The Eastern government led by Azikiwe in 1960 converted the weekly Eastern Outlook into a daily newspaper and renamed it Nigerian outlook. This became the first government owned newspaper in Nigeria. In 1961, the federal government set up the morning post and Sunday post.

It was in this type of atmosphere that the press functioned in the first Republic, radio and television, being the monopoly of government was used for brazenly partisan ends. The struggle for power among politicians assumed a fiery form and individual newspapers advanced the cause of their owners of the major events. Of the 1960’s such as the 1962 Action Group Grisis, the 1962 – 1963 and 1963 – 1964 census, the federal election of 1964, the western Nigeria election of 1965, the Newspaper Press according to Fred Omu “Provided a remarkable example of over-zealous and irresponsible partnership and recklessness”.

Commenting on the status of the press toward the close of 1965, the ace cosmist Peter Pan (real name Peter Enahoro) has this to say “Over the years, particularly since independence, the press has made conscious efforts to win friends among the politicians. This weakening its hand for a while it has played up to the politicians … the Nigerian press has become steadily alienated from the ordinary man in the street. Whether journalists admit the bitter protector and vindicator”. This was perhaps the experience that led A. Enahoro, a Veteran Newspaper editor to assert that “Whether ruined the first republic did so with the collaboration of the greater section of Nigerian Press.

Also, the Nigerian press according to Enahoro, “lacked men of status” and could inspire no respect if its role was that of sycophant equity of flamboyant praises for mediocrity … unquestioning differential support for rulers afraid to pronounce against wrong and guilty of craven desire to bat on any wining side” at this point it is convenient to bring the view of Joseph O. Okpaku, president and publisher “the third press” New York, U.S.A. writing under the caption “Publishing and public opinion” says “One .. that made the public vulnerable to the exploitative machination of sheer outstanding incompetence of politicians was the absence of any system of public opinion formation on the one hand, which would have created a political informed and skeptical public, and on the other hand provided the system of checks and balances necessary for insuring public responsibility as a crucial necessity for its continued existence”.

In 1963, international press institute in Zurich Switzerland started a project for training journalist in African. Some leading members of the Nigerian press organization established it in Lagos. It was set up to train and produce professional journalist. The university of Nigeria Nsukka also offered courses in journalism and mass communication in the 1960s. The Time Training School was established in 1967 by the Times Press limited, to train journalists. This helped to improve the standard of journalism and brought modernity into the profession.

On March 18, 1973, the Sunday Punch was launched and on November 1, 1976, the Daily Punch was established. The Nigerian press organization (NPO) was formed in Lagos in 1973, which comprises; the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), the newspaper, Proprietors Assocation fo Nigerian (NPAN) and the Guild of Editors (NGE). Also, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) was formed for the purpose of gathering, international, regional, local and other news materials and features and distributing some to its subscribers. This was formed by News Agency Decree 19 of 1976.

The 1980s witnessed the unprecedented proliferation of newspapers and magazines inspite of the depression. The press displayed high level of sophistication and professionalism. It was a period that saw more of investigative and constructive journalism. Many proprietors particularly private ones became more liberal giving free hands to editors and magazines.

Amongst the publication of the 1980s were the concord newspapers, community concord news and African Concord magazine. There are many other newspapers for example, the Vanguard, The Democrat, The Advocate, Lagos News, The mail, The Patriot, Reporter, Republic, The Mirror, The Champion etc. many state governments also established their own newspapers for example, plateau state had Nigerian Standard, Imo State News line, Gongola State the Scope and so on.

The News-watch, then highly powerful magazine which feature socio-political and economic issues of Africa and the World at large was established in 1984 by Dele Giwa and others. There are also purely entertainment Magazines like the Topline, Vintage, Prime people, Hints, Poise, classique, Hearts and complete Football etc. Financial journalism developed as well, the dominant financial newspaper were financial punch, financial Guardian economists. Business Concord, Business Times and X-ranging purely economic issues. In 1989, women journalists in the NUJ formed the National Association of Women Journalists. (NAOWJ).

Also, 1990s witnessed more of weekend or Sunday newspapers. However, there is a drop in readership as a result of the economic hardship. On 29th December 1992, it is a self regulatory mechanism of the practice of journalism in Nigeria. The function of the council revolves around ethnical standard. It was established to promote high professional standards for the Nigerian press, to deal with complaints emanating from members of the public about the conduct of journalists in their professional capacity from the press. It composed largely of representatives of the various press groups like the NUJ, NPAN, NGE, NAN, BON etc.

In July, 1993. the press suffered unprecedented government hammer, eleven publications were banned at once following the opposition to the annulment of the widely adjudged free and fair June 12, 1993 presidential election. The Nigerian press organization condemned the proscriptions, government harassment, intimidation, violation of press freedom has always been a teething problem that face the press.



In spite of the tribulation of the Nigerian press, it has often been described as resilient, vibrant, bold and (to the military and corrupt politicians) irrelevant. Some have even gone as far as humouring the press as “freest in Africa”. Even a thoroughly tyrannical government can mischievously claim that the Nigerian press is one of the freest in the world. This seeming encomiums are infact no more than thinly disguised astonishment at the ability of the press to thrive against overwhelming odds. But the resilience of the Nigerian press was not thrust on its laps or given to it on a platter of gold.

The Nigerian press cut its teeth under a colonial environment that made it essentially agitative, combative, and, as it was once described by chief Ayo Ogunlade, a former commissioner for information in General Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, “adversial”, in posture.

The Nigerian press started in the tradition of free and independent private press, long before various governments began to establish their own newspaper. Daily times which is the oldest, and is now the quasi-government owned, was Nigerians foremost independent newspaper. The Nigerian Press is often blamed for continuing in its virulent and combative tradition long after independence. The argument is that if adversary journalism was legitimate in colonial times, it is not necessary under an indigenous Nigerian regime. The press and government, the argument further goes, ought to be partners in progress.

If the Nigerian press today is adversary, it was lured into this trap, although it is a trap from which it must extricate itself. The purpose for fighting the colonial government was to establish for Nigerians democratic self-government. Nigeria has been under military dictatorship of 26 of its 35 years as an independent nation. And military dictatorship has not been any less tyrannical than British colonialism. The press has therefore been drawn into a continuous battle for the fundamental rights of Nigerians and rule of law. It is not out of choice, but out of necessity, that the press has continued to stand up, even if vehemently, against military dictatorship, although as in battles, the press has acquired some bruises in terms of professional performance as well as personal sacrifices in doing so.

With the abolition of legislature and subjugation of the judiciary, the press is about the only unyielding voice heard, the parliament of the people and the market place of public opinion. This is not to say that the press is spared the travails of other democratic institutions under the military dictatorships. It is only that the press, largely due to its unusual resourcefulness, doggedness and resilience which have spawned what is now called “guerrila” journalism or the “underground press” has remained the last frontier, the territory to be conquered and silenced.

The press today is more aware of its responsibility towards the public, and the inalienable rights of the people to know. The disposition of the press is to first: uphold the right of the people and to think of the unpleasant consequence later. The press today cannot be faulted for assertiveness and boldness even though some its activities border on recklessness.

Contrary to the misleading views of various military governments, the press has not limited itself to mire advocacy on behalf of the masses. It has often collaborated with various government in their mobilization efforts. This collaboration has not always translated to wholesale endorsement of government programme. Rather the mobilization efforts of the press have always included a thorough evaluation of such programmes and the presentation of alternative views.

The press drummed up public awareness for structural Adjustment programme (SAP), by General Babangida, also the SAP debate, which highlights the pros and cons, as well as all the nuances of the economic policy. There are some programmes for which the press did not only drum up public awareness, but also subjected them to critical examination for their feasibility and usefulness to the public. These include General Babangida’s Directorate of Food and Rural Infrastructural (DFRI) and various twisted transition programmes foisted on Nigeria by the military including, General sani Abacha’s programme. The press unalloyed support to the eradication of the menace of hard drugs, advance fee fraud (419) armed robbery and other forms of crimes.

One of the most positive developments in the Nigerian press today is the emergence of private independent, Electronic and print media. The entry of these private media not only made the industry very keen, it also brought into the industry more intellectuals from the universities. The media became better packaged with full development of quality-personalized columns and opinion editorial page. (OPED). Subjects such as science and technology, Education, property, transport and Aviation, Travel and Tourism, Health and Environment, Arts and Culture and Economy have special pages devoted to them for in-depth reporting, with the reporters specializing in these beats.


During the first military rule,1966 – 1979, the newspaper worked earnestly for the enlightenment of the public and gave a wide coverage to issues of national importance by setting up debate on a number of issues including the restoration of democracy, review of the constitution of the country and creation of more states. The sprite of criticism and objective analysis of government programmes in the press persisted through these years.

More so, as Nigerians muddled through one crisis after another, there were few opportunities to test how serious the press was in its determination to demonstrate greater courage and integrity. Nigerian media scholars and other commentators are almost unanimous that the military rule (1966 – 1979) did not emasculate the press. As Frank Ugboja of the University of Lagos found in a study of the press, government owned newspapers were critical and outspoken on the sensitive issues of national development. And as Sylvester Ewelie of University of Nigeria Nsukka has said of the period, the Nigerian press was free “to lead inspite of the criticism and even challenge the government”. The challenge to the military came in form of press attacks on corruption and wasteful spending in governments, criticism of the conduct of 1974 census and the Amakiri affair in which a journalist Amakiri was flogged on the order of a state governor. The press at this time can be said to have assumed the role of the people’s parliament, filling in a caucus created by the suspension of political activities in the country.

Also, the Buhari regime that started on December 31, 1983 was obviously dictatorial. The press that operated under it must have been watchful. He had hardly taken the office when he declares that he would tamper with the freedom of the press. According to Stephen Aderogba, Buhari’s anger stemmed from what he termed the “raw deal” he got from the press over N2.8 billion scandal when he was minister of patroluen therefore accused the press of recklessness. As the new military regime became busy clamping into detention, politicians of second Republic who were believed to be responsible for the economic mess and troublesome social critics and leaders of pressure groups also promulgated decrees to check various areas of economic pillage. The government came with Decree 4. two Guardian journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor fell on this decree which led them to jail. Through the Decree came after their arrests for publishing the appointment of new ambassadors which the government was yet to release. This decree was the beginning of the argument and quarrelling with the press. The regime did not welcome any question raised by the press on their plans to return the country to civilian rule.

In 1980s, when the number of graduates who joined the profession rose, it became a policy that minimum degree or Higher national Diploma. But this came at a time when corruption in the media had become brazen. And as Adebaye Williams rightly put it, Nigerian journalism has been invaded by adventurers armed with a chain of degrees but sadly lacking in character and a sense of mission.

In an attempt to remain in a competitive industry, falsehood became news. There was lack of quality control and lower standard of the press. Lagos NUJ Ethics committee suspended the Akpa Tops News magazine for false publication. Some of publishing companies were proscripted while some were closed down because of the economic hardship.

The General Sani Abacha government later perfected the proscription culture. In June 1994, it ordered the duo of the concord and punch publishing companies closed without any explanation. In the 1995 independence anniversary broadcast of the Head of the military government, they were also pronounced free. There was proscription in the nation’s vibrant press, expected self-censorship began to take roots in the hitherto liberal sub-sector. The express provisions of the nation’s legal instruments officially recognized by the Nigeria state, public statements considered too critical of governments stance no longer get used in the media or when used, at all are made to read irrelevantly.



I wish to react to the article by Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye titled, ‘Not IBB Again’ published in the vanguard issue of April 1, 2004. The author highlighted some of the evils of the self-styled evil genius and prince of the Niger during his eight years disastrous exploitation of Nigeria with the author’s warning the Nigerians should not allow IBB to return to power.

What touched me most in that article was the writers complaint that many “journalist have now been duly motivated to market him (IBB) and they are all over the town, singing his Oriki with most sickening zeal. But hasn’t this horde of journalists heard of Dele Giwa? Are they now saying that the Leopard has change his skin”.

It is indeed quite pathetic that some journalists could forget sad history so soon to advocate for the return of their own previous destroyer and enemy. If one hits his leg against a particular stone the first time, it is a mistake; the second time, it is carelessness while the third time it is foolishness. It will therefore be foolishness for any Nigerian journalist to even carry position and promotional stories on IBB let alone advocate for his second coming even though he claimed to have stepped aside.

Many journalists were arrested, detained, tortured and jailed. Several media organizations were either sealed off, closed down, proscribed or banned. Several thousand copies of newspapers and magazines were either confiscated or destroyed by his agents. Some media houses were either vandalized or torched. It was during that dark period of the Nigerian press that Dele Giwa of Newswatch magazine was assassinated in pattern suggestive of systematic and deliberate government involvement.

IBB has a pathological hatred for the press. With this uprooting and destabilizing of all democratic structures and the gagging and emasculation of civil society, the press remained the only viable and feasible voice of reason, discourse and dissent. He therefore saw the press as an enemy and since in military circle, an enemy must be destroyed, he was determined to eliminate the press.

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The press and the IBB regime, just like in any other military regime, never agreed. They exhibited acrimonious and confrontational relationship. Their philosophies and modus operandi were different. IBB believed in regimentation absolutism, unchallenged, superiority, secrecy, corruption and violence. The press on the other hand believed in freedom of speech and expression and openness.

Devious Mechanism against the press: The press worked towards changing the negative status quo and IBB strived towards maintaining it. Also, the traditional social role of the press as a watchdog of the society, as conscience of the society: assessing social issues, setting agenda and reporting and commenting on issues and occurrences, offended IBB. This, coupled with the press unrelentless struggle to force IBB to hand-over power to a democratically elected government, made IBB hate the press crassly.

He employed several devious mechanism to deal wickedly with the press. Despite the antagonizing experience, the press never gave up. While the suffering and gagging of the press persisted, the press did not relent in the crusade for justice, equity, egalitarianism, freedom of the citizens from poverty, oppression and inhumanity, and the entrenchment and exercise of fundamental human rights. IBB has many skeletons in his cupboard. The press while performing its traditional role, wanted to open this cupboard of evils and exhibit the contents to the public, which has the right to know what goes on in the society and within the government. IBB felt the press was too inquisitive and smart. He believed that could make him unpopular and bring his downfall. This belief propelled him with greater determination and force to deal with the press the way Idi Amin would have envied.

Uche Luke Uka, a mass communication lecturer at the university of Lagos, remarked as far back as 1987 that the press constructive criticism on certain national issues were misunderstood for and equated with disloyalty by the IBB regime.

A human right activities, Ifowodo Ogaga remarked in 1993 that since the IBB regime was unconventional, unelected, non-representative and lacking in legitimacy and developmental orientation but fully endowed with abundant power for violence, repression and corruption, the regime wanted to bring the press under its feet. Babangida seemed to hold the press as a principal culprit in the general and intense opposition that followed the attempt to perpetuate himself in office.

In retaliation, he dealt with the press in an unimaginably wicked way. The press was censored and its freedom almost withdrawn. Many journalists were manhandled and brutalized by government agents. For instance, Chris Okojie and Sam Amuka Pemn of vanguard Newspaper were arrested on April 24 1990 for writing stories of the Gideaon Orka’s Coup. Other journalists arrested for their stories on the Orkar coup included Chris Mamah, lawal Ogienegbnon, and Chris Okojie of New Breed Magazine (for publishing Great Ogboru’s letter to IBB) and Nsikak Essien.

The premises of punch Newspaper and John West publications, publishers of Lagos News, Lagos Evening news and Sunday news were sealed off of publishing stories on the Orkar Coup.

On April 6, 1987 Newswatch Magazines was prescribed for publishing the political Bureau’s recommendation ahead of official announcement. This was less than a year after the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Dele Giwa, was assassinated through a letter bomb in which the IBB regime remains the prime suspect.Some other media outfits also dealt with by IBB included: Nigeian observer sealed off by the police on October 14, 1988, vanguard, champion premises sealed off several times. The Republic sealed off on August 20, 1990, the Guardian was closed on May 29, 1991 for publishing a story on two students of Yaba college of Technology who were short by state security agents during the students demonstration in Lagos. Banyo Oguntimehin, Taiwo Akerede, Tunde Suleman and Bernard Akparanta of the Guardian were arrested because of the story. On January 1, 1991, NUJ Cross River press center in Calabar was sealed off on the order of the state governor, lieutenant colonel Kizito Attah.

Others included the police closure of the office of the Reporter in Sokoto on January 1, 1991, the sealing off of the premises of Lagos Evening News on March 8, 1991: that of national concord premises in April, 1992 and the Good Times Newspaper. There were many other similar cases.

The following media houses were also proscribed: The News magazine proscribed for six months on June 20, 1993. the National Concord; Daily Sketch: Abuja News; Nigerian Observer, African Concord and Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation (OGBC) were proscribed for six months each for their “Controversial” role after the annulment of the June 12 presidential election.

Many editors were also arrested and detained by IBB. Some of them include Emma Agu of Daily Champion June 9, 1990, Ndeneyo Uko, deputy editors of Daily Times was suspended on June 22, 1991. Mr. Fola Olamiti of Tribune and his deputy, Victor Antwion March 10, 1977; on August 15, 1993 four editors and the chief security officers of Tell magazine were arrested by SSS operatives and detained incommunicado: on June 28, 1993, Alhaji R.K. Yusuf, the general manager of Herald Newspaper and chief Afolagun the executive chairman of the paper were arrested for publishing a story titled “Transition Halimat unique Baby writes IBB”

Numerous arrests: Other cases included the arrest of editor of quality Magazine, Bala Dan and the assistant editor, Mr. Ade Alawola on July 16, 1993, deputy editor of punch Newspaper was detained for 61 days without trial: Onoise Osunbor of African concord was detained for 92 days without trial, Nosa Igiebor, editor-in-chief of tell magazine was terrorized constantly; and Mrs. Olurunyorin, wife of the deputy editor-in-chief of the News Magazine and her three month old baby were detained in lieu of her husband.

The list of IBB’s sins against the press is too long to be exhausted. For instance, on June 29, 1991, William Kneeling, the Lagos Correspondent of the London-based Financial Times was deported for his stories on the Gulf war oil proceeds. Thousands of Copies of Tell, Quality, Newswatch, Razor and other Magazines, were confiscated and destroyed by the government. Even some vendors were arrested, detained and tortured for selling “Offending” copies of newspapers and magazines.

Some other journalists whom IBB dealt with include: Dele Bodunde. Pius Okeosisi (Punch); Toye Akinyode, Elosu Aimufua and Donatus Chukwu; John Okrewajau; Nduka Obaigbena; Tony Ukong; Femi Aborishade; Pastor Idowu and Dele Alaka.

During IBB’s eigth year “Ruin” of Nigeria, more than sixty journalists had a brutal and bitter taste of life. He committed more than seventy cases of serious infringement on press freedom. He tortured many journalists and other categories of media workers and social critics. Social critics such as the late Dr. Tai Solarin, the internationally respected Nobel laureate, professor Wole Soyinka, World renowned lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, Dr. usman Bala, Fela Anikulapo and many more, were not sparred by IBB in his bid to curtail freedom of expression.

The government owned media became more or less the mouthpiece and propaganda organs of the government thereby jettisoning objectivity, integrity and fairness. IBB dealt terribly and wickedly with the press.

However. At the long run, the press, along with the organized civil society, succeeded in chasing away IBB from power in 1993. The pen became mightier than the sword. It became the axe that hewed down the big tree.

The big tree has fallen never to rise again. The press should therefore not forget history. They should remember that IBB spells doom for them. A leopard is leopard, the change of colour inmaterial.

IBB remains an immortal enemy of the press. His ill-willed political transition programme brought untold hardship to Nigerians. It gave birth to the regime of the maximum dictator, General Sani Abacha who committed over 150 serious crimes against the press. The nation is today reaping the fruit of the evil tree IBB planted. That he has not apologized to the nation shows he sees nothing wrong in the crimes he committed against humanity, Nigerian and the press in particular.

The press as the conscience and defender of the society should rise to its task of defending the nation against IBB.



The issue of press freedom to a recurring political decimal in Nigeria. According to Awolowo, freedom is defined as a “State of being free, a state of exemption from power, or control of another, exemption from restraints, exemption from slavery or servitude, power of self determination”. In other word, freedom means “a state of being free to do whatever thing you elect”.

Freedom of the press is tantamount to the freedom of the citizen. In other words, there is a symbiotic relationship between autonomy of the press to inform, educate and entertain and the citizen’s right to be informed, educated and entertained. The citizens cannot be said to be freed in a situation whereby the press is gagged, suppressed and prevented from performing its role as the watchdog of the society. Therefore, the freedom of the press and the right of citizen is some side of same coin.

Virtually all the constitutional arrangements all over the world regardless of historical or ideological framework affirms the principle of press freedom.

The notion of press freedom in finance was explicitly stated in article II of its declaration of rights of man in 1979 constitution of 27th 1946 that “the unrestrained communication of opinion being one of the most precious right of man, every citizen may speak, write and publish freely”.

Nigerian is not left out of the attempt to give press freedom a constitutional backing. It is therefore not surprising that the 1963 republican constitution formally gave birth to press freedom in Nigeria. The section 25 sub-section (1) contained provisions on press freedom.

In the 1979 constitution, the chapter 2, section 2, on obligation of the mass media stated that: the press, radio, television and other agencies with the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter are to uphold the responsibility and accountability of government to the people.

Also in chapter 4, section 36 on right to freedom of expression and press, it was stated that:

1. Without prejudice to the generality of sub-sector (1) of this section that every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for dissemination of information, ideas and opinions, provided that no other person other than the government of the federation or of a state of any other person authorized by the president shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for any purpose whatsoever.

2. Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impact ideas and information without interference.



The print media are not established by any law or decree but there are constitutional provisions for their rights and obligations. The laws, which emerged on the return of the military since December 31, 1983, totally deprived the courts and up till now, the situation has not changed. “The constitution and modification Decree 107 of 1993 reverted Nigeria to the 1979 constitution instead of the 1989 constitution.

In 1984, decree 4, was promulgated with public officers protection against false Accusation. The decree was repealed on August 27, 1985 when Ibrahim Babangida assumed power. But the laws that emerged later and which prescribed newspaper, led to detention of journalists and prescribed stiff penalties of newspapers that failed to register under conditions that would destroy them. In 1993 alone the federal government promulgated five anti-press decrees. They are as follows: Decree No 23, the Reporter (Proscription and prohibition from circulation).

Decree No 29, known as Treason and Treasonable offences provides for the death sentence for anyone who either by word or writing disrupts the general fabric of the country. It makes journalists liable even if all they did was to report the views of others.

Decree No 35, offensive publications (proscription).

Decree No 43, Newspapers Registration Decree. It prescribed new and very stringent registration guidelines for all newspapers. It repealed the Newspapers Act under which newspapers had been previously established. Under decree 43, newspaper publishers were to apply for registration within three weeks. In its letter and intent, the decree sought to put squarely in the hands of the government the ultimate control of the independent press in Nigeria.

Its propaganda was that the independent press coverage of the 12 June crisis constituted ‘a source of incitement of civil war and physical disintegration.’ Information and culture secretary, Babangida’s Storm trooper against the press, claimed that the decree was promulgated to “Protect the mainstream of journalism from the pollution of weeds luxuriating on the fringes”.

Decree No 48, the publication prohibition Decree, proscribed 17 publications belonging to five press houses. The decree were not only punitive, it made the press houses concerned to incur huge loses and brought agony to thousands of journalists. And yet it did not achieve its objective, as the proscribed publications started publishing new titles that were as anti-government as those proscribed.

It seemed that the military, whatever face they show when they assume power later perform the true to type a body that has a dictatorship upbringing and cannot understand that dialogue in the market place and not rioting that would endanger national interest.

The press did not establish its own press council until 1978 that the government of General Olusegun Obasanjo came up with Decree No. 31, which established press council. They denounced it as it gave journalists a minority representation of three in a membership of 14 and had all the trapping of an inquisition.

In reaction, the press under the protection of the Nigerian press organization (NPO) comprising the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigerian (NPAN), Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUG) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) adopted an eight point of conduct. Three of the eighth points address truth as a sacred and moral on which responsible journalist is based. The fourth section frowned at receiving gratification either to punish or suppress news. The fifth code addresses access of information urging the journalist to “employ all legitimate means in the collection of news while respecting the privacy of individual”.

Moreso, Tony Momoh, information minister under General Ibrahim Babangida came up with his Decree 59 of 1988 which established the Nigerian media council.

Despite one Decree or another, the Nigerian press had been said to live up to expectation. As Agbese writes, “none can be without it. Suppress it, manipulate it and circumscribe its operational freedom pain in the neck of the society. It alone has the privilege of last word”.

Many media houses were shut down on account of news materials or editorial comments they carried and which government considered offensive. On May 4, 1990, the Nigerian Army officially warned that it deals with journalist who published new stories that would cause embarrassment to families, relations and friends of member of the Nigerian Armed Forces Loyal to the federal military government. At least five media houses were shut down in 1990 alone. The punch and New breed were shut down on April 11 and June 9, vanguard and the champion were shut down respectively.

In the middle of 1992, the Babangida regime created a crisis that would have not only a profound implication for survival of Nigeria as an entity but also for the press.

It started with African concord magazine which was shut down, with other publications in April 1992. From then on, thousands of copies on many editors were seized at the printing press, their offices were ransacked members of their families were arrested, vendors and distributors manhandled on the streets. “They were only sent underground and thus began what is today known in Nigeria as. “Guerilla journalism”.

On the whole according to Tunji, “No matter what future political direction the nations takes, the press can no longer be suppressed no matter how vicious or tyrannical the government of the day may be”.






This study has shown that the nature of Nigerian society has greatly influenced the history of the Nigerian press. In the colonial era, the press helped to arouse the spirit of nationalism in the country. Through their various publications, society got to know that the British rule is discriminatory and oppressive. The educated elites made use of the newspapers that were established to stimulate the Nigerian populace against the white minority and slave trade.

In the post colonial period, there was a change in the nature of the press. At independence, the press acted as partners in progress with the government, helping in the policies of the country. At this initial stage, the press can be seen as performing and educating the public as social and political process in the country. Immediately Nigeria became a republic in 1963, the press became more of instruments of well known politicians which are used to achieve political aims rather than as informants and educators of the public.

Following the interruption of the democratic political process in the country by the military coup of January 15, 1966, the press found itself as irreconcilable ends with government. The military government took various measures including making decrees to limit the freedom of the press. This is not to say that the press has been without restraint since its operation began in Nigeria, but that during the successive military government in the country, there was serious measures taken to cow the press which was more pronounced. This kind of relationship between the press and the military could be accounted for as the military perceived the roles of the press as confrontational to its unitary nature. Put differently, the military sues the press as professional critics who will hardly leave any government.

With the emergence of party politics especially in the first and second republics came a press that was highly politicized. The politicians were able to buy the press over and use them to achieve their own political ends. At this time, the press were only doing the will of the masters who are financing their ventures. Even recently before the exigency of the fourth republic, the press under the military had been so much cowed that the journalists sponsored coverag

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