In a press statement issued today, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today urged Nigerian government authorities to allow international journalists to cover the country's elections.
The statement cites marked action by Nigerian authorities to delay and deny the visa processing procedure for interested journalists and others. "The legitimacy of Nigeria's election depends in no small part on whether the international press is allowed to cover it," said Peter Nkanga, CPJ's West Africa representative. "We call on authorities to quickly cut through the red tape and approve visas and accreditation for foreign journalists."
CPJ reports that up to 40 journalists have been blocked from entering the country, a statement corroborated by the Foreign Correspondents Association of Southern Africa, which issued a release on Friday saying many of its members had been denied visas or accreditation. Journalists at one international news medium told CPJ that they had made eight different visa requests from varying locations including Paris, London, Nairobi, Dakar, and Johannesburg. "All of the applications, submitted between December 2014 and January 2015, had been delayed by embassy officials requesting additional paperwork," CPJ claims.
The difficultly in securing visas is attributed to miscommunication in the visa application process, and discrepancies between the information proffered by embassies and the Nigerian Immigration Service.
Kayode Idowu, a spokesman with the Independent National Electoral Commission, told CPJ that for foreign press to be allowed to cover the elections they are required to have arrived in the country, applied for and obtained their Elections Press Pass from INEC by Feb. 11.
"According to the guidelines on the Nigeria Immigration Service website, journalists can apply for visas by completing an application form, paying fees, and submitting payment receipts, passport, and other documents to the Nigerian embassy in their country of residence," CPJ says. "Chukwuemeka Obua, a spokesman of the Immigration service, told CPJ that there is no special application for journalists," the organization furthers.
However, this information differs from what members of the international media are being told.
"Seven other journalists, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CPJ that Nigerian embassy officials were asking international journalists to get approval letters from Nigeria's Information Ministry in Abuja," CPJ says. "The websites of some Nigerian embassies and consulates, including in Paris and in Ontario in Ottawa, Canada, also state that journalists' entry requires approval from the Ministry of Information."
A spokesman for the Information Ministry, Joseph Mutah, told CPJ that all visa requests had been sent to the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) for security clearance and approval.
The NIA is under the Office of the President. CPJ's attempts to reach presidential spokesmen were unsuccessful.
CPJ's statement echoes a separate statement by the principal opposition party in Nigeria, the All Progressives Congress (APC), issued today in Abuja. The APC Presidential Campaign Organisation (APCPCO) expressed concern Tuesday about the frustrations foreign journalists wishing to cover the Feb. 14 election are facing in their efforts to secure a Nigerian visa.
The statement signed by the Director of Media and Publicity of the campaign, Mallam Garba Shehu, said the APC leadership has received reports that over 80 foreign journalists have faced difficulty working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in their efforts to secure visas and accreditation.
Shehu explained that international media coverage of the elections would contribute to transparency and the need to achieve free and fair elections, and that frustrating visa applications for foreign journalists would send the wrong message to the international community.
He stated further that if the Nigerian government has nothing to hide, it would be keen on welcoming foreign media's coverage of the elections.
Despite the difficulties faced by much of the international press, some journalists have been granted access. Journalists from The New York Times, BBC, and the Netherlands-based television channel RTL Nieuws told CPJ have had their visa requests approved.