Nigerian journalists are raising renewed concerns about their safety after an Abuja newspaper reporter went missing last month, and journalists were manhandled while trying to cover two major news events.
“He’s always there with me watching the television, he likes News,” says Torkwase Kuraun of her missing brother, Tordue Salem, as she stares at a picture of him in the family photo book in Abuja.
Salem, who has been gone for 23 days now, is a parliamentary reporter with the Vanguard News – an independent Nigerian newspaper. Kuraun says she last saw her younger brother the morning of October 13.
“He was in front of the gate when I was leaving, so I just waved [at him], then two hours after, he left for work. Since then, I’ve not seen him.”
The cause of Salem’s disappearance is still unclear. The Nigerian police authorities said they have interrogated six people he last contacted that day, but no arrest has been made, and no one has claimed responsibility for his disappearance.
The issue has raised worries among fellow journalists. Journalists in Nigeria have, on some occasions, been attacked or even detained as a result of their reports. No one could prove Salem’s case was work related.
But this week, as the Nigerian Union of Journalists marked the global Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, they urged authorities to take urgent action on the matter.
Soni Daniel is a regional editor at Vanguard News. “We’re all humans and we feel sad. We recognize the horror, the suspense, the anxiety. It could have happened to anybody,” Daniel expressed.
This year, Nigeria ranked 120th in the World Press Freedom Index, dropping five spots from last year’s tally.
Last month, journalists covering the End SARS memorial procession were manhandled by security agents.
Another group of journalists also were harassed and barred from entering an Abuja courtroom where the trial of separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu was being held.
Adefemi Akinsanya, a correspondent from Arise News says she was antagonized during the SARS procession at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos state. “I just thought, had they discharged their weapon[s], even accidentally, would it have been worth it? Press freedom is so important, and I say it’s the hallmark of a free and just society and that is what we want from Nigeria, a free and just place,” she noted.
Nigerian journalists say without better treatment from authorities, the country will become too risky for them to perform their jobs.