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By Emmanuel Onwubiko

Nigeria is only two weeks and a fraction of some days away to the most important General elections in the twenty first century.  The political gladiators are touring the Country canvassing for votes so as to earn the mandatory legitimacy of the electorate to govern the Political space known legally as the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Even whilst  political contestations have assumed frenetic dimension, the Country  is yet to actualize a holistic  degrading, decimation and ultimate  crushing of the nation’s most virulent  security nightmares constituted  by Boko Haram terrorists and other elements backed  logistically by the globally rated most feared terror group- Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Whereas the armed security forces spearheaded by the Nigerian Army under the most competent and professionally excellent Chief of Army staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, are busy battling the scourge of these deadly terror campaigns, patriotic Nigerians are also constructively  engaged in working out ways and means of assisting the armed combatants to actualize  a comprehensive goal of bringing the war against terror to a successful end and bring the perpetrators of these range of war crimes against humanity to effective and efficient prosecution in compliance  with the extant Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is in the light of this national necessity that the human rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) hosted some journalists to an interactive session in Lagos on responsible security reporting and the platform fortuitously got some of the finest brains in the media and legal sectors to interface with security reporters based in Lagos just as these scholars comprising the Executive Editorial Head of The Guardian Newspapers Mr. Martins Oloja; a Constitutional lawyer of over three decades based in Lagos Mr. Chris EneChukwu Onwubiko and many others at a session that witnessed high level participation from the Nigerian Army represented by a Senior Colonel Anka who stood in for Brigadier General Sani Kukesheka Usman the Director of Public Relations and Media of the Nigerian Army at the Nigerian Army headquarters. Participants including the membership director of Human rights Writers Association of Nigeria in the South West of Nigeria Comrade Femi Ajala went home satisfied with the qualitative discussions that took place including the well written presentation by the Nigerian Army’s Spokesman. Representatives from frontline Broadcasting, Print and Online media participated.   

The veteran Legal practitioner Chris Onwubiko who spoke on Media laws vis a vis National Security stated that Nigeria like all other modern nations is a country governed by the Rule of Law. In order to avoid chaos, uncertainty and even anarchy, every nation must have a set of Laws governing various aspects of its national and private life. Thus, you have different sets of Laws governing say, Banking, Oil and Gas, Elections into public offices, and the Mass Media, the subject matter of this paper, etc.

There is no country in the world without Media laws. Every country has some form of regulation or the other, guiding media practitioners, be the members of the print media (Newspapers, Magazines, Periodicals), or the electronic media (Radio, Television, Cinema). The new media, more generally known as the Social Media, is still somewhat problematic in this wise.

Before we go into the details of Media Laws in Nigeria vis a vis National Security, let us examine some definitions of the basic concepts of the paper, namely, Law generally, Media Laws and National Security. Then we would try to tie it all up, into “Responsible Journalism”, the theme of this get together.


Concept of Law.

Let us begin by briefly looking at the Law as a concept, before we zero in on Media Law proper, as that would definitely assist in bringing our subsequent discourse of the subject into proper perspective. Law can be defined as a set of Legislations, Rules and Regulations guiding the conduct of the Affairs of the men and women in any given Society. Absence of Laws in any Society, is a clear prescription for anarchy and will fit Thomas Hobbes “State of Nature”, where life is “… solitary, nasty, brutish and short…”. Whether written or unwritten, consciously or unconsciously, observed or violated, Law exists in every Society, albeit in varying degrees.

According to Oyakhilome (2009) “Law controls  regulates, enforces and punishes…”. In summary therefore, Law protects individuals and the State, preserves life and property, promotes the administration of Justice and Social welfare.


This branch of the Law, does not refer to a uniform piece of legislation or regulation, but is rather a collection of a variety of Laws and Ethical Standards that influence the work of the Media . Also different types of Media are subject to different pieces of laws and regulations. Nevertheless, there are universal rules to be respected by all journalists when practicing their profession.

Press or Media Laws are legislations made by the government in power at the Federal, State and Local Government  level, to control and regulate the activities of mass media practitioners. However, given that the freedom of expression, is basically a constitutional provision, the Laws governing the mass media, are only those which seek to protect the Fundamental Human Rights of individuals and ensure the maintenance of peace and tranquility, in the community.

Media Law can then be defined as that area of Law, that relate to legal regulation of the Print and Electronic Media, which include newspapers, radio and television telecommunications industry, Advertising, the entertainment industry, film and publications censorship, internet and online life streaming etc. The principal target of media laws and regulation are the Press, Radio, Television and Cable networks, but may also include recorded music, cable satellite storage and distribution technology (discs, tapes etc), the internet, mobile phones etc.

The basic foundation of the principles of Media Law can be found in the Constitutions of many countries, Specific national legislations and international conventions. Malemi (1999) identified four (4) formal mechanisms of the Mass Media Laws as follows;

  1. Constitutional provisions, in the case of Nigeria, The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 1999.
  2. Statutes, for example, the Official Secrets Act, Laws of sedition, contempt, obscene and harmful publications Act, Defamation, Copyright, Advertising Laws, Media Council Decree etc.
  3. Ethical guidelines and
  4. Informal restraints.


Every profession has its do’s and don’t’s, which guides the activities and operations of such profession, including the Media.

The organization, structure and mode of operations of media practice is partly spelt out in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

Section 39(1) of the aforementioned Constitution provides as follows; “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”.

Section 39(2), provides thus, “Without prejudice to the generality of subsection 1 above, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions. It then went on state in other subsections the conditions for the ownership of the media outfits as aforementioned.

Subsection 3, more or less took away with the left hand what was given in subsection 1 with the right hand. It provides as follows;

“Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society,

(a). For the purposes of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematographic films;

(b). Imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or other government security services or agencies”.

Section 36(2), “Without prejudice to the foregoing provisions of this section (dealing with fair hearing) a Law shall not be invalidated by reason only that it confers on any government or authority, power to determine questions arising in the administration of a law that affects or may affect the civil rights and obligations of any person, if such Law;

(a), provides for an opportunity for a person whose rights and obligations may be affected, to make representations to the administering authority, before the authority takes decision, affecting that person and;

(b) Contains no provisions making the decision of the administering authority final and conclusive.


The first media Law in Nigeria was enacted during the colonial era and came into force in 1903. This was amended by the first Governor General of the then newly amalgamated Nigeria, Lord Lugard in 1917, to curtail what he considered to be the excesses of some local newspapers at the time.

Unfortunately, this rather repressive Press Law, formed the basis of subsequent press laws, enacted long after independence, even till date. Some of the said Press Laws, include the following;

  1. Public officers (Protection against false Accusation) Decree 4, 1984.
  2. News watch (Proscription and Prohibition) of circulation Decree 6 of 1987.
  3. Nigeria Press Council Decree 59 of 1998.
  4. Nigeria Broadcasting Commission Decree 1992.
  5. Newspaper Registration Decree 43 of 1993.
  6. Treason and Treasonable Offenses Decree 39 of 1993.
  7. The News Magazine (Proscription and Prohibition) from circulation Decree 33 of 1993.
  8. Offensive Publications Prohibition Decree 35 of 1993.
  9. The Concord Newspaper and African Concord weekly magazine (Prohibition and proscription) from circulation Decree 6 of 1994.
  10. The Punch Newspaper (Prohibition and Proscription) from circulation Decree 7, 1994.
  11. The Guardian Newspaper (Proscription and Prohibition from circulation) Decree 8, 1994.
  12. State Security Detention of persons (Amendment) Decree, 14 of 1994.
  13. Freedom of Information Act 2011

The foregoing are instances of the Constitutional and Statutory Provisions affecting Mass Media outfits and the Practitioners, in one way or the other.


For reasons of time and space constraints, let us examine very briefly, three rather notorious cases tried under the aforementioned laws namely;

  1. THE CHIKE OBI’s CASE. In 1961, Dr. CHIKE Obi a renowned mathematician of his time and leader of a small party, called the Dynamic Party, published a pamphlet titled, “Thee People: Facts that you must know, which was considered seditious by the powers that be. He was charged to court and was convicted by the trial judge, which sentence was affirmed by the Supreme Court, for according to t, criticizing the government “… in a malignant manner…”. (Okonkwo & Naish).
  1. THE AMAKIRI AFFAIR. Where a journalist in July 1973, had his beard and hair shaved forcefully and given 24 lashes of cane by aides to the governor for simply reporting that the Rivers State teachers had threatened to go on strike! The trial judge awarded him a princely sum of N10, 760.00 damages, in 1974.
  1. THE ARTHUR NWANKWO’s CASE.A book titled “How Jim Nwobodo Ruled Anambra State, by Arthur Nwankwo, a gubernatorial candidate in 1982, was considered seditious and he was charged to court and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment by the trial judge, but was discharged and acquitted by the Court of Appeal, which stated that “… sections 50 and 51 of the Criminal Code were anachronistic, in the light of constitutional changes and National Sovereignty”. (Ekwelie, 1986).


Let us briefly examine the FOI Act 2011, to see whether it in fact, cured some of the serious defects of the previous legislations and shortcomings of the presumed Constitutional guarantees.

Accessibility to information is a sine qua non for the actualization of the Freedom of Expression enshrined in section 39(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. This Right drew its existence from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights of October 21, 1986.

The origin of the FOI Act can be traced to one Ande Adams Chydenius, a Finn, about 250 years ago. Ande Adams’ activism at the time, led to the enactment of the Freedom of Information Law in Sweden, which from 1776, became part of the Swedish Constitution.

The relationship between the media practitioners, particularly members of the print media, with the various Nigerian governments dating back to the colonial era, has been anything but cordial, due to frequent clashes between the two, over the propriety or otherwise of releasing some information or the other, to the public, without the authorization of the government of the day. It was against this background that the aforementioned enactments, all aimed at curtailing the accessibility of Journalists to information, considered too sensitive for public consumption.

The foregoing state of affairs led to serious agitations and clamour, by media practitioners, non-governmental organizations and the civil society  groups, for the promulgation of a Freedom of Information Act, culminating into the signing of the Freedom of Information Bill into law, by the then President Goodluck Jonathan, on May 28, 2011.

Section 1 of the Act, guaranteed the accessibility to the citizenry of information held by government and its agencies. The Act allows anyone denied access to information to approach the law courts for a review, whereof the onus is on the government to show cause why the information, would not be released to the applicant, who this time, does not have to prove ‘locus standi’ to request access to the information.

The Act however made provisions specifying circumstances under which, application could be denied as follows;

Section 11. Any information considered injurious to the conduct of international affairs and defense of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Section 12. Information that adversely affect ongoing enforcement proceedings.

Section 14. Personal information and matters of personal privacy.

Section 15. Trade Secrets.

Section 16. Professional privileges, such as lawyer /client, doctor/patient relationships etc.

Section 17. Research papers.

Section 19. Library records, examination data etc,

Section 20, makes provision for a judicial review in case of a denial.

Section 27, deals with the protection and non-disclosure of whistle blowers.

All in all, though the FOI may not have solved all the problems impeding the media practitioners in the performance of their constitutionally assigned role, it is a significant improvement on the status quo ante.


Having looked at the first arm of the paper, which is the substance of Media Law, let us now turn to the other arm which is National Security.

Let us preface this discourse with a look at a Constitutional provision that is germane to National Security and that is Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 to the effect that “…the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. This demonstrates in practical terms the importance of National Security in the running of the affairs of the country.

On the other hand, the same Constitution, provided in section 22 thus; “The Press, Radio, Television and other agencies of the mass media, shall at all times be free to … uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”. This also clearly demonstrates the primacy of the mass media in the scheme of things in our national affairs, which is probably why, they are referred to as the 4th estate of the realm.

This then takes us to the question, What is National Security? National Security can be said to be the protection of a state and its human and material resources against both internal and external aggression. According to Elias, State Security refers to all the means at the state disposal for securing and protecting the State from danger of subjugation, either by an external power or through internal insurrection.

Another good definition of National Security is “… procuring the safety of a nation against threats, such as terrorism, war or espionage, and ability to protect itself from these threats”. In summary Governments all over the world, rely on a range of measures, including political, economic and military power as well as diplomacy to enforce National Security. Providing National Security is the protection of the State and its citizens through a variety of means including military might, economic power, diplomacy and power projection. This is the standard United States model.

Imobighe identifies three models for defining National Security as follows;

  1. “A formidable military defense to protect the territorial integrity of the State, from both external and internal violations.
  1. Protection, not only from military threats, but also from economic vulnerability, ecological threats and natural disasters.
  1. Freedom from or elimination of the threats, not only to the physical existence of the State, but also to enhance its ability for self-protection and development and the promotion of the general wellbeing of the people.

The first model is the most commonly practiced in Africa where dictators and sit tight presidents hold sway.  A good example of the application of this model is a definition of National Security, given by a onetime Nigeria’s police chief, Mohammad Gambo, thus; “… protection of life and property of the people from various forms of threat, be it internal or external and is concerned with identification of potential and actual threats and mobilization of resources to confront and crush it. 


The truth of the matter is that the leadership class in most developing countries, including Nigeria equate National Security, with their personal security and those of their immediate family members! They therefore consider any probing of their governance records, as a “threat to National Security”, hence the frequent and sometimes fatal confrontations between journalists and security agencies of government.


The Media by virtue of its functions are always prone to being accused of breaches of National Security, by those in authority, particularly in Africa and the third world generally. These peculiar functions according to Harold Lasswell (1948) include the following;

  1. Surveillance of the environment.
  2. Correlation of parts of the society, in responding to the environment.
  3. Transmission of social heritage from one generation to another.

In discharging the above functions, the press inevitably steps on powerful toes. Another aspect of the modern media that seems to set the press against the political class, is the ability to cut across national boundaries in real time online basis, via the ubiquitous internet and its concomitant social media. The recent high wired assassination of the United States based Saudi born journalist, Mr. Kashogi, at his country’s embassy in Turkey, is a case in point.


A paper on Media Law vis a vis National Security cannot be complete, without some discussion of the law of Sedition, no matter how briefly. This is because media law and national security find their most practical expression in the act of treason.

Every society strives to protect the Freedom of Expression as enshrined in its country’s constitution, whilst at the same time making sure that the Right to free speech is not overreached, in such a way as to bring the government of the day, into disrepute, contempt, hatred or opprobrium and / or excite or incite people to rise against the government in power, with a view to removing it from office. Whoever does this is guilty of an offense of Sedition under section 5 of the Criminal Code and is liable upon conviction in the first instance, to a term of two years imprisonment and / or a fine of N200.00.

According to Oshinbajo and Forgam, “The role of the court through the years has been to hold the balance between fair criticism, designed to cause public disorder or disaffection against the government in power”. They went on to say that the Law of Sedition constitutes a lethal weapon in the hands of government officials and agencies, who out of fear of having their weaknesses, corruption or ineptitude uncovered, interpret every criticism, as calculated to bring down the government”.


It is in the enlightened self-interest of media practitioners to contribute, as well as protect National Security.  Although as members of the 4th estate of the realm, the performance of the Nigerian press has been commendable overall, there have been instances of what is euphemistically referred to as yellow journalism, betraying undisguised partisanship, corruption and outright prejudice.

The activities of some journalists, particularly in the so called new or social media, have undermined National Security , in the reckless way and manner, they go about their duties by sometimes openly seeking to bring down a government, whether they are legal or not, elected or unelected.

Therefore the press must be faithful to its code of ethics. Truthful and honest reporting must be the order of the day. Press partisanship must be avoided at all costs. There should be no display of primordial tribal and ethnic considerations, religious fanaticism and corruption via the demand and acceptance of the so called brown envelopes. Fake news and hate speeches should be ‘no go areas’ for any responsible media practitioner.

National Security in the true sense is of utmost importance and editors must carefully scrutinize what they put out in their newspapers and / or newscasts, as the case may be, in order not to jeopardize the peace and tranquility of the nation.


  1. Karibi-White AG, (1969) Seditious Publication in Nigeria Press Law.
  2. T. O. Elias (Ed) Edinburgh,University of Lagos and Evans Brothers Limited.
  3. Oshinbajo Y and Fogam, K (1991), Nigeria Media Law, Lagos, Gravitas Publishers.
  4. Seditious Libel, The Free Legal Dictionary.
  5. Seditious Publications, Sections 50-52, Criminal Code, Cap 77, Laws of the Federation, 1990.
  6. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
  7. Brown S. (2008) Crime and Law in Media Culture; New York.
  8. Oloyode B (2008); Free Press and Society; Dismantling the Culture of Silence.
  9. Oyakhilome G I (2009), Introduction to Law, Kaduna, National Open University.
  10. Black J; Steel B, Barney R (1999). Doing  Ethics in Journalism.
  11. Bowles D & Borden D. (2004), Creative Editing, 4th edition, Belmont, Thomas Wadsworth.
  12. Caster H (1983) The problem of Ethics in the mass media, A paper presented at the Nigeria Press Council workshop, Lagos. (2001).
  13. Okoye I, (2008) Media Law and Ethics, Lagos, NOUN.
  14. Frost C (2007), Journalism, Ethics and Regulation, (2ndEdn) Essex.
  15. Mathias Oluwole Dawodu, An Overview of the Freedom of Information

*Emmanuel Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @;;

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