When Shooting Stars Sports Club returns to Ibadan, Nigeria for its home games this season, its fans will not be in attendance. It’s punishment for Nigerian sports journalist, Tobi Adepoju, after being beaten up by a mob of local fans after a recent draw against Remo Stars.

For 12 years, freelance journalist Adepoju has been traveling across the country to provide media coverage of the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL). The successes of Nigerian footballers abroad mean that the domestic scene is struggling to gain ground as most of the country is glued to European football leagues.

Many media houses choose not to cover the national league given the lack of audience and revenue. But for a group of persevering sports reporters, pursuing their passion for local soccer coverage can be a dangerous undertaking.

“The clubs tell you not to come because you criticized their performance. They say, ‘Don’t come to our game, otherwise we’ll take care of you.’ We work under the constant threat of violence from clubs that use their fans to attack us,” Adepoju told DW.

prelude to violence

Adepoju had been outspoken in criticizing the Shooting Stars’ management decisions during the season. After their loss against Kano Pillars, the team was under pressure to produce a positive result at home against Remo in a regional derby. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, leaving fans and players angry as many blamed the match officials.

Adepoju told DW that he had been seeking post-match interviews when some club officials attacked him and claimed that he was supporting their opponents. He was then yelled at and slapped by fans before he stormed out of the press area and was chased by a crowd. Finally, a nearby police officer fired into the air to disperse the crowd. The incident was recorded in a video that was shared on social networks.

Atinuke Esan, another freelance journalist who was present, said angry fans also pushed her and forced her out of the stadium. Fans made it clear that she was only spared from a physical attack because she is “a woman.”

After video of the attack hit social media, Shooting Stars was asked to pay Adepoju a sum of 500,000 naira ($1,205; €1,144) for his medical bills and lost equipment, while his media officer and team manager were banned from football for 12 years. months. The club was also fined three million naira by the NPFL.

In response to DW, Dimeji Lawal, the general manager of Shooting Stars, denied the club’s involvement in the attack on Adepoju. “It is more beneficial for all the clubs and organizers to have league games in a peaceful environment. There should be no place for any kind of violence or hooliganism,” Lawal said.

Why are journalists attacked?

Many Nigerian sports journalists who have been attacked in stadiums know that club officials play their part in targeting reporters for critical coverage.

China Acheru, former media chief for the now-defunct Dolphins Football Club of Port Harcourt, told DW that the attacks are often instigated from the club’s leadership. – part of The football ecosystem funded by the Nigerian government.

“The clubs are desperate. The state governor wants to win the league and decides to inject money into the club. The sports commissioner has promised the governor that they will win the league if they give him the money. The sports commissioner then pressures the president of the club or the general manager, who in turn put pressure on the coaches,” Acheru explained.

Nigerian fans are vibrant on the international scene, but their actions at the domestic level tell a different story.Image: DANIEL BELOUMOU OLOMO/AFP

“When they draw a game at home and a journalist tries to x-ray why they drew the game, they start to see it as the enemy because the governor might listen and say they are inefficient. So they use street thugs to harass visitors. teams, referees and journalists. And when a journalist continues to criticize them, they send thugs to ‘teach him a lesson,'” Acheru said.

The problem is that many of these attacks go undocumented due to lack of evidence.

Union of sports journalists expects better

Many Nigerian sports journalists have had these meetings with clubs and their fans. Until Adepoju’s case was recorded and shared on the Internet, nothing had been done about such incidents.

Research on violence against journalists in Nigeria generally covers politically motivated incidents, but does not consider sports reporters who face regular harassment on the ground.

Photos of reporters at the gates of the stadium have been posted with warnings not to be allowed in and threats of violence if presented, according to Bunmi Ogunyale, secretary of the Sports Writers’ Association of Nigeria (SWAN) in Lagos.

“Many of our members have suffered, but such things should not happen. Our members should not be subjected to violent treatment while doing their job,” Ogunyale said.

For Adepoju, he hopes the punishment against Shooting Stars can bring about the change that is needed when it comes to how sports journalists are treated in Nigeria.

Edited by: James Thorogood