An Appraisal Of Press Freedom In Nigeria Under Civilian Rule (A Case Study Of Olusegun Obasanjo Regime 1999 – 2004)

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This topic of research, “An Appraisal of Press  Freedom Under Civilian Rule (A case study) is a top flight, thought provoking and interestingly challenging especially in our contemporary Nigeria which has embraced democracy and has been nurturing it for five years after almost thirty years if military dictatorship or domination of political power since independence in 1960.

Since military incursion in the country’s political calendar on 14th January 1966 through a coup de-tat led by major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and four of his colleagues, it has become a recycling decimal in the country’s political history.  Throughout the successive military regimes, the press has had collusion with the rough edge of the law in the pursuit of their profession.  Thus, journalism became a dreaded career fraught with dangers as they were subjected to arrest, incarceration, harassment, threat, physical violence and assassination.

Then there came a new dawn on 29th May 1999 when the country turned to a democratic rule, journalism takes another dimension, there exists freedom of information though the freedom was not absolute.  The reason was because of the decrees from the military era that found the way into this democratic dispensation.  But there was room for media excellence and the press excels and are still excelling in fulfilling the social responsibility both to the government and the governed.

The aim of this research is to know whether the press has freedom in this present dispensation.  However, freedom of the press is possible only when the rights of the press are protected.  This can never be achieved in an autocratic set-up, except in a democratic environment as our appraisal of press freedom is such dispensation has shown.

This project was written in five (5) chapters in order of their priorities. Chapter one delves into the background of press freedom with an insight to the research question, hypothesis and significance among other.  Chapter two handles the glace and review on the information bill.  Chapter three takes care of the research methods, designs, population and data collection.  Chapter four analyses the data collected from the questionnaires distributed and chapter five treats the summary and recommendations for improvement on making press freedom to be totally absolute.


Chapter one


1.1         Background of study

1.2         Statement of problem

1.3         Objective of study

1.4         Significance of study

1.5         Research questions

1.6         Research hypothesis

1.7         Conceptual and operational definition of terms

1.8         Assumptions

1.9         Limitation of the study



2.1         Sources of literature

2.2         The review

2.3         Summary of literature review



3.1         Research Method

3.2         Research Design

3.3         Research Sample

3.4         Measuring Instrument

3.5         Data Collection

3.6         Data Analysis

3.7         Expected Results



4.1         Data Analysis

4.2         Result

4.3         Discussion



5.1         Summary

5.2         Recommendation






For the press to play their basic roles, it must exercise fully its freedom.  In other words, for the freedom of the press to be fully appreciated, we must understand the implication of t citizen having a fundamental right to free access to facts in all matters that directly or indirectly concern him and also the right to express and publish its opinion thereon.

In describing the operation of the press in their book entitled four theories of the press, Siebert, Peterson and Schramn (1985) said that “The Press is not an instrument of government but a device for presenting evidence and argument on the basis of which the people can check on government and make up their minds as to its policy.  It is imperative that the press be free from control and influence so that truth can emerge.

On this premise, the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 14, 1946 declared, “freedom of information is a fundamental human right and is the corner stone of all freedom to which the United Nations is consecrated”.

1.            According to the sub-committee of Common Wealth Press Union headed by Lord Shawcross, freedom of the press is “the freedom that is not a special privilege of Newspaper but derives from fundamental right of every person to have full and free access to the facts in all matters that affects him”.  With regards to these fundamental rights, the press are expected to be free to gather news without obstruction or restriction to publish the news and to comment on it.

2.            The Nigerian Constitution of 1989 Section 38 Sub-section 1 concedes that right to freedom of expression and the press by stating that “every person is entitled to freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinion and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.

The administration and governance of Nigeria was predominantly military after independence in 1960 and a coup in 1966.  The military ruled the country with successive coups until 1979 when there was a brief democracy, which lasted for four years before another army take-over in 1983.  The military ruled until May 29th 1999 when it handed over the mantle of leadership to a democratically elected government led by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

The media as the fourth arm of government was not spared from the military obnoxious policies.  Their control, which was determined by decrees led to outright closure of media house, death of some media practitioners, intimidation and harassment etc.

3.            The closure of Newspaper organizations like Newwatch in April 1987, the Guardian in May 1991, Tell Magazine in August 1993 etc.

The imprisonment of journalists over reports government felt was antagonistic saw the likes of Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor jailed under the infamous decrees 4 in 1987.  Others include Chris Okolie, Innocent Okparadike, Editor of the Observe in Benin etc.  All these happening under the military regime did not make it conducive for the press to function optimally.  The military may not be entirely written off as enemies of the media because they ushered in an era that led to competition among various media organizations.  This is because the excessive dictatorial tendencies of the military caused the press to become more daring and committed to seeking its freedom.

The high handedness of the military reduced some media houses into government mega-phone for fear of being harassed or closed down.  Such media who owe their existence, control and sustenance to the government of the day depended on it for subvention as a means of survival.  Mostly affected were the electronic media and some print media owned and controlled by those in power.  This led to the deregulation in 1989 of media houses by issuing operating licenses especially to those who want to own and operate the electronic media.  This development led to the establishment of private radio and television houses in the country thus breaking government monopoly of the electronic media industry.

Coming up on the heels of these deregulations were stations like the African Independence Television (AIT), MINAJ, DBN etc.  Inspite of these welcome developments, the torture on the media houses that were closed down and opened some months before the exit of the military in the governance of the country cannot be quantified.

The military quit leadership of the country in May 1999 and handed over to a democratically elected government led by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, which has long been the agitation of the press and the entire country.  Under this administration, the press may be said to have an air of freedom in the exercise of its constitutional role as the eye and ear of the society.  Innovations in the operations of the media may have resulted due to advance in technology; enough have not been achieved if any in terms of ownership of the media in the last five years of the current administration.

Although the administration has done its best in initiating policies that can lead to the protection of infant industries and manufacturers, especially the local manufacturers.  It has not done much in the area of information technology or high way that is the order of the day in making the world a global village.

There are still feelings that the news content of the media are being doctored to fit or rather suit the aspiration of those in power.  There is also a feeling that the sectional political nature of the society may have polarized the media in such a that each pursues an agenda favourable to its ethnic origin or its ethnic consideration.

The other school of thought has it that the media has lost its bite and is no longer that which fought for the enthronement of democracy in the country thus, allowing a lot of malpractices to have their way into the nation’s polity.  While most people attribute this to their resolve in supporting the democratic dispensation, others felt that the media for fear of being intimidated, have succumbed to the feelings and aspirations of the government.

These issues therefore make this study very important as we will in the following chapters discuss the operations of the media in the current administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo; the attempt will hinge on providing solutions to some of the startling issues posed in this background.


The study under review has the operations of the press at its epi-centre in the current democratic dispensation of Olusegun Obasanjo.  We are going to look at some of the policies that have undermined the social responsibility of the press, as well as policies that have favoured the activities of the press in the aforementioned administration.

Is the word “Press Freedom” in existence in the true reality of life and, if so, how does it function?  Or are they determined by the kind of government in operation from society to society or country to country?


1.            To understand the problems militating against press freedom in Nigeria.

2.            To understand how the press has operated in Nigeria since 1999.

3.            To understand what the future holds for the press in the event of discontinued governance of President Obasanjo.

The result achieved here will enable us to say in concrete terms whether the press should be left free or should not be left free in discharging their statutory functions.


This study is significant in view of the negative feelings the present administration has received from its citizens and, the belief of what the press have played in the hands of government.  But it no longer carries her activities in line with the constitution that sets them up.  Also is the fact that the present administration tends to intimidate the press on their activities, thus lending credence to the allegation that the press have been bough over.


This will aim at assessing the performance of the press, the atmosphere in which they operate, given this dispensation, which is Olusegun Obasanjo regime period.  They are as follows:

1.            Does civilian rule foster brighter prospect for the media?

2.            Have the media (press) performed better in this dispensation than any other civilian rule?

3.            Has the press been used as an instrument of government under civilian rule?

4.            Have the media been controlled by the present Obasanjo administration?


1.       H1:    Civilian rule fosters brighter prospect for the media.

H0:    Civilian rule does not foster brighter prospect for the media.

2.       H1:    The media have performed well in this dispensation than in any other civilian rule.

H0:    The media have not performed well in this dispensation than in any other civilian rule.

3.       H1:    The press has been used as an instrument of government under civilian rule.

H0:    The press has not been used as an instrument of government under civilian rule.

4.       H1:    The media are presently being controlled by the Obasanjo administration.

H0:    The media are not presently being controlled by the Obasanjo administration.


Conceptual:  This is the assessment of an expert opinion on the value of an issue such as press freedom.

Operational:  To determine the view and evaluation of experts on the value of freedom of press. Press Freedom

Press Freedom:

Conceptual:  This is the fundamental right of every person to have free access to the fact in all matters that directly or indirectly concern him and, his equal right to express and publish his opinion and to hear and read the opinion of others. Press Freedom

Operational:           To know if the press with these rights are free to gather news without obstruction, to publish the comment on it thereon. Press Freedom

Civilian Rule:

Conceptual:            This refers to the exercise of power or authority over a given society or country which does not have its roots or foundation from armed forces.

Operational:           To determine the effect of power under a society that is free from armed forces in its foundation. Press Freedom


Conceptual:            This refers to the exercise of political authority over the actions, affairs etc. of a political unit or people as well as the performance of certain functions for this unit or body.

Operational:           This is known as the body that have authority to rule a political unit of people including the press and how they go about it.

1.8         ASSUMPTION

It is assumed that the press still suffer what they suffered during the military administration in this present dispensation irrespective of the principles of democracy.  It is also assumed that the coertic nature of the society in those days still affect the press in such a way that the content of the media and media itself pursues an agenda favourable to its ethnic consideration and to those in authority

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