Nigeria Threatens to Sanction CNN over Protest Coverage

Nigeria Threatens to Sanction CNN over Protest Coverage

Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture on Thursday called for sanctions to be placed on the U.S. cable news network CNN, denying the network’s report claiming that Nigerian soldiers shot live rounds of ammunition at anti-police protesters in Lagos last month.

“CNN relied heavily on unverified and possibly-doctored videos, as well as information sourced from questionable sources to reach its conclusion. This should earn CNN a serious sanction for irresponsible reporting,” Nigerian Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed said on Thursday, the Lagos-based newspaper Vanguardreported on Friday.

In its November 19 report, CNN alleged that Nigerian Army soldiers shot at a number of anti-police protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos on the night of October 20, declaring the incident a “massacre.” CNN cited “dozens of eyewitnesses” who claimed that “protestors at the toll gate … were shot at, first by members of the Nigerian army and then hours later by police. Eyewitnesses told CNN they saw the army remove a number of bodies from the scene.”

Nigeria’s “civil society organizations, the Nigerian Bar Association, and Senior Advocates of Nigeria,” joined the Nigerian government in expressing “outrage” at CNN’s allegations on Thursday and “advised [the] government to be cautious in its dealing with the news network,” according to Vanguard.

“CNN engaged in incredible sensationalism and did a great disservice to itself and to journalism. In the first instance, CNN, which touted its report as an exclusive investigative report, sadly relied on the same videos that have been circulating on social media, without verification,” Nigeria’s information minister explained.

“This is very serious and CNN should be sanctioned for that. CNN merely said the videos were ‘obtained by CNN,’ without saying wherefrom and whether or not it authenticated them. Were CNN reporters and cameramen at the Lekki Toll Gate that evening?” Mohammed asked.

“CNN stands by its investigation,” a company spokesperson said on Thursday. “Our reporting was carefully and meticulously researched, and we stand by it,” the spokesperson said in a statement emailed to the press.

The October 20 protest at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos was caused by a nationwide anti-police movement that began in early October. The “#EndSARS” movement called for the disbandment of SARS — the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigerian federal police — amid allegations that the unit abused its power.

Calls for SARS’ dissolution soon spilled onto Nigeria’s streets, and rallies comprised of thousands of people quickly took over major cities. Nigeria’s government responded to the protests by disbanding SARS on October 11. Despite this, the anti-police demonstrations continued. They have since devolved into violent rioting and looting in several major cities. 

In his remarks on CNN’s coverage of the #EndSARS protests on Thursday, Nigeria’s information minister revealed that 57 civilians, 37 police officers, and six soldiers have so far been killed in the unrest caused by the anti-police movement.

“In its jaundiced reporting, CNN was blind to the fact that six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed in unprovoked attacks,” Mohammed said. “Obviously, CNN did not consider the security agents human enough. CNN, in its ‘investigation,’ was blind to the wanton destruction of property in Lagos and across the country.”

“CNN was blind to the burning of police stations and vehicles all over the country. Instead, it went to town with unverified social media footages, in its desperation to prove that people were killed at the Lekki Toll Gate,” the information minister said.

“This is irresponsible journalism for which CNN deserves to be sanctioned. We insist that the military did not shoot at protesters at Lekki Toll Gate. They fired blank ammunition in the air. Again, anyone who knows anyone who was killed at Lekki Toll Gate should head to the Judicial Panel with conclusive evidence of such,” Mohammed added.

The information minister further revealed at a press conference in the capital, Abuja, on Thursday that 196 policemen have been injured in anti-police protests since early October. In addition, “164 police vehicles … were destroyed and 134 police stations … were razed.”

“[T]he Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, the Nigeria Customs Service and Nigeria Immigration Service all lost infrastructures, equipment and other valuables to attacks by hoodlums during the crisis,” Mohammed said. “Eight medium-security custodial centers (prisons) in six states … were attacked, with 1,957 inmates set free and 31 staff injured.”

Gabrielle Reyes