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Is Nigeria’s absence from global impunity index evidence of better press freedom and human rights, as justice minister claimed?

This article is more than 11 months old

  • Nigeria was not included in the 2021 global impunity index published by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
  • Justice minister Abubakar Malami said this showed the commitment of president Muhammadu Buhari’s government to improving human rights.
  • But Nigeria’s absence from the ranking is only due to the passage of time and not because of official initiatives, with analysts saying the accurate picture is one of a deterioration instead.

Nigerian leaders have been holding up the country’s absence from an annual index that tracks violence against journalists as a major gain in governance.

The 2021 global impunity index is published by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the New York-headquartered watchdog.

In a November 2021 policy dialogue on the protection of journalists, justice minister Abubakar Malami said Nigeria’s non-inclusion in the index was due to the administration’s “laudable initiatives to end impunity for crimes against Nigerian citizens”.

This was reported in national media and published on the ministry’s website. In another interview where he defended the government’s handling of the 2020 #EndSARS protests, Malami again brought up the ranking. 

“As far as African countries are concerned, it is only Nigeria that has been taken off the impunity index,” he told the TV host in December 2021.

Do minister Malami’s claims about the index in recent public appearances stand up to scrutiny? We took a closer look at three.

Claim

“In the last decade, before the advent of the present administration, Nigeria was on the index.”

Verdict

Incorrect

At the policy dialogue, Malami said that Nigeria had been on the impunity index “in the last decade” before president Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015.

We’ve asked the justice ministry to clarify what time frame he was referring to and will update this report with their response.

Buhari’s administration replaced that of the Peoples Democratic Party, which had been in power since 1999.

Contrary to Malami’s claim, Nigeria was on the index in the first four years of Buhari’s term. In 2015, the country ranked 13th of 14 countries on the index. It also featured every year from 2016 to 2019.

The CPJ started compiling the index in 2008. Nigeria first featured in 2013, only falling out for the first time in 2020

“The absence of Nigeria on our impunity index in 2020 and 2021 have nothing to do with alleged actions taken by the Nigerian government,” Jonathan Rozen, a senior researcher with CPJ’s Africa Program, told Africa Check.

Nigeria’s absence is purely a function of the fact that the index is based on the last decade, a 10-year window that crawls forward with time, he said.

For example, beginning in 2020, the murder of journalist Bayo Ohu in 2009 fell outside of this window. 

“Only those nations with five or more unsolved cases in the 10-year period are included on the index, so the removal of Ohu’s killing from that window reduced the number of murders calculated and caused Nigeria to fall off the index. This fact was also noted in the 2020 impunity index report,” Rozen said. 

For its index, the CPJ calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population. Murder is defined as the deliberate killing of a specific journalist in retaliation for the victim’s work. (Note: For more on the methodology used in the index, read here.)

At least 12 Nigerian journalists have been deliberately killed for their work between 1992 and 2021, the watchdog’s records show.  

‘Some cases go unreported’  

Some cases of assault, harassment, illegal detention and murder of journalists go unreported, Shuaibu Liman, the national secretary of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, told Africa Check. 

“The impunity index does not fully capture the current experience of Nigerian journalists. Some cases are not reported. Virtually all cases of murder of journalists, all the way from the murder of Dele Giwa in 1986, are still unresolved,” he said.

Claim

“Nigeria ranked between 12th and 13th across the globe and used to be among the top three African countries with impunity for crimes against journalists only after Somalia and South Sudan.”

Verdict

Misleading

This claim does not paint an accurate picture of the index. 

Rozen said the index includes only countries with five or more unsolved cases over 10 years and the ranking is only of countries that fit these parameters, and not of all countries. 

Since it started in 2008, the index has not had more than 14 countries in any edition. In that inaugural list, Sierra Leone and Somalia were the two African countries of the 13 that were included.

Nigeria first made the index in 2013, when it was 11th of 12 countries, with Somalia the other African country featured. In 2014 Nigeria was 12th of 13 countries and 13th of 14 countries in 2015, when South Sudan first appeared on the index.

Second index ranks Nigeria low  

Though not on CPJ’s most recent index, Nigeria was ranked 120th of 180 countries in the world in the 2021 world press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders

Some of the countries with the lowest press freedom scores such as Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, China and Djibouti are not on the impunity index. 

Rozen explained that while CPJ documents different forms of attacks on journalists and other actions that affect press freedom, it uses only its record of unresolved journalist murders to inform its index.  

“The impunity index is a specific metric used to illustrate the absence of efforts to hold accountable those responsible for the murders of journalists around the world,” he said.

Malami’s claim excluded the fact Nigeria came 12th and 13th among less than 15 countries. Therefore, we rate the claim as misleading.

Claim

“As far as African countries are concerned, it is only Nigeria that has been taken off the impunity index.”

Verdict

Incorrect

This claim made during the December 2021 TV interview is also not supported by the available evidence.

According to Rozen, it is not correct to make this kind of comparison, as the index includes only countries that meet the specified criteria, and not all African countries. 

The first two editions of the index in 2008 and 2009 had two African countries: Sierra Leone and Somalia. Sierra Leone dropped off the index in 2010 and has not returned. 

Somalia was the only African country on the index from 2010 until 2013 when Nigeria was first included. South Sudan then made the list in 2015. The three countries were the only ones from Africa in the index until 2020 when Nigeria fell off. 

Considering that Nigeria is not the first African country to drop off the index and that only two African countries were left on the index after Nigeria fell out, we rate the claim as incorrect.

Nigeria struggling with human rights, researchers and scholars say

Malami claimed Nigeria’s absence from the 2020 impunity index was “another positive feather of development in the human rights record of the government of president Muhammadu Buhari that calls for celebration”.

But the CPJ’s Rozen said the Nigerian government cannot take any credit as the country’s absence from the list is purely a result of it not meeting the criteria of at least five unresolved journalist murders in a period of 10 years.

Since 2015, the CPJ said it has reported a steady pattern of intimidation and attacks on journalists across Nigeria, including by security forces. 

“This research [the impunity index] does not support the claim of a significant reduction of journalists being targeted and attacked in Nigeria since president Buhari took office,” Rozen said.

Shuaibu Liman, the national secretary of the Nigerian Union of Journalists told Africa Check there was nothing to celebrate. 

“Impunity against journalists is not just about murder cases. Poor remuneration, poor working conditions, assaults, unwarranted detention, kidnapping and threat to life are part of it,” he said. 

Liman said that rising insecurity in the country has made it even riskier to do their jobs. “The government needs to do a lot to protect journalists.”

Law professor James Aduba of the University of Jos in north-central Nigeria agreed that rights violations in the country have increased with rising insecurity. 

Jacob Dada is a professor of human rights law at the University of Calabar in southern Nigeria. He told Africa Check it was misleading to use an index on unresolved murders of journalists as a yardstick to measure an administration’s human rights record.

“There are different aspects to human rights. There is the aspect of rights to freedom of expression, right to fair hearing, rights to liberty and even food security which is an emerging area of human rights," Dada said.

“Protecting the rights of journalists is just one aspect. If fewer journalists are being killed, are they being harassed and detained unlawfully? Are those arrested given a fair hearing?” 

Meanwhile, the number of complaints received by the country’s human rights commission increased from 433,865 in 2015 to 1.3 million in 2019. The commission received about 1.29 million complaints in 2020.

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