Freedom of Expression and the Press under Nigerian Law

Constitutional Framework


Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees freedom of expression and the press. It states:

“Every person shall be entitled to own, establish, and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas, and opinions: provided that no person, other than the government of the Federation or of a State or any other person or body authorized by the President on the fulfillment of conditions laid down by an Act of the National Assembly, shall own, establish, or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for any purpose whatsoever” .


This provision establishes a broad right to own and operate media outlets but introduces a significant caveat concerning television and wireless broadcasting stations. The key points are:

General Right to Own Media: Individuals and entities are entitled to establish and operate print and digital media platforms without interference.


Broadcasting Restrictions: The operation of television and wireless broadcasting stations is restricted to the federal or state governments, or entities authorized by the President, subject to conditions specified by an Act of the National Assembly.

Legal and Regulatory Framework

National Broadcasting Commission (NBC): The NBC is the primary regulatory body overseeing broadcasting in Nigeria. It enforces standards, issues licenses, and ensures compliance with broadcasting regulations as per the National Broadcasting Commission Act

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Licensing Requirements: To own and operate a television or wireless broadcasting station, entities must meet specific conditions and obtain authorization from the President, as outlined by the NBC and related legislation .


Limitations and Restrictions

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, this right is not absolute. The constitution allows for certain restrictions:

  • Defamation laws: Protect individuals against unwarranted damage to their reputation.
  • State security and public order: The government can impose restrictions to maintain security and public order.
  • Decency and morality: Restrictions to prevent the spread of obscene or morally inappropriate content .

Regulatory Bodies and Laws

National Broadcasting Commission (NBC): Established by the National Broadcasting Commission Act, NBC regulates the broadcasting industry to ensure that content adheres to specified ethical and professional standards.

Nigerian Press Council (NPC): The NPC Act aims to uphold the ethics of journalism and provide mechanisms for addressing complaints against the press.

Case Law

The judiciary in Nigeria has played a crucial role in interpreting the extent and limitations of freedom of expression and the press:

  • Chief Gani Fawehinmi v. General Ibrahim Babangida & Others (2003): The Supreme Court emphasized the need for a balance between the freedom of the press and the rights of individuals, particularly concerning defamation and privacy issues.
  • Tony Momoh v. Senate of the National Assembly (1981): Reinforced that while the press has freedom, this does not extend to publishing false information .

Challenges and Controversies

Despite constitutional guarantees, several challenges persist:

  • Censorship and harassment: Journalists and media houses often face censorship, intimidation, and harassment from government agencies.
  • Cybercrime Act of 2015: Critics argue that certain provisions of this act, such as those addressing cyberstalking, have been used to stifle online dissent and freedom of expression.


Freedom of expression and the press are constitutionally guaranteed in Nigeria, but these rights are subject to significant limitations aimed at protecting individual reputations, state security, and public morality. While regulatory bodies and legal frameworks are in place to ensure ethical journalism, challenges such as censorship and harassment of journalists remain prevalent. The judiciary continues to play a pivotal role in interpreting these freedoms and their limitations, striving to balance the rights of individuals and the need for free and fair media.



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