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.



It is interesting that traditional newspapers in Nigeria have given very little mention to this situation. But, I think some of the insightful comments left by N.I.M.M.O. at Nigerian Curiosity shed some light on the way information is battered and traded between journalists and the government/security services.

Anyway, thanks for linking to my site and talking about this. I will add you to the list of bloggers that have taken the time to shed light on Elendu's plight.

God bless.

Loomnie said...

Probably what this shows is the extent to which the press in Nigeria is not free. I always thought that the press has been largely free, only that journalists are mediocre and, well, corrupt. The seemingly decided silence about this case seems to be a reflection of how wrong I was to think that we have a relatively free press.

I don't think Nigeria is the second country to attempt a clampdown on online journalism, though, and neither is it the first African country (that is if we count Egypt as part of Africa) (See). This is happening with increasing frequency and I think we should not let this one slide. In an increasingly repressive environment, each one of us 'politically inclined' bloggers is a potential target.

Nigerian Entrepreneur said...

The news media in Nigeria is not saying much about this because to them it is not news that will sell.

I guess they forgot that evil thrives while good people keep quiet.

Ayobami Ojebode said...

Thanks Loomnie. I will check out the Egypt story. may be time for pro-democracy activists of the Abacha days to get back into their trenches.


Don't forget to join us in the online rally this Friday October 31st. Just use "FREE JONATHAN ELENDU NOW!" as the title of your blog post and FaceBook Status. Visit the Facebook page here or stop by Nigerian Curiosity.

Elendu is a Nigerian Blogger that was detained. He is now under medical care but is not free to return to his family in America. Hence the protest.

Take care!

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