Umaru A. Pate


The mass media play a significant role in the life of a modern state like Nigeria. The press (newspapers, magazines and adjuncts such as Press Associations) which is part of the media has, over the years, assumed an important position in expressing the wishes, aspirations and opinions of the people. To some, the press is, therefore, a mirror of society. Similarly, the press confers status and boosts the legitimacy of policies, proclamations and actions of governments by reporting and helping to interpret them to the people who are the ultimate beneficiaries of such actions and policies.

As Boulding once observed, the people depend to a very large extent, on the information obtained from the media to create images and form opinions about their nations, institutions and leaders.’ Put differently, the press defines and structures reality in a society. Little wonder, therefore, that all Nigerian constitutions have in one way or the other conferred on the press the responsibility for monitoring the performance of government in the sphere of governance. This is a democratic tradition which various military governments in Nigeria have retained though with numerous abuses.

Nigeria is blessed with a vibrant and expansive press. Since the colonial period, the sector has attracted attention from each regime that ruled the country. In fact, every government that came had their individual policies and ways of relating with the press. Evidence shows that none had ignored the centrality of the media in governing the country. – Indeed, Williams aptly summarised the centrality of the newspaper in the life of a country, when he said:

Newspapers are unique barometers of their age. They indicate more plainly than anything else the climate of the societies to which they belong. This is not simply for the obvious reason that they are a source of news about their time but because conditions in which they operate, the responsibilities they are allowed to fulfil, the pressures they have to meet, their circulation and economic base, the status of those who write for them and their relationship to their readers, all provide direct insight into the nature of their communities.

Thus, in this paper, we shall examine the relationship between the press and the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida, which ruled Nigeria from August 1985 to August 1993. We shall attempt to assess the performance of the press in this period and analyse the reaction of the regime through proclamations, restrictions, directives and laws that were specifically targeted at the press. We shall also delve into the various propaganda strategies of the regime and conclude by attempting to conceptualise reasons that could explain the rationale for the behaviour of -the press and the Babangida regime during the period of the study.

The Press in Nigeria

The Nigerian press is comparatively young in global terms, but by African standards, it is by far the oldest and richest in traditions, pluralism and development’ The history of the press can be divided into three phases: the early press, the nationalist press and the post- independent modern press. The press in each of the phases had unique characteristics and roles, which were informed by the climate of the time. ‘

The ownership pattern of the press in the country is plural in nature. Governments, individuals and organisations own and publish newspapers and magazines of various types. Expectedly, the editorial policies of these publications vary to reflect the interests and objectives of individual proprietors.

Indeed, the Nigerian press is said to clearly reflect the state of the society. Issues like ideology, religion, regionalism, statism, ethnicity, and politics of resource allocation, power sharing and other divisive national topics are openly debated in the press with no conclusive resolutions. It was in 1965 that a foreigner who studied the press remarked that, “from (those newspapers) a foreigner can acquire a sense of what makes Nigerians angry, what they hope for, where they are realistic, where they are dreamers.

The history of newspapers in Nigeria shows that political motive has always been at the heart of the establishment of newspapers and magazines. The truth of this assertion can be found in the relationship between newspaper proprietors and the search for relevance in political power in the country. Other factors that promoted the growth of the industry include urbanisation, literacy level, better living conditions, state creation and the profit motive. Little wonder therefore that there is a higher concentration of the press industry in the south western part of the country. Worthy of note here is the Lagos factor in the South West which had given the region “a more sophisticated media culture ahead of the North and the East’.”

A number of problems have been identified as afflicting the Nigerian press. These difficulties could not be divorced from those of the country at any one point in time. The press and pressmen are often accused of ethnicity and partisanship in their duties contrary to their professional ethics. Furthermore, it is common to hear complaints like irresponsibility, carelessness, impatience, sensationalism and corruption contrary to the developmental goals of the media in a setting like Nigeria. Such arguments usually accuse the press of pretending to be oblivious to the features of underdevelopment in the country. As Seng and Hunt observed, “reporting was robust and sometimes resembled the morbid sensationalism so prevalent in the Journalism which flourished in the USA in the 19th and early 20th centuries

Other problems of the industry include poor economic base of most publications, management instability, poor remuneration for journalists, frequent external and government interference in many of them and general prevalence of unethical practices on the part of many practitioners.

In general term, the press is relatively free compared to their contemporaries in other African countries. A number of scholars have discussed the tradition of press freedom in the country before the Babangida regime that we may not have to repeat same here

Press and Government on the Eve of August 27, 1985

The relationship between the military government of General Buhari and the Nigerian press, especially private newspapers, could be described as anything but cordial. By August 27, 1985, when General Babangida took over power from General Buhari, the confrontation between government and the press had reached its peak with numerous arrests and detention of journalists, newsprint import restriction and ban on public officials talking to the press, among others “‘. In fact, General Buhari’s relationship with the press was defined in his maiden press conference as Head of State when he declared that, “I will surely tamper with press freedom.”

The Buhari regime had a specific role anticipated for the press in the Nigeria of 1984 to 1985. The press was considered a facilitator in the regime’s efforts to reconstruct the economy and re-orientate Nigeria’s political fight against corruption and indiscipline. To this end, the Chief of General Staff enjoined the press to “give positive guidance to the nation.” The Head of State also warned that “we will not allow irresponsible views capable of creating trouble or instability in whatever form to be published by these private newspapers

Among the institutional measures imposed by the government to check the excesses of the press include the Decree No. 1, Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree of 1984 and Decree No. 2, State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree of 1984. The Decree No. 2 specifically empowered the (Chief of Staff to detain anyone including journalists and political commentators, for acts construed to be prejudicial to state security.

Perhaps, the most controversial and most hated decree promulgated by the regime on the operations of the press is the decree No. 4, Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation) Decree of 1984. Ogbondah described the decree as the “Sword of Damocles that hung directly over the head of journalists during the eighteen months of Buhari regime Several journalists were harassed or arrested under this decree. The peak was the trial and conviction of two journalists Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson from The Guardian newspapers. In fact, one magazine reported that “almost every month in their first year, one newspaper editor or another was detained for the slightest excuse” during the Buhari period.

Other deliberate measures taken by the regime to deal with the press by the Buhari government related to banning public officers from talking to journalists and rationing the importation of newsprint and other production materials (through import licence allocation) by newspapers.

It was in this atmosphere that the Buhari regime was overthrown. The ousted government, was among others, accused of total disregard for public opinion and heavy clamp-down on popular groups like labour unions and political commentators. In the words of Newswatch magazine, the Buhari government “treated the press with disdain and public opinion as heresy, throttling public discourse under his boots and treating the other point of view as an ingredient of subversion.

Early Press Treatment of the Babangida Regime

When General Babangida took over power on August 27, 1985, he was confronted with three major problems, namely, how to endear himself to the public; how to win over the politicians who were calling for a return to civil rule a year into the Buhari regime; and how to halt the economic decline. To achieve these objectives, the Head of State realised early enough the importance of the mass media as “the barometer and articulator of public opinion, the link between government and people as well as an important part of the checks and balances for the orderly conduct of public affairs.

A number of activities and programmes occupied the regime’s attention in its first six months in office. Among those that received considerable amount of coverage were issues pertaining to the political direction of the regime, its economic recovery programme, human rights, press freedom and miscellaneous matters.

To establish the pattern and direction of coverage accorded the regime by the press after the coup, a content analysis was conducted during which a sample of 761 items was recorded in four purposely selected national newspapers over a period of the first six months of the regime in office. The analysis covered the activities of the government and its agents at inception, reactions of the citizens to its arrival and subsequent performance, and opinions of individual newspapers and magazines on the regime. The analysis also covered the front through the back pages of the selected newspapers. (see Tables 1 and 2 in Appendix J).

Pattern of Coverage

From the two tables above, it is clear that the regime enjoyed a tremendous amount of coverage which contributed to the initial acceptance of the regime and its cardinal programmes. As news event, the August 27 coup, not only enjoyed a wide and positive coverage, but also got the total support and acceptance of the press. General Babangida, leader of the coup, after leaving office admitted that “the press was more supportive when we abrogated the infamous Decree No.4. This was a clear indication of our desire to provide unfettered freedom for the press.

Perhaps two factors would account for the considerable and positive coverage acknowledged by Babangida. First, apart from the fact that a coup is an important news event of great consequence on the life of a nation, he came as a relief to the tough policies of the previous regime especially the enforcement of Decree No. 1 and the War Against Indiscipline campaigns. The press reflected the mood of the people who were particularly impressed with General Babangida’s maiden speech, which won him great admiration from the people. The speech and subsequent immediate actions like the release of detainees including politicians and journalists accelerated the acceptance of Babangida by the press. For example, one columist wrote that “Babangida has come at a good time, at a time when things are bad. Good leaders, like good pilots, distinguish themselves during periods of turbulence.”

Another factor that favoured the regime’s acceptance in the press at its inception was the abrogation of the controversial Decree No.4 (Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation) as contained in the President’s maiden speech. He also announced the release of all journalists who were convicted or arrested for contravening the provisions of the repealed decree, He assured the nation and the press that “criticisms of actions and decisions taken by us will be given necessary attention and where necessary, changes made in accordance with what is expected Of US.

Perhaps, impressed by Babangida’s actions, a released politician cum journalist, L. K. Jakande wrote in The Guardian that “the abrogation of Decree No.4 at once marks Babangida as a liberal president committed to the sanctity of the liberty of man and inviolability of his fundamental human rights. There has been no covert or overt attempt to restrict the freedom of the press or to make the mass media subservient to the federal military government.”

The National Union of Journalists also welcomed the government and assured it of support. One state chapter of the Union even advised members “to reciprocate the good gesture of the government.

After the initial wide coverage given to the coup in the first two weeks, the press continued to treat the regime positively and abundantly as shown on (Tables 1 and 2 in Appendix J). Several reasons accounted for that development.

From the onset the President remarked in an interview that he sought to establish close personal relationship with influential media managers. Thus, the President through his personal initiative developed a linkage between his office and several media men who were regularly in touch with the seat of power. That had afforded such media men the opportunity to have had firsthand knowledge of government thinking with the attendant advantage of running scoops in their newspapers and magazines.

The President also wooed the press by appointing some of the senior hands in the industry into key government positions. For example, Mr. Duro Onabule, editor of the National Concord was appointed as Babangida’s Press Secretary with the possible hope that he should get his colleagues to understand and sympathise with the ideals of the government. In addition to this, the President also donated a centre fully equipped with communication facilities at the Presidency in Lagos to assist journalists covering the activities of government. The centre was named after Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a frontline journalist and politician at the instance of the NUJ.

Thus, the cordial relationship between the regime and the press in the first one year could be ascribed partly to the deliberate efforts made by government to establish a positive image in its formative period for purposes of consolidation. In fact, one critic at the time wrote in the New Nigerian that “President Babangida has had a field day with the press. Every move of the new regime – sensible, nonsensical, or even dangerous and stupid has been hailed

Later Press Coverage of the Babangida Regime (1986-1992) (See Table 3 in Appendix J)

The period 1986 – 1992 can be considered as time for consolidation and maturation of the various programmes of the government. Arguably, the period reveals more accurately, the nature of the relationship between the Nigerian press and the Babangida regime.

The table above indicates the direction of the coverage of the Babangida regime during the period under review. There is a shift towards more negative coverage for the regime if compared to its coverage in the first six months.

The probable reasons for this shift could be explained by the consequences of the various decisions, policies, and programmes of the regime, which were not quite favourable to many Nigerians. The period also recorded social upheavals deteriorating economic situation, and political problems like the attempted coup. As rightly noted by General Babangida himself, during the period under review government, because of some of its unpopular decisions lost a lot of friends. He said, “when the consequences of our actions began to unfold, like the SAP the agitation started … students riots, SAP riots… society may not have the capacity to withhold… suddenly there emerged a group of discontented people. The discontentment referred to by General Babangida was clearly and forcefully reflected in the Nigerian press through its coverage of the regime and its programmes.

Coverage of the Regime’s Political Programme (1986 – 1992)

As could be seen on Table 3, programmes of the regime received tremendous coverage in the press. What we intend to do here is to pick the coverage of the political programme, that being the one that commanded the highest attention for obvious reasons of interest by the press and the reading public.

Over the period of analysis, the major political sub-themes that preoccupied the press in terms of coverage, either momentarily or continuously, could be summarised as: debate on the most viable political option for the country; undesirability and consequences of military rule; social mobilisation; ban on certain politicians and office holders from participating in politics; lifting of the ban on politics; local government elections; constitution review and fashioning out a new constitution; national census; formation of two political parties; military disengagement; appointment of civilian deputy governors and heads of parastatals; state creation, elections and general assessment of the regime’s performance.

Indeed, as presented on the Table, the press had participated actively in the transition programme of the regime. President Babangida, in a speech, said “the elite, the media and the academia all have important roles to play in the process of moulding our thoughts and opinions that will sustain the spirit and drive towards a new democratic order

A military governor in Katsina state also added his voice when he told media executives in August 1989 that: “There is therefore the need for tactful approach, balanced news presentation, objective news commentaries and fairness to all parties by your various media organisations. At all times you must be on the side of truth for the benefit of the greater number of the people. You must continue to give due attention to the activities by government and other well-meaning section of the society in your daily coverage of events, during this period and after

Without doubt the media welcomed the transition programme – initially expressing firm belief in it; dutifully pointing out loopholes and providing alternative recommendations. The press demonstrated its support for democracy by heavily and consistently criticising the military without fear or the negative reactions of the military government. For example, one national newspaper wrote that:

The military in politics poses terrible problems for the military institution itself, as much as for the rest of the society.            Here an intimidated society watches spellbound, bold pursuits of naked ambitions, endless ego trips, weal co-ordination, little continuity… A step forward and two steps backwards and society suffers much in the long run… The issue here then is that future civilian governments must master the art of controlling military institutions… it is also common to read in the newspapers, opinions such as this: “so long as the civil populace remains daft, so long will the military remain our unwelcome guest at the seat of power in Nigeria. We surely do not need military messiah in Nigerian politics again. The erstwhile messiahs have only come to liberate themselves from the general poverty plaguing us.

Perhaps, there could be no better way of summarising the negative coverage on the, ills of the military in Nigerian politics than quoting the following news reports in one of the national newspapers. These ills, according to the paper include: the abrogation of constitutional legitimacy in the minds of the society, fostering of coup sentiments among its members as a means of succession to power, the introduction of warfare in politics and the breeding of arrogance in government as well as retardation in political development. The report further advised that, “Nigerians should reject the idea of holding themselves hostage to a group of military men…”” One government national newspaper even suggested in a front page editorial that the constitution should make “coups treasonable henceforth… (if) military officers can be held back for their conduct even long after they retire, we will begin to deter potential coup makers .

An important issue that attracted diverse comments in the press is the government’s creation and sustenance of the two political parties (SDP and NRC). For example, while one of the papers was advising government to “strike a balance between development of society and funding of the two parties,” another simply told government to “hands off the parties and allow them to become fully independent and self-regulating.”

Another policy that attracted intense comments in the press is the open ballot system for conducting elections. In fact, the papers varied in their opinions. For example, the Nigerian Tribune wrote that “the major problem confronting democracy is that it has always been dogged by fraudulent intentions on the part of those charged with free, fair and just election who tinker with election results to favour particular candidates… experience during the last May Congress elections… is a testimony that open ballot is not a perfect system, after all.’-

On government’s occasional shift of its intended handing over date to civilians. The papers, as usual commented variously. In the words of one of them, “yet all the postponements and the interference will be forgiven if the administration can bequeath to Nigerians a truly third republic

The preceding brief account of the nature of reporting issues pertaining to Babangida’s political programme is a reflection of the general pattern in other areas like the economy, particularly the Structural Adjustment Programme. For purposes of space and time, we shall be unable to discuss the nature of the coverage on all the regime’s major programmes in details.

Press and the Babangida Regime in its Last six Months in office (March – August 1993).

The general relation between the Nigerian press and the Babangida regime changed considerably from the “honeymoon” it began with in 198 to that of distrust and hatred, especially with a section of the independent press in the Lagos/lbadan axis. During the period under review, the military had gradually disengaged from the structures of power except for the presidency and the membership of the National Defence and Security Council. Civilian governors were elected and installed in the states in 1992. State and National Assemblies had been inaugurated and political party activities were in full-swing with preparation for the presidential elections on June 12, 1993.

To fully understand the coverage and reporting of the Babangida government during the period, it is important to note that the press had categorised themselves into pro-government as exemplified by government owned papers and few private ones in the North; anti-government as represented by some independent publications mostly based in Lagos and Ibadan; and the third category comprised of private publications that opted to remain neutral, especially before the annulment of the June 12 presidential elections. Many publications in the third group were to change their positions after the annulment of the elections to that of opposition to the regime.

Towards the last six months of the regime in office, the opposition press intensified their criticisms of the government. They accused the government of mis-management in the economic and social sectors, and lack of sincerity in the political transition programme. Their actions were emboldened by the political tension, economic hardships and social problems engulfing the nation. For example, in one of its editions entitled, “A Nation in Crisis,” Tell magazine wrote that:

The mood of the nation now is one of anomie. A deep malaise pervades the entire land – a function of the crises the nation is facing. The economy has yielded a command democracy that holds only the promise of a progressive slide back to our failed past; ethnic and regional antagonism have never been so threatening to condemn us to repeat the bloody aspect of our recent history, various public institutions and social services are on the verge of collapse; and the stench of our moral decay is becoming unbearably suffocating … The nation is tottering on a precipice.”

Such attacks continued unabated. In fact, it went to such an extent that newspapers and magazines openly talked about secession and disintegration of the country. In the words of the chairman of the Nigerian Press Council, “the war of attrition and skirmishes between the press and the government continued unabated…

The government responded to the offensive by intensifying its coverage in friendly newspapers, magazines and electronic media. At several times, top officials of the regime have expressed displeasure over the “growing trend of terrorist journalism in the country.” At a meeting with media executives in Abuja, the Secretary to the Federal Government accused the press of “blackmail” and warned that government would not fold its arms while the act continued.

Government resorted to extra-judicial means of arrest, closure of media houses, seizure of copies and proscription of titles. In summary, it was a running battle between some sections of the press and government.

Meanwhile, the country prepared for the presidential election on June 12, 1993. The election was expected to lead to the exit of the Babangida regime from office on August 27, 1993. The Guardian captured the mood of the country in its editorial of June 5, 1993. It said “Nigerians are looking forward to two crucial dates. These are June 12, 1993 and 27th August, 1993. Many are convinced that what becomes of the country will largely be decided on these two days… Through our votes on June 12, 1993 we can still help in salvaging Nigeria…… The presidential elections took place on June 12, 1993 but the results were subsequently annulled for what the president described as accumulated breaches of the rules and regulations of democratic elections by the various actors in the electoral process. The annulment attracted varying interpretation among the Nigerian people and media.

On the media scene, the annulment further polarised the media with sharp dividing lines of supporters and the opposition. While the supporting media agreed and defended the government on its annulment decision, the opposition papers extolled the virtues of June 12 1993 presidential elections. War of words ensued between the pro-government press (mainly The New Nigerian, Daily Times, NTA, FRCN and media houses in NRC party controlled states and private newspapers in Kaduna) and the anti-government publications (like The National Concord, Punch, Independent magazines and media houses in SDP controlled states) based mostly in South-West Nigeria.

The war of words took different colourations: religious, regional, ethnic and political, depending on the perspective of each media house. In the words of one media veteran, “the capacity of the media to insult, fabricate news reports, willingness to promote ethnic and religious hatred; champion anarchy and divisiveness have been very much in evidence” during the period.”

Similarly, the Chairman of the Nigerian Press Council on June 27, 1993 criticised the press, noting that regrettably readers get heavy dosage of view papers and less newspapers, the targets are rarely issues, the arrows are persistently aimed at persons who for one reason or the other cannot engage in a war of attrition with the media.”‘

Condemnation of the annulment came in different forms. The National Concord, a paper owned by Chief Abiola, the presumed winner of the annulled elections described the action as a “crude and unwarranted subversion of the Nigerian will.” It said the annulment was “the most repulsive insult on the intelligence of the average Nigerian.” Subsequently, the paper continued on each day to carry a quote from the opponents of the Babangida regime on its front page.

Another opposition paper, The Punch on June 29, 1993 wrote a commentary titled “IBB’s Place in History.” In the piece, the paper said the president’s proposal for a fresh poll “consists of so many inconsistencies, illogicalities and illegalities which have become a disconcerting hallmark of the Babangida administration.

Perhaps, irked by the continuous criticisms, from a section of the media, the government finally announced the closure of six media houses on June 22, 1993 for what the Information Secretary, Uche Chukwumerije called “excesses” of these media which continued “in spite of repeated warnings.” Media houses shut were The Concord Group, The Punch, Abuja Newsday, Sketch Press Ltd., the Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation (which was reopened two days later) and the Observer Group Newspapers. It was the first time in Nigeria that the government in one swoop closed down six media organisations including government owned.

Expectedly, the government owned New Nigerian supported the closure of the media houses saying that “we expected the closure much earlier, in view of several provocative and inciting publications from the affected media.” It added, “these media waged a persistent war of attrition against the corporate existence of the Nigerian nation, thereby helping to create a groundswell of anarchy, acrimony and reprisals. Any responsible and responsive government would justifiably be irked by such irresponsible tirades.

From the above account, one can understand that relations between the press, especially a section of it and the military government of General Babangida had deteriorated, particularly in the last six months of the regime. A relationship that started on a friendly-note in August, 1985 with the abrogation of anti-press Decree 4 and release of detained journalists ended sourly with media houses closures, arrests and detention of journalists, and general distrust between the two institutions. It is our belief that the “skirmishes” were the result of the stand of some of the papers against military rule (especially towards the last two years of the Babangida regime) and their efforts to get the Babangida government out of power. But, no one would have expected the regime to remain silent in the midst of such harsh criticisms, thus the sour relationship which saw the regime enacting tough laws to “deal” with the press.

Press Control Measures under the Babangida Regime

The Babangida government from the onset promised to uphold human rights, respect free speech and guarantee press freedom.’ Except for occasional isolated cases, the regime had tried to respect the freedom of the press in its earlier years. On several occasions, government officials had reiterated the regime’s commitment to free speech and press freedom. For example, in January 1991, the Vice President, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu reaffirmed the government’s pledge to continue to maintain its policy of “non-interference” in the editorial policies of government owned and private newspapers and broadcast houses in the country

Also, the Minister of Information and Culture, Chief Alex Akinyele assured the press of its freedom, but lamented that “absolute falsehood, pure sensationalism, criminal distortion of facts and such acts and practices which constitute a diversion from the noble tenets of journalism have become the common feature of some of today’s newspapers.” Consequently, the Minister regretted that rather than “educate, inform and entertain their readers, some newspapers and magazines deliberately mislead and misinform their readers.

Thus, in an effort to regulate the practice and preserve the independence of the press, the government with adequate representation from the media industry, established the Nigerian Press Council in 1992. The Press Council was established for the purpose of maintaining the character of the press in accordance with the highest professional and commercial standards; to consider complaints about the conduct of the press and the conduct of any person or organisation towards the press and deal with the complaints”

However, the setting up of the Press Council did not stop the government from taking punitive measures in the name of national security against journalists and media houses considered offensive. In fact, government’s extra judicial punitive measures against the press increased after the council began operations.

With the deterioration in the fortunes of the country and the increasing disenchantment against the Babangida regime in late 1992 and the first eight months of 1993, the press, especially the independent papers mounted severe criticisms against the regime. The government responded to what the Information Secretary, Uche Chukwumerije termed “blackmail and terrorist journalism” by arresting and detaining of journalists and publishers, confiscation of publications, proscription of media houses, general harassment and intimidation of the press and pressmen”

The major legal instruments that the government utilised to curtail the freedom of the press and dissemination of ideas in the mass media include the following: Newswatch Decree of 1987 Offensive Publication (Proscription) Decree 5 of 1993 Newspapers (Registration) Decree 43 of 1993 Newspapers etc (Proscription and Prohibition from circulation) Decree 48 of 1993. Reporter Newspaper (Proscription from circulation) Decree 23 of 1993 Treason and Treasonable Offences Decree 29 of 1993.

The first victim of the government’s clamp down was the Newswatch magazine which was proscribed for publishing information which had not been “lawfully released.” s’ The ban of the magazine came shortly after its founding editor-in-chief, Dele Giwa was murdered through a parcel bomb on October 19, 1986. The incident jolted the Nigerian press and sent fears across the industry on the new style of elimination of courageous journalists. Giwa’s death raised speculations and allegations of likely knowledge or possible complicity of some security chiefs in the act. The accused officials went to court to clear their names against the allegations. They were cleared and awarded damages. Fourteen years now, there is no conclusive evidence as to who murdered Dele Giwa.

The regime took a step to register all existing and future publications by promulgating the Newspaper (Registration) Decree of 1993. This law repealed the then Newspaper Act and stipulated that existing and future newspapers and magazines must be licensed by the federal government through a Registration Board appointed by the Head of State. It required that a newspaper publisher pay a registration fee of N250, 000 and a non-refundable deposit of N100, 000. The law also provided for an annual renewal of the license, which would be subject to fulfilling the criteria of performance in the out-going year as defined by the Board of Registration. Failure to renew registration for a period of up to six weeks means automatic cessation of publication as provided by section two of the decree. Stiff penalties of N250, 000 fine or jail term of seven years was prescribed for publishing an unregistered newspaper. Similarly, registered newspaper will face an equal fine or jail term of ten years for publishing any false report or rumour.

Another law that sought to control the “excesses” of the press was the Offensive Publications (Proscription) Decree 35 of 1993. This Decree was promulgated in June but backdated to January 1993. It empowered the President to seize or proscribe any publication considered offensive or injurious to state security and public order. The first victim of this law was the Tell magazine when thousands of copies were seized followed by a blanket ban on the magazine under the Tell Magazine (Proscription from Circulation) order. The News magazine also suffered several seizures of its editions under this decree.”

Perhaps, the most severe of all the laws was the Newspapers (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree 48 of 1993. Released on August 16, 1993, this law legitimised the proscription of some media houses following the annulment of the June 12 presidential elections. The decree was meant to check the “excesses” of the affected publications and also, possibly to protect the succeeding Interim National Government from hostile press attacks. The media houses closed include Abiola’s Concord Press Ltd., Punch (Nig) Ltd., Sketch Press Ltd. and Edo Newspapers (publishers of Observer)

Another decree considered inimical to press freedom was the Treason and Treasonable Offences Decree No. 29 of 1993. Promulgated on May 5, 1993 the decree attracted immediate and vehement condemnation thus leading to its suspension in less than two weeks after enactment”

The regime also adopted extra-judicial measures to deal with publications considered offensive. Such measures include numerous arrests and detentions of reporters and editors. Indeed, it has been documented that during the eight-year period of the regime, security agencies detained or invited journalists for questioning on 400 occasions, most frequently without explanation.” Such arrests were witnessed mostly during crises periods especially after incidents like the attempted coup that failed in 1990, the various SAP riots and the annulled June 12, 1993 elections.

The government also resorted to occasional seizure of publications. Two magazines, in particular had running battles with agents of the regime. From their inception in 1992 and 1993, Tell and The News magazines suffered massive seizures of many of their editions. Thus, between May and August, 1993, about 200,000 copies of various editions of Tell magazine were said to have been confiscated by security officials. By August 15, four editors of the publication were facing criminal charges before a court in Abuja where they were kept in prison. They were later released by the Interim National Government.”

In the case of The News magazine, it was eventually proscribed under a military Decree. But that did not suppress the zeal in its editors. They went underground and floated Tempo magazine, which also suffered the confiscation of 50,000 copies of its first edition”

There were also allegations of interference in the editorial contents of government owned newspapers by officials. For example, on June 21, 1993, the editor of the federal government owned New Nigerian, Yakubu Abdul Azeez, resigned protesting that the Information Secretary was interfering in the editorial contents of the paper. His resignation followed the publication of an editorial in the paper titled “Our Nation, Our Destiny” on June 16. The editorial which condemned the June 12 elections was said to have been faxed from Abuja for the editor to publish as New Nigerian’s editorial”

In fact, the fortunes of the New Nigerian and Daily Times, two government owned papers suffered considerably through frequent changes in management and other acts that resulted in the deterioration of their editorial contents with devastating consequences.’

One point, however, must be mentioned. Despite the harsh economic climate occasioned by the Structural Adjustment Programme, during the Babangida period, the media industry recorded a tremendous expansion. Dozens of publications sprouted, giving room to more voices in the land.

Similarly, one can also state that in spite of the running battles between the regime and the press, particularly at some critical moments, no single journalist was prosecuted in a court of law for any offence relating to his/her duties. Perhaps, that was one act the regime refrained from, considering the kind of reaction such an action may generate from the industry and the general public.

The Regime’s Use of the Press for Propaganda Purposes

No discussion on the press and the Babangida regime will be complete without stating, even as a passing remark, the effective use made by the regime in its propaganda campaigns. From the outset, the regime had realised the importance of propaganda in governance. Hence, no effort was spared to utilize every known propaganda technique to “reach out” or “sell” its ideas, policies and decisions to the people. Herein comes the press, which in this context, was expected to play the role of a conveyor belt.

Simply put, propaganda involves the deliberate manipulation of communication content for the creation of a desired impression on an audience at any particular time with the aim of obtaining legitimacy or acceptance for the action of the initiator of the communication. Propaganda tries to present “deliberately one sided statement to a mass audience.”” It is also the manipulation of communication to achieve social control which is seen as “essential to the development of unanimity in modern states.”” And unanimity is a requirement for any government particularly a military one whose mandate was based on force.

Thus, in its efforts to capture the hearts and minds of Nigerians the regime consciously employed other tactics to ensure extra favourable coverage in addition to the normal press coverage.

From the onset, the government courted the friendship and loyalty of media executives to ensure favourable media coverage, especially the private newspapers in the South-West of the country. As the then Security Adviser to the President admitted, “Segun Osoba (MD, Tribune) was very good in bringing some other journalists to discuss and to find out the thinking of the government on some issues.” “That brought the media close to the Presidency with all the attendant advantages and disadvantages.

The Information and Culture Minister, Prince Tony Momoh, also introduced a new angle to the propaganda tactics in 1988 by writing series of letters tamed “Letters to my Countrymen”, published in pamphlets and reproduced in newspapers. Written in simple English, the letters (about nine of them) sought to justify government action on key national issues. Millions of copies were also distributed in and out of the country. However, not everyone was impressed with the letters of the Minister. The New Nigerian for example, observed that “the letters so far fly in the face of the facts on the ground.

The use of jingles in the media, most especially electronic media assumed a higher importance during the Babangida days. Newspapers also carried the jingles produced by the government owned National Orientation Movement (NOM). The jingles (many of them) contained messages that were geared towards reinforcing the “letters” by the Minister. Such jingles were directed to groups seen as “extremists”, potential coup plotters, radicals and perceived saboteurs. They preached noble ideas as building a just society, unity, patriotism and the like.’

The period also witnessed a rise in the frequency and number of spaces bought in the newspapers to congratulate government officials and the President on one achievement or the other. The birthday of General Babangida became a national affair on the pages of newspapers. ” Some people called it praise singing to gain favour from the President.

Also worthy of being acknowledged during the period was the emergence of numerous faceless groups which concerned themselves with blowing the trumpet of the military government and castigating critics. Such groups used names as “Concerned Citizens”, “New Breed Nigerians”, “Committee of Patriots” and “The Third Eye” among others.

These faceless organisations bought spaces in different newspapers to praise the government and condemn perceived enemies. Below is an example of a quote from a write up by one of such faceless bodies, “The Third Eye”, praising the President:

…the people’s President, our own President, the man of destiny the General’s General, the man of hope, the man of deliverance, a man of vision… Your, patriotic zeal and your matchless socio-political and economic reforms have continued to yield positive results and propel our nation towards the attainment of a vibrant and robust economy of our dreams…

Observers at the time were asking’ questions as to the source of funds for buying spaces in newspapers for such praise singing. Some suggested that the money might have come from the government itself.

In early 1991, the content of the paid adverts in the papers took a different dimension with the appearance of a two-page advertisement in some newspapers by one Dr. Keith Atkins, expressing apprehension on post 1992 when the President promised to hand over power before shifting the date. Dr. Atkins claimed that he was representing a faceless Association for Better Nigeria with 100 million members.

A similar advertorial appeared in the government owned New Nigerian calling on the President not to relinquish power because “your handing over is just like putting us in fire and I am sure you are not going to put Nigeria in flame. Keep it up until a referendum of `yes’ or `no’ is done in the Year 2000.” “A similar advert appeared in the Economist of London on September 16, 1989, calling on the President to transform into a civilian and contest elections.

By the time the regime left office in August, 1993, the amount of propaganda messages coming from it was enormous, with measurable level of success. The success could be discerned from the support the regime enjoyed over the years in spite of visible difficulties confronting the people. Indeed, one critic had noted that a “regime that has to be shored up by ghost editorials and sponsored write-ups must be seething with decay. It is indeed, a tacit of unconscious admission of the sour and sad times…

Finally, it could be asserted that the Babangida administration, more than any before it, civilian or military, had used the press for propaganda purposes most extensively in its efforts to obtain favourable public opinion for social control.

Towards Understanding the Relationship Between the Press and the Babangida regime

Here, we shall try to advance the major reason that could explain the nature of the relationship between the Nigerian press and the Babangida regime during the period under review. This, we hope will reveal the background to the skirmishes between the two institutions.

Arguably, the military government’s understanding of the role and purposes of the press differed from that which the Nigerian press has assigned itself. All Nigerian governments including Babangida’s (despite the formers’ avowed respect for human rights) considered the role of the press as that of providing support to the development process, in line with the developmental role of the media. In this task, the media is expected to support government programmes by educating, informing, entertaining and mobilising the people. In this process, the government usually, argues that it would not fold its arms to allow press


  1. Boulding Kenneth (1969). National Images and International System.” In Rosenau, J. (ed) International Politics and Foreign Policy. New York: Free Press p.422
  2. All Nigerian Constitutions from independence to date have recognised the role of the press in the country.
  3. William, A. quoted in Fufe, C. (ed.) African Studies Since 1945: A Tribute to Basil Davidson New York: Holmes and Meter Pub. pp. 116 -7.
  4. Akinfeleye, Ralph (1984) “Press Freedom and Censorship in Nigeria.” In Africa Communication Review. Vol. 1 & II, p.32.
  5. Duyile, Dayo (1979). Media and Mass Communication in Nigeria. Ibadan: University Press. p. 109
  6. Schward, F. A. 0. (1965). `Nigeria: The Tribes, the Nation or the Race?’ The Politics of Independence. Cambridge Mass: MIT Press. p. 271.
  7. Musa, M. D. (1994). “Media Hegemony and Political Instability in Nigeria.” A Paper delivered at the Workshop on “State of the Nation” held at the Arewa House, ABU, Kaduna, 2nd – 3rd February, pp.6-7.
  8. Seng, M. P. & Hune, G. T. (1985). “The Press and Politics in Nigeria: A Case Study of Developmental Journalism.” In Boston College Third World Journal, Vol. 6, p.85.
  9. Few among these publications are:

Ogbondah, Christ (1994) `Military Regimes and the Press in Nigeria, 1966 – 1993′: Human Rights and National Development. Lanham: University Press of America

Elias, T.O. (1969). Nigerian Press Laws. London: Evans Brothers Ltd.

  1. Ekwelie, Sylvanus (1979). “The Nigerian Press Under Military Rule Seng, N. P. et al op cit pp. 85 – 110.
  2. National Concord. Feb. 16, 1984. p.1.
  3. Daily 7″imes. Jan 21, 1984 p. l
  4. New Nigerian. 13, 1985. p.7.
  5. Ogbondah, C. W. (1994). Op cit. P. 101
  6. Newswatch magazine. 9, 1985. p.34.
  7. Ibid
  8. Babangida I. (1985). Collected Speeches of the President. Lagos: Fed. Ministry of Information. p. 257.
  9. Interview with President Babangida, former Nigerian Head of State, 1985 – 1993 on October 10, 1995.
  10. “Maiden Address to the Nation” by President Babangida on August 27, 1985.
  11. Ray Ekpu in Newswatch magazine, October, 1995. p. 4.
  12. “Maiden Address to the Nation.”
  13. The Guardian. November 1, 1985.
  14. Sunday New Nigerian of December 8, 1985 reported the news release on the subject issued by the Kano State Chapter of the NUJ
  15. New Nigerian. Kaduna, December 8, 1985. p-3­
  16. Interview with President Babangida.
  17. Speech by President Babangida to the Nation on August 27, 1990. The speech was reproduced in most of the national newspapers between Aug. 27-29, 1990.
  18. An address on the “Role of the Media in the Transition ” by Col. Oncja published in the New Nigerian, August 10, 1989. p.7
  19. National Concord. May 24, p. 2.
  20. The Guardian. 15, 1990. p. l.
  21. The Guardian. July 27, p. l.
  22. An editorial in the New Nigerian of May 9, 1988. p.1.
  23. Nigerian Tribune August 3, 1990.
  24. National Concord. 7, 1990.
  25. Nigerian Tribune. 9, 1990
  26. Nigerian Economist. May 28, 1990 p.3.
  27. Tell Jan 25, 1993.
  28. New Nigerian On Sunday, June 27, 1993 reported a speech by Alh. Odunewu, Chairman of the Nigerian Press Council.
  29. The Guardian. June 5, p.8.
  30. Ibid
  31. The Democrat June 18, 1993
  32. New Nigerian On July 26, 1993.
  33. Sunday Concord. June 27, 1993. 2.4
  34. The Punch June 29, 1993. P.1.
  35. The New Nigerian On Sunday. June 26, 1993. p.1.
  36. See the speech by President Babangida to the members of the Nigerian Union of Journalists on January 20, 1986.
  37. New Nigerian. January 9, 1991. P.1 48. Ibid
  38. Media Review. Lagos Vol. 3, 8 Sept. 1993. p.6.
  39. Africa Watch Vol. 5, No. 9 June pp 5-6.
  40. Newswatch (proscription and prohibition of circulation) Decree,
  41. Federal Government Gazette. No. 18, vol. 80.
  42. Government Printer. Lagos. August 2, 1993..
  43. Africa Watch. Op cit p22.
  44. This figure was released by the Human Rights Monitor of the Nigerian Now Group based in Britain and quoted in the Media Review. Vol. 3, No. 8, Sept. 1993. p.15.
  45. Olugboyi, B. et al (1994) The Press and Dictatorship in Nigeria. Lagos: CRH. p.12.
  46. NUJ (1990). Violation of Press Freedom in Nigeria: 1993 Report. Abuja: NUJ. p.13
  47. The Guardian. June 28, 1993. p.22
  48. Citizen magazine. Jan 14, 1991. p.23
  49. Ellul, Jacques (1973) Propaganda. New York: Vintage Books. p 41.
  50. Albig, Williams (1939). Public Opinion. New York: McGraw Hills. p.47.
  51. The News magazine. Lagos, May 24, 1993. p.4
  52. New Nigerian. Nov. 21-1990
  53. Such rights were many. They were beautifully produced and transmitted on radio and television and occasionally published in newspapers.
  54. See editions of newspapers published on August 17 during the period 1986-1992.
  55. Sunday Tribune. November 24, 1991.
  56. The News. May 24, 1993. P 4.
  57. Sunday Tribune and the Guardian On Sunday January 22, 1991.
  58. New Nigerian. Nov. 21, 1990.

The Guardian December 21, 1992. p.27.