West Africa: Eight media houses attacked in five months, one of them completely burnt down

General

Eight media houses in four countries have been attacked, one of them completely burnt down, in a storm that has seen at least 13 journalists and media workers assaulted and several equipment destroyed in the first five months of 2022. 

Three of the attacks occurred in the first two weeks of January, marking a rather turbulent start to the year. The attacks occurred in Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Liberia and Nigeria.

 The attacks were torched off on January 3, when a group of political thugs stormed the offices of Thunder Blowers news website based in Gusau, Zamfara State in Nigeria, and caused mayhem. The invaders assaulted Mansur Rabiu, an editor of the online newspaper. They took their frustration out on Rabiu after they asked about Abdul Balarabe, the newspaper’s Hausa-language editor and were told that he was out of the office. The attackers beat Rabiu with sticks until he ran into an adjoining office room and locked himself in. The attackers carried away a number of computers, an internet server and mobile phones. A member of the gang later called the media house to reveal that the attack was in retaliation for a critical interview story the online newspaper published about the Zamfara State Government.

A week later, on January 10, four officers of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) stormed the head office of the Peoples Gazette in Abuja. They threatened the security men at the gate and forced their way into the news outlet’s offices to demand the sources of a confidential memo which was the basis of a report published by the online newspaper. The NIA officers requested to see the Managing Editor, Samuel Ogundipe, as well as Hillary Essien, the alleged writer of the stories published in December 2021. The staff of the media house cringed in fear at the violent intrusion, but no one was hurt.

The thuggery against media houses continued with an attack on Radio Ada (93.3 FM) in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana on January 13. About a dozen thugs stormed the station demanding to see the Manager. When told that the Manager was not present, the hoodlums broke the door to the studio, ordered the presenter, Gabriel Korley Adjaotor, to stop broadcasting, and proceeded to disconnect cables, smash computers and destroy the console and microphones.

After upsetting the studio, the thugs assaulted Adjaotor and later, two other journalists. They warned the station to stop its feature programme dedicated to the salt mining industry, the mainstay of the local economy. There had been protests by the youth in the town since a large swathe of the salt-rich Songhor lagoon in the area was awarded to a firm to mine salt.

On February 7, 2022, at about 10 am, a group of men in military uniform stormed Radio Capital FM based in Bissau, assaulted at least seven staff and reduced the facility to a shambles. One of the victims, journalist Maimuna Bari, was taken to Portugal for treatment having suffered severe injuries from a steep fall. The hooded attackers destroyed every piece of equipment in the studio, furniture, consoles, computers, mixers, and transmitters.

The attack came a day after the station did a thorough, unflattering discussion of an abortive military coup. It was the second such attack on the station in less than two years. Radio Capital has a reputation for being critical of the current government, with many state officials and public institutions hounding it with various law suits. It has still been unable to recover from the devastation to resume broadcasting.

On March 5, some unknown individuals in Foya, Liberia sneaked into the premises Radio Tamba-tiakor at night to cause mischief. The attackers curiously set fire to a motorbike which the station used for its dispatch services and errands, without touching any other property. The incident is believed to have been aimed at intimidating the radio station.

On April 10, three armed men, suspected to be robbers, stormed the premises of a private radio station, Fresh 105.9 FM, located in Ibadan, Oyo State. The robbers arrived at the station in motorbikes at about 6.20 am and ransacked all the departments and offices at the station, disrupting the station’s broadcast for some 20 minutes. They carried away equipment belonging to the station and personal belongings of the staff including recorders, smartphones, and laptops, but did not harm anyone.

An onlooker watches the rubble of the once vibrant Radio Kintoma

There was yet another arson attack on a radio station in Liberia on April 23 which resulted in the destruction of the facilities of the community radio station. The building housing Radio Kintoma based in Voinjama, Lofa County, went up in flames at about 4 am. The station was yet to begin the day’s transmission and no staff of the broadcaster had reported to work.  The station manager, Tokpa Tarnue, told the MFWA that the management had received reports that the traditional authorities in the community were upset with the station’s crusade against female circumcision, a common cultural practice in the area.  The police are investigating the attack.

In the evening of May 16, some gangsters burst into the studios of Benya FM, assaulted a programme host and producer before destroying the equipment of the station located at Elmina in the Central Region of Ghana. The three burly men on motor bicycles kicked, slapped and pummeled their victims and destroyed computers, mixers and microphones. The thugs believed to be political party militants accused the station of exaggerating problems associated with the distribution of government-subsidised pre-mix fuel meant for fisherfolk in the area.

Whether it is about female genital mutilation in Lofa, Liberia, the state of the salt mining and fishing industries in Ada in Ghana and the abortive military coup in Guinea Bissau the media has a crucial role and duty to highlight these important public interest issues. Indeed, any media organisation truly committed to its audience will be expected to focus on such major developments that directly affect the lives of citizens. It is a legitimate discharge of the media’s public education functions and fulfilment of the public’s right to information about critical issues of local or national concern. This is the essence of the media’s role as a platform for engagement and an enabler of the right to information.

Regrettably, this crucial function of the media has become a source of frustration for some groups and individuals with vested interests. It is dreadful enough when thugs assault reporters on the field. But it gets really forbidding when they follow journalists to their workplace, attack the very building housing media organisations they work for and destroy equipment.

It is a crude attempt to silence critical journalists and the media outlets they work for. And the motives for the attacks on media houses, especially radio stations, are often achieved even if momentarily, as transmission is often disrupted, sometimes for weeks. At the time of writing this piece, Capital FM (Guinea Bissau) remained closed, while Radio Kintoma (Liberia) began full transmission from a temporary single-room office on May 14, after a three weeks break.

Unfortunately, while the affected media houses continue to reel from the siege, the perpetrators have not been bothered, except for the thugs who attacked Benya FM in Ghana who were arraigned before the court on Friday, May 23. “We are investigating” has become the refrain of the police, followed almost always with no leads, no arrests, no updates; case closed!

It is a pattern of police failure and impotence that continues to fuel further attacks. But is a pattern that must be broken. The media organisations involved and the entire media fraternity in the affected countries must continue to follow up on the cases with the police, demand updates, and run count-down and anniversary campaigns to keep perpetual pressure on the authorities to find the perpetrators.

The Media Foundation for West Africa expresses its solidarity with the attacked media houses and their staff. We salute their fortitude in the face of persecution and call on all stakeholders to lend a hand in pushing back against the marauding thugs and arsonists who are bent on attacking critical journalists and media organisations into silence.