Thursday, October 30, 2008


The Nigerian blogger, Jonathan Elendu was, about two weeks ago, picked up by the State Security Services in Nigeria. He was detained for several days and was released on October 29, but his international passport was not returned to him. Jonathan Elendu is based in the US; without his passport, he cannot return to his family in the US. This is against the Nigerian constitution; it is against democracy and freedom of speech; it is against all sense of fairness. Free Elendu now! Return his passport to him.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Elendu's arrest and the safety of online journalism

Nigeria has added another to its string of firsts with the arrest of the popular writer of, Mr Jonathan Elendu, by the State Security Service (SSS). As reported by the PM News, Mr Elendu was picked up on Saturday, October 19, at the Nnamdi Azikwe International airport, Abuja, on his arrival from the United States. He is being held by the SSS for his alleged connection with is known for publishing top-secret stories and photographs of the gross misdeeds of Nigerian government officials including those of the president’s family members. is far less aggressive and biting than There are rumours that the SSS is desperately inventing a web of accusations, including money laundering and sedition, to squeeze round Mr Elendu's neck. (Above is Mr Elendu's picture which I copied from

Online journalism has been considered the safest form of journalism, the least susceptible to state clampdown. It has negotiated for itself a clear space in the public sphere for citizens’ engagement of government, its actions and policies. This form of journalism is understandably attractive to Nigerians given the experiences of orthodox journalists in the hands of the Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha—Nigerian military dictators who hounded and pounded journalists for nearly fourteen years. (See, for instance, Sunday Dare's Guerrila Journalism)

Media scholars and political scientists who support the idea of a free press find in online journalism an avenue for unfettered freedom of expression. Not only this, online journalism has led them to announce and in fact celebrate the death of gate-keeping and censorship. [See, for instance, Williams and Carpini’s (2000) “Unchained reaction: the collapse of media gate-keeping…”, Journalism (1) 1:61-85]. Jonathan Elendu’s arrest by the government of Nigeria should lead theorists to cut short this celebration and rethink the universality of their conclusions. This is the same way the recent invasion of Channels TV by the SSS calls for a rethink of press freedom in the Nigerian democracy. And those who call President Yar'Adua "Go Slow" should have a rethink: he can be very swift if the issue matters to him--his men did not allow Mr Elendu to even spend a second in Nigeria before arresting him. Nigeria!

There is some worry about the silence of most Nigerian papers on the arrest of Mr Jonathan Elendu. We do not know for sure why most papers, unlike bloggers, have been quiet on this. Even the BBC has done a report on the arrest. Do orthodox Nigerian journalists consider their online colleagues comrades or rivals? Maybe this is a good question for empirical investigation. However this goes, in my view, Nigeria is the first sub-Saharan African country and the second country in the world (after China) to attempt a clampdown on online journalism.

NB: I have edited this post slightly since after receiving Loomnie's comment.

Friday, October 17, 2008

That RAN Conference

On September 16, 2008, I announced on this blog that the Reading Association of Nigeria (RAN) was planning a national conference to be held in University of Uyo, Nigeria. The Conference took place from October 6 to 9. The first day was devoted to an up-skilling workshop for primary and high school teachers to acquaint them with current trends in teaching reading. The workshop was free for teachers of government schools; those from private schools had to pay. This was commendable social service by RAN.

There was a keynote address which focused on literacy structures for educational advancement and manpower development. The speaker stressed the strong challenges before RAN in its efforts to promote reading in Nigeria. One of the most interesting papers presented at the Conference was the one with the title: "Literacy skills in the language of medicine: the layman’s survival strategy".

Edidiong Umana presented the paper she and I prepared. (That is her picture to your left). Our paper carried the title: “Nigerian newspapers as sources of sickle cell education: what is there to read?” Our content analysis of Nigerian newspapers showed that despite the high prevalence of sickle cell disorder in Nigeria, the print media give it only minute attention—unlike HIV/AIDS. AIDS campaigns get international sponsorship and so attract media attention. We argued that the current greatest criterion for news selection is not found on the pages of journalism textbooks. That criterion is profit. Click here for the abstract. For the full version of the paper, send an email to Edidiong (

Contrary to what I predicted in my September 16 announcement of the Conference, not many presenters made recommendations to government. (But the joint communique issued at the end of the Conference did). Does this suggest that individual Nigerian scholars are losing faith in government? Are they asking: of what use have been the recommendations made to government over the ages? Is this doubt, disaffection or cynicism? Whatever the answer might be, it is important to know that I am not a reliable prophet.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Back to Fashola, Ekpu & the nature of news

"Bad news sells". "Bad news is good news". We have all heard this many times. But really what does a preponderance of bad news do to a people? Or to the press itself? I engage this question in the Nigerian context as I respond to criticisms mounted against Governor Raji Fashola of Lagos who recently pleaded with media people to be more positive in their news writing. My thoughts were published in the Guardian newspaper of October 16, 2008. Click here to read the article.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"This ethnic group...we are not important to the media..."

In a small-scale study sponsored by the Centre for Research in Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE) University of Oxford, I engaged members of some very small Nigerian ethnic groups in focus group discussions. I intended to learn what they thought about the width and nature of coverage they received in the Nigerian media. This followed my discovery, through content analysis, that the 390-something ethnic groups outside the three mega groups in Nigeria occupy just about 23% of the media space devoted to ethnic issues in Nigeria. Minority ethnic group members felt that their identity was marginalized by the media. In their words: “We do not matter. We are not important. If we are, the media will talk about us, about our festivals, about our problems”. There is a covert link between group size, media attention and political-economic influence in Nigeria.

You can download a summary of the work here.