NIGERIAN MILITARY GOVERNMENT AND PRESS FREEDOM 1966-79

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CHAPTER ONE
INTRODUCTION
One of the continuing problems journalists may face is
the suppression of press freedom. Confrontations between
media and governments are common (17, p. 10), notably in
modern African states where the developmental theory concept
of journalism (7, p. 73) is still developing. The concern
for press freedom in Africa is a difficult problem to mass
media teachers and practitioners in many parts of the world
where the fundamental principle of a free press is regarded
as a barometer by which political freedom is measured (11,
p. 40). Commenting on the general deterioration of press
freedom, John Merrill observed that a common denominator of
press freedom reports released each year is that “the world’s
press is getting less and less free” (12, p. 73).
The intrusion of the military into politics of Third
World countries has complicated press freedom issues. Where
the army seizes power from a legitimately constituted government, the press is given a new role that produces a tense
relationship between the soldier-rulers and the press. It is
against this general background that one should view the
press freedom conflict between the military and the press in

Nigeria during the thirteen-year military government from
1966 to 1979.
Nigeria, a former British colony located in West Africa
with a population estimated from 80 to 100 million people, is
the largest, strongest, and richest nation in Black Africa
(13, p. 42). This population has a divergent and pluralistic
composition whose characteristic a Nigerian newspaper editor
aptly described as a society that contains an estimated 250
different ethnic groups with religious, cultural, political,
and economic differences (4, p. 39).
The Nigerian press during the colonial era was nurtured
in the British fashion of a free and unfettered press. Though
not given total freedom to criticize the colonial masters’
policies, Nigerian journalists fully utilized the freedom at
their disposal in criticizing the British. By this approach
indigenous journalists encouraged nationalists to spread the
feeling of political consciousness among the members of the
few elite who, as opinion leaders, informed the masses of
happenings in the country. During the colonial period, Fred
Omu, a Nigerian historian, confirmed that Nigerian journalists
encouraged a sense of political and nationalist awareness
(15, p. viii).
Ironically, according to Omu, after independence was
achieved in 1960, the indigenous press became a dangerous
tool in the hands of politicians (15, p. 248).

Eventually, the military seized power from the civilians
on January 15, 1966. The soldier-rulers stressed that their
major concern was to purge the nation of the ills inherent
in the society (14, p. 2). During the civil war (1967-1970),
the press, by having opinions similar to the federal government’s stand on the rebellion, assisted in countering the
secessionists’ propaganda. After the war, the press also
helped to reintegrate the Ibos into the country by encouraging
other Nigerians to forgive and to forget the past. Journalists also supported the government’s efforts at rehabilitating all war victims.
Unfortunately, there were accusations of corruption
against military-civilian government officials which led to
attacks by journalists, and this gave rise to several misunderstandings between the press and military. Typical of
this period was General Yakubu Gowon’s administration, 1966-1975. Frank Barton, African media writer, said that “the
soldiers who had come to power in 1966 to eliminate corruption were now as crooked as the civilians they had ousted–more crooked, for Nigeria’s oil wealth was beginning to
flow . . .” (3, p. 53). Hachten stated that the relationship
between the press and Gowon’s regime at this time was tense
(8, p. 164).
During the Murtala Muhammed’s regime in 1975, the government started the Nigerian News Agency, a National Press
Council, and reorganized radio and television broadcasting.

The rulers also took over some prominent newspapers both at
the federal and state levels.
There were military-police arrests and detentions of
journalists during the military administration in Nigeria.
As a result media practitioners exercised careful restraint
in whatever they published.
Censorship of the press during the military administration in Nigeria took various forms. Wilcox noted that the
harassment of journalists by the military compelled editors
to adopt self-imposed censorship in which publication of
newspaper articles critical of government actions were curtailed (19, p. 69). He also stated that a form of censorship of foreign journalists was the “special visa requirement”
which empowered Nigerian embassies to thoroughly screen
foreign correspondents who wanted to visit the country (19,
p. 95).
Barton suggested that there was post-publication censorship by the Nigerian military government between 1966 and
1979, because journalists were detained, arrested, and mistreated after newspaper articles criticizing government
policies were published (3, p. 52).
However, Michael Singleton argued that a war situation
necessitates some form of censorship (16, p. 727).
The Mineri Amakiri court case in which this journalist
was brutually treated by officials of the Rivers State
Government–Amakiri sued, won the case, and collected damages

(3, p. 55)–and other similar incidents tend to determine the
stand of the judiciary in the relationship between the press
and military.
For the stability of a country to be assured, the press
and government should understand their cooperation is vital
in the attainment of national goals. However, the appearance
of the military in Nigeria’s politics seems to have complicated the relationship between journalists and the government. This is, according to Jakande’s observation, because
when we talk of a military regime, the picture it
conjures in the mind of the average citizen is that
of a government of soldiers. . . .There are those
whose executive council include civilians holding
offices at the pleasure of the soldiers as in
Nigeria (5, p. 82).
The duty of the press, no matter the government in power, is
“to seek out the truth about all things, and to present to
his readers not such things as statecraft would wish them to
know but the truth as near as he can attain” (5, p. 84).
As Dele Cole, former general manager of the Daily Times
group of companies observed,
The military have for the most part been willing to
recognize the indispensable role of the press in our
national life. . . . The press has willingly conceded
the unique achievements of the military regime in much
the same way as a censored press can exist in a
civilian and freely elected regimes (5, p. 101).
Statement of the Problem
The problem of this study was to examine the militarypress relationship in Nigeria from 1966 to 1979 and to

determine whether activities of the military government contributed to censorship of the press.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to analyze the status of
freedom of the press in Nigeria during the military regime
from 1966 to 1979.
As a result, this thesis will therefore
1. Analyze newspaper articles and determine if these
writings constituted the reasons for military and police
detentions, arrests, and harassment of journalists;
2. Determine how harassment of journalists by the military and police prevented publications that were critical of
the military government;
3. Examine the military regime’s decrees and edicts
against journalists and discuss the ways in which these
laws affected the usual duties of media workers in Nigeria;
4. Determine whether police or military intimidations
of journalists prevented newspaper writers from criticizing
government policies;
5. Examine publications by foreign journalists and
determine the reasons for the military’s ban, expulsion, and
arrest of these correspondents.
Significant Questions
Significant questions covered during this study were as
follows.
1. Why were there confrontations between journalists
and military-police personnel?
2. What military actions had an effect on press freedom?
3. Did the military censor the press before, during,
or after publication; and what effects did this have?
4. What court decisions affected the relationship
between the press and military?
Definition of Terms
For the purposes of this study, the following definitions were established.
Press Freedom–Colin Legum argued that for the existence
of press freedom to be meaningful, the press should be
“. . . free from compulsions from whatever source, governmental or social, external or internal; from compulsions–not, of course, from pressures, since no press can be free
from pressures except in a moribund society empty of contending forces and beliefs” (10, p. 30).
Press Censorship–According to Robert F. Ladenson, press
censorship applies “to any restriction upon expression of
which the listener happens to disapprove.” He further stated
that censorship of the press is the process of “making illegal
certain precisely identified acts of expression” (9,, p. 53).
Ladenson (9, pp. 55-60) categorized some forms of
press censorship as:

(a) Prior Restraints–He argued that prior restraint
may be identified with direct governmental action that
makes it literally impossible for one to communicate with
others effectively” (9, p. 55).
Examples of censorship in this group may therefore
include licensing, taxation, injunction, contempt citations,
forced disclosure, forcible printing and government ownership. Government might also restrain people from right of
assembly, right of travel, right of access to specific persons, and freedom from incrimination.
(b) Penalization–Ladenson noted that government penalizes
individuals who adhere to acts of expression . .”
(9, p.. 56). This method, in other words, may include
seditious laws, criminal libel, obscenity, privacy and
defamation laws.
Postpublication Censorship–Wilcox stated that a form of
direct government censorship is postpublication censorship
when officials “. . . ban, suspend, seize, or confiscate any
newspaper or magazine when officials feel the content threatens
public order and safety” (19, p. 54).
Threats and Intimidations–This type of press restriction,
Wilcox stated, is when “. . . journalists can be punished on
any number of broad grounds generally outside the usual
grounds of libel, pornography, or even sedition” (19, p. 70).
It therefore means that arrests, detentions, and physical abuse of persons that publish what the government deems
as bad can be included in this category. This study will
determine the ways in which these four forms of press censorship were practiced by the Nigerian military government.

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