By Justin Sprague                            

The Republic of Nigeria's National Flag

The Republic of Nigeria’s National Flag


At 356,000 square miles, Nigeria is home to nearly 174.5 million people which include more than 500 recognized ethnic groups (World Fact Book), “ many divided into subgroups of considerable social and political importance”(Nelson xvi).  Nigeria has the 2nd largest economy in Africa with its large financial and communication sectors boosting the economy.  Also Nigeria’s land is rich in natural reserves producing the 12th largest arrant of petroleum (World Fact Book).  In 1914, Nigeria gained its dependence from the United Kingdom and became a Republic in 1968 (Nelson 5). Nigeria, being relativity new to the fight of free speech, is struggling to gain freedom from the government and also cultural groups in the country.  Like many other countries, Nigeria is fighting its way from being a censored country to becoming a country of freedom of expression, but facing troubles in the progression.   Nigeria has provided evidence it is moving forward with freedom of speech, but also has shown decline with the deaths of reporters in the Northern Islamic states of the country.

The Law and Implications –History

Section 39 of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution to display what the country believes in, and implements punishment on breaking these constitutional rights. 39.  (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. Provided that no person, other than the Government of the Federation, shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for, any purpose whatsoever. (b ) imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law” (Maddex 249). This constitution guarantees freedom of expression and of the press and speech, but Nigeria’s vibrant and flowing media region continues to face many attempts by state and nonstate enforcements to suppress political criticism and constrain journalists into silence. This is where the problem occurs in the country of Nigeria. The restriction on free speech and free press started in the colonization of the country under the rule of the United Kingdom. “The 1909 Ordinance was operative throughout the colonial period, it was codified under Sections 50 to 52 of the Nigerian Criminal Code and amended by the Adaptation of Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Order 1964” (Okonkwor 54).  The adoptions of the laws are very similar to the laws that are still enforced even after independence from the United Kingdom.  A Supreme Court case regarding the Sections 50-52 is the case of James Ogidi v. Commissioner of Police. The telegram  was also given to the Minister oí Justice, Ibadan, Broadcasting Corporation, Ibadan, and the federal Minister of Finance. In these telegrams, he inferred the abolition of customary courts in the Warri Division. He believed this was needed because the judges were being used to suppress the supporters of the N.C.N.C. (National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons) an opposition political party in former Western Nigeria.  The lower courts had found this telegram an example of sedition, and we might have taken a different view of the publication now in question if it had been communicated only to the Minister. “In other words, the Supreme Court was implying, as indeed it confirmed in Nwaobiala v. Police that if a publication is sent to a person who is also the person maligned, there cannot be any case of incitement to disaffection and discontent against the government” (Okonkwor 56).  These ordinances brought extreme outbreak in the communities and one citizen said, “hyper-sensitive officials may come tomorrow who will see sedition in every criticism, and crime in every mass meeting” (Okonkwor 55). This proves how dramatic the laws were on sedition and libel.  Everyone in meetings held and every newspaper written broke ordinances from the United Kingdom and this pressure for decades caused Nigeria to break away and gain independence.  Fifty-five years went by before another legal action on speech was created. In 1962 with the Official Secrets Act, which created various criminal charges for press and speech offences, Nigeria has had a strong hold on free speech and media. The press was hit hard with government regulations.  Nigeria has not allowed any private television or radio stations on the air in its history until recently in 2010.  All television and radio stations were direct branches of the government. Silver Bird Communications was the first company to receive a license for private radio and television who paid thirty-five million for these rights to the air in 2010 (Freedom House).   For much blame on the restriction of this is the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). “Some critics allege the commission’s processes and decisions can be opaque and politically biased” (Freedom House). The president of the country has handed off all rights to the commission and allowed them to work freely without any regulations by the government.  In 1998 Nigeria passed an amendment to continue to impose fines and imprisonment on journalist who do not comply with the NBC (Oso and Pate 98).   The government has been so strict on the speech rights many of the cases against the harsh rulings on journalist and reporters have been restricted from moving up to a higher court.  The local authorities threaten the punished journalist with heavier penalties if they fight their charge.  This explains the very few amount of supreme court cases on free speech and press in Nigeria.

Current Events – Speech

Speech The most current free speech news for Nigeria is in concern with the equal rights to members of the society who are gay.  Many gay Nigerians are given no rights and frowned upon in the community.  The judge recalled: “the penalty for gay sex under local Islamic law is death by stoning” stated the New York Times covering gay rights in Nigeria. Just in early February President Goodluck Jonathon, signed a “harsh law criminalizing homosexuality throughout the country last month, arrests of gay people have multiplied, advocates have been forced to go underground, some people fearful of the law have sought asylum overseas and news media demands for a crackdown have flourished” (Nossiter). The restriction has gone as far as gay and lesbians speaking with one another.  The latest news has shown the Nigerian Police have been imposing jail time when more than two gay or lesbians meet in a public setting.   President Jonathon has backed these speech restrictions on gays and lesbians stopping all public speech and meetings for gays and lesbians.

Current Events – Press

The 1998 amendment that imposed fines and imprisonment on journalist was just recently countered with the Freedom of Information Act of 2011. This act brought freedom of access of public information and is only the 2nd country in West Africa to pass a broad right to information.  The Official Secrets Act restricted all of this information and now the Freedom of Information Act may tear down the punishment of journalists.  The effects of this law have not been seen yet as just recently seven reporters were arrested for libel (Freedom House) as they were reporting on the national elections in 2010.   According to Human Rights Watch in 2011 journalists are still subject to arrest and being detained when reporting on issues regarding Nigeria’s political and economic culture. “The police arrested six journalists from the Nation newspaper in October after they published a purported letter from former President Olusegun Obasanjo”(World Report). In October Zakariyya Isa, a journalist with the National Television Authority, “was gunned down in Maiduguri. “Boko Haram, an Islamic jihadist militant and terrorist group, claimed responsibility for the killing”(World Report).  Later in 2011, Olajide Fashikun, writer of the National Accord newspaper, “was arrested and detained after alleging in a series of articles that there is corruption in the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF)” (Freedom House).  At the end of 2011 he was awaiting a libel charge by the NFF.  Also in 1992, the military government under General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida designed the Nigerian Press Council to regulate a broad “range of media policy, including ownership, registration, and journalistic practice” (Oso 67).  This Council was represented my 19 members which none having any type of media background.  In 1998 the council made an amendment to “continue to impose fines and possible jail sentences on noncompliant journalists” (Freedom House).  This amendment, being clearly unconstitutional, created massive uproar and media advocacy groups challenged the constitutionality of this amendment laid out by this council. After 10 years of debate in July of 2010, “a Federal High Court nullified sections of the Nigerian Press Council Act as unconstitutional, rendering the act powerless” (Freedom House). A federal justice in the case, A.M. Liman, called the law “a bulwark against the free expression of opinion, ideas and views whether by individual journalists or by the press,” continuing that the amendment was “a gross violation of the right guaranteed under Section 39 of the constitution.”


With the mixture of Republic run government and hundreds of ethnic groups, Nigeria has found itsself in a freedom battleground. These Islamic populations run society on Islamic-made law not Nigerian law.  Sharia, or Islamic law, courts, operate in 12 northern states of Nigeria, “demonstrate antagonism toward free expression, and Sharia statutes impose severe penalties for alleged press offenses”(Freedom House). This creates many problems in the nation including the situation of free press and speech. “A major threat to press freedom in 2011 was the violent terror by the Islamist group Boko Haram, whose run of bombings, assassinations, and demoralizing claimed hundreds of lives during the year” (Human Watch Report). Boko Haram’s goal is to place strict Islamic law over the complete country. “In October, the group carried out one of its most brazen attacks on journalists, when members shot and killed Zakariya Isa, a reporter and cameraman for the state-owned Nigerian Television Authority (NTA)” (Freedom House), Zakariya was in charge of broadcasting the aftermath of one of the groups violent bomb attacks in the city of Maiduguri.  Compared to the United States, Nigeria is a country with limited speech.  In the U.S you have many Supreme Court cases protecting the liberty of free speech and free press, and in Nigeria you have day-to-day cases of reporters getting thrown in jail, and also killed.  The government in Nigeria does not rule the whole country.  The northern states rule under Islamic Law, which have no restraint from the national government. These two nations are very distant in comparison in the conversation of free of speech and press.


In the year 2014 Nigeria is still one of the most restricted countries in the world on the subject of freedom of expression.  From the southern parts of the country you could be fined and jailed if you speak in any fashion against the government whether it be fact or fiction.  In the northern Islamic states they will willingly kill journalist who approach a certain member of society.  The equal rights for speech in citizens is a right Nigeria has neglected with the recent demoralizing laws against gay citizens.  This country is one that will make you proud to live in the country you live in and want to hope that change is possible in such a sad situation like Nigeria’s.

Sources in MLA format:

Books Metz , Helen. Nigeria: a county study . 5th. 1. Washington D.C. : U.S. Government , 1992. Print.

Nelson , Harold . Nigeria: a county study. 4th. 1. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government, 1984. Print. Oso , Lai , and Umari Pate . Mass Media and Society in Nigeria . Lagos : Malthouse Unlimited , 2011. Print.

Maddex, Robert . Constitutions of the World . 2. Archetype Press , 2001. Print. Okonkwor, Chude. “Nigeria’s Sedition Laws .” (2000): 50-65. Print.

This essay was last updated on April 30, 2014.


One Response to Nigeria

  1. I appreciate your attempt to write about the freedom of expression in Nigeria. I however do not consider your details entirely true as they are no restrictions to privately owned media houses or broadcast stations in our country. We have privately owned television stations such as Silverbird T.V And AIT. I also noticed that the sources you used are not even Nigerian sources. .How then are you sure your facts are right?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: