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Endangered Professionals: The Fate of Journalists Covering Dangerous Assignments in Nigeria

Olusola Isola

The ranks of journalists covering conflicts and dangerous assignments in Nigeria may be depleted due to a lack of care from the society and media employers. This trend applies in other African countries and is likely to deprive the continent of necessary information that could enhance peacebuilding and nourish the growth of democracy. In the last three decades, there has been a steady escalation globally in the number of journalists jailed, killed, or maimed while covering local wars and violent civil conflicts — more so than during earlier international conflicts that featured high mortality rates among media correspondents in the Cold War decades. Between 1992-2020, about 1,378 journalists have been killed in different countries across the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In essence, there is a clear shift now from the previous assumption that more journalists tend to be killed while covering foreign wars rather than during national crises. Nowadays, more journalists are falling victim to murder and assassination by criminal gangs, as well as to infection by dangerous disease while reporting on regions affected by Ebola, SARs, and other deadly illnesses. According to global data, in 2019, 64 journalists were missing while 246 were imprisoned. So far in 2020, 26 journalists and media staff worldwide have died in the line of duty.

In Nigeria between November 2014 and March 2015, about 47 journalists were assaulted in different locations and circumstances. This period fell within the time of electioneering campaigns and general elections. In June 2014, radio journalist Suleiman Bisalla was killed in Kaduna state during an assignment to report on a terrorism incident. In August 2014, the premises of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) in Yobe state were attacked with anti-aircraft guns and other high-caliber weapons during a Boko Haram onslaught.[1] Several journalists and media workers were wounded during the incident, with many others narrowly escaping. A private radio station was attacked in Kogi state by Boko Haram terrorist elements in 2016, forcing it to close down. Channels Television journalist Eneche Akogwu was killed during a terrorism incident in Kano in 2012. Reporter Ikechukwu Udendu of the Anambra News was shot by unknown gunmen on a street in Awka while on assignment for his newspaper in 2016.  Another journalist, Muhammed Ibrahim, recounted during a media roundtable how he was assaulted by federal security men during an assignment to cover a terrorism incident in 2014. In August 2020, Daily Post journalist Sikiru Obarayese was assaulted by state security men in Oshogbo while covering COVID-19 restrictions being enforced on behalf of the state.

Many incidences of Nigerian journalists' maltreatment at the hands of terrorists, military forces, and civilian elements go unreported or are under-reported. It is believed that for every assault on a journalist reported in the Nigerian media, there are at least four unreported cases.[2]

In addition to the risks journalists face while performing their assignments, they also face other dilemmas while covering and reporting local conflict situations in Nigeria. These include humanitarian and traumatic dimensions reporters face when confronted with suffering victims, displaced persons, and refugees in conflict environments. The question of whether they have an obligation to assist victims or perform their professional duty is a dilemma that has caused many journalists to experience psychological and emotional trauma. Unfortunately, no media organization in Nigeria is known to have established measures to address such traumatic experiences of journalists who are sent to work in dangerous conflict zones. Nor do Nigerian media firms have appropriate insurance coverage and welfare policies that could compensate journalists for losses experienced while covering conflict events.

As a result, Nigerian journalists are largely on their own when it comes to protecting themselves in dangerous work environments. In a survey of journalists in southwestern Nigeria, respondents reported taking a variety of protective measures when deploying for dangerous assignments: practicing prayer, maintaining alertness, being accompanied by security escorts, seeking prior information about the location of the assignment, carrying out safety evaluations, using bulletproof vests, keeping distant from violent scenes, exploring intelligence reports from security agencies before deploying, hiding personal identity as a journalist, and seeking protection from the police at the assignment location.

55 percent of the survey participants claimed to have never received any specialized training to prepare them for dangerous assignments, while 45 percent claimed to have received some form of training at one point or another in their career. The implication is that a majority of the journalists enter dangerous assignments with no specialized training on how to conduct themselves and what to do when faced with a life-threatening emergency situation. Moreover, none of the respondents could recall any support provided by their employers to support their personal safety or medical evacuation when going on a dangerous assignment. 86 percent of the survey participants claimed they were not aware of any insurance coverage offered by their employers in case of injury or death while in a dangerous environment, while 11 percent affirmed the existence of such coverage. Also of note was that 87 percent of the respondents claimed they were not aware of any organization in Nigeria providing trauma counseling for journalists returning from dangerous assignments.

An Endangered Profession

The mass media in Nigeria (and elsewhere) thrives on news about violence, terrorism, insurgencies, crimes, disasters, and humanitarian emergencies. Unfortunately, journalists in Nigeria who risk their lives to bring information about these critical events to the public are not adequately cared for. To media owners and managers, what matters most is the bottom line (profit); in comparison, the welfare of the endangered reporters does not count for much. Consequently, many Nigerian journalists now pursue political appointments as press secretaries to politicians, media assistants, media advisers, or public relations officers in commercial entities. This situation has deprived the Nigerian media of its dynamism and talent, and diminished its contributions to nourishing democracy and peacebuilding.


If the welfare and development of other branches of government are priorities for Nigeria, then so too should be the "fourth estate," which plays a leading role in informing the public. Appropriate legislation should be adopted to compel media owners to prioritize the welfare of journalists generally, and particularly of those working in dangerous zones. Media advocacy groups and civil society organizations should also consider bringing attention and support to journalists working in dangerous zones. Media owners in Nigeria should consider providing personal protection equipment for journalists on dangerous assignments, as well as medical evacuation services and life insurance policies.

Dr. Olusola Isola is a Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies at the University of Ibadan, in Ibadan, Nigeria. He was a 2018 Southern Voices for Network for Peacebuilding Scholar at the Wilson Center Africa Program. 

Photo credit: Nigerian News concept in 3D rendering. Credit: AlexLMX/ Photo ID: 684187072. Source:

[1] Isola Olusola and Muyiwa Popoola, Journalism Practice and Terrorism in Nigeria. Issues, Trends and Techniques (Ibadan: John Archers Publishing, 2015).

[2] Ibid.

About the Author

Olusola Isola

Olusola Isola

Former Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding Scholar;
Senior Lecturer in Peace, Security and Humanitarian Studies Department, University of Ibadan, Nigeria    
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