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The history of Nigeria mass media needs to be discussed under two headings for comprehensive understanding. The print media – newspapers, magazines, periodicals and paperback as well as broadcast media – radio and television. This report will brief point into the media history, which also x-ray the performances, problems and successes of mass media from 1859 to date which has been in the fore front in the country’s independence and subsequent nation building. It will also be of great importance to point out the media practice under the missionaries/columnists, colonialists before independence and after independence under the military and the civilian governments in Nigeria.

The Print Media Missionary Press Era

Print media is the forerunner because printing came before journalism. In Nigeria, print media serves as the first and oldest medium of communication in the media history of Nigeria. A professional printer and printing press were first brought into Nigeria in 1846 by the Presbyterian Mission of Rev. Hope Waddell and it was based in Calabar (now capital of Cross River State) with the major function of pamphlets production. Rev. Waddell used his printing press to print religious materials in fulfillment of his mission to evangelize to the people he met in Calabar and its environment and some educational materials but not newspapers. Writing on Waddell’s pioneering effort at printing, the eminent Professor of History, Ade Ajayi, disclosed in his book ‘Christian Mission in Nigeria’ that: “…in August 1849 the printer (i.e., Waddell’s printer) listed that he had produced eight hundred copies of the Primer, five hundred copies of Bible lessons, one hundred and fifty of arithmetic examples, two hundred of multiplication tables, five hundred almanacs with the commandments in Efik, three hundred copies of Elementary Arithmetic and four hundred of the Catechism in Efik and English”. In 1854, printing took a professional dimension when Rev. Henry Townsend fitted up a printing press and inaugurated a printing school in the Mission Compound, Ake, Abeokuta. The first newspaper in Nigeria ‘Iwe Iroyin Yoruba’ was published on December 3, 1859 by Townsend’s printing press, whereas Waddell’s printing press which was the first in Nigeria pioneered general commercial printing. The only newspaper that would have rivaled Iwe Iroyin was Anglo-African which was established by Robert Campbell in 1863 but it died a year later. Iwe Iroyin was however aimed at propagating religion and mass literacy. Iwe Iroyin became bilingual when an English supplement was added to it on March 8, 1867 before it finally disappeared from the newsstand later that year. After the demise of Iwe Iroyin, popular newspaper failed to show up on the newsstands until 1880s. The period within 1867-1880s is regarded as the blank period in Nigeria press history.

Colonial Press Era

This was the period that allegations were raised that the newspapers set up by colonialists were controlled to suit the purpose of the European proprietors on the ground that African events were not reported. All these allegations were combined to convince articulate Nigerians that was high time they had a native press that would mirror their desired aspirations. This struggle led to the emergence of nationalist press which served as the instrument to get mental emancipation from service colonial mentality. By 1920s, the nationalist press had started to operate in a full force. These media emerged to challenge, compete with and finally displace the colonial administration. Most of the newspapers were privately owned, except the Nigerian Daily Times published by Nigerian Printing and Publishing Company in conjunction with Daily Mirror Group of London. During this period, different newspapers were established which served as organs of individual political leaders. Notable amongst them were ‘West African Pilot’ established in 1937 by Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, ‘Daily News’ owned by Herbert Macaulay and ‘Tribune’ (now Nigeria Tribune) established by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1949. These newspapers joined in the advocacy for political emancipation from the colonialists and ‘Tribune’ was a megaphone of its proprietor, advancing his political philosophies and enhancing his popularity in preparation for the struggle for leadership of the country, if when it became independent. However, there were some other newspapers established after the first three mentioned. It was noted that most of these newspaper writers were loyalists of their respective proprietors. One undisputable fact is that, the Nigerian press of the nationalist period was aggressive in agitation and advocacy, fighting in unism for the independence from colonial masters.

Civilian Press Era

This period is regarded as the time during which the government and the governed had freedom of communication to each other for mutual benefit. Thus, for any civilian system of government to be democratic, there should be freedom for every individual to express or publish his or her views or ideas through the instrumentality of the mass media without fear of prior restraints or arbitrary punishment for whatever being published or expressed. The independent constitution of 1960 was the first to allow for freedom of the press, later which the 1963 republican constitution reproduced the 1960 provisions, in addition, the 1979 constitution provided Nigerians a high degree of press freedom such as freedom of media ownership. The press, especially during the first republic was mostly controlled by their proprietors most of whom were politicians and press men became sycophantic propagandists for their employers. They threw professional ethics over board, forgetting the watch dog roles of the press. The Second Republic press also allowed for the politician to win and control the press and the effect of this partisan on the Nigerian Second Republic press was disheartening. The owners controlled the press personnel and newspaper centers to suit their selfish political purpose without any consideration of the citizenry. Under this republic, newspaper often danced to the tune of the owners. The effect of this was that, newspapers neglected stories on issue such as corruption, oppression and ethnicism. Examples of these newspapers who practiced such system were the Daily Times, New Nigerian and Herald controlled and serving as sycophantic megaphones of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), which controlled the federal government, while Sketch and Observer constituted the large mouths of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), which controlled the four Yoruba speaking states and the old Bendel state now Edo and Delta states. An important fact remained that, in second republic press most of the private owned newspapers were strictly monitored and controlled towards the desire of their politically-minded owners as well as destruction of their proprietors’ political opponents sometimes with no regards for truth in their reporting. However, most newspapers tried to be fair in their coverage or events in the current civilian era regardless of the political party involved. This is because most of the prominent newspapers are not owned by notable politicians.

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The Press Under the Military

The military like the civilian controlled the press as well but political control of the press during democratic era does not feature prominently during military regimes. Press censorship has also been associated with the military more than the civilian administration in Nigeria. The conditions of the press during the military era, the office of the foreign press in Nigeria was closed by the Murtala/Obasanjo military administration in 1976. The office or Reuters, the British News Agency, was shut for reporting events arising from the abortive coup in which Gen. Murtala Muhammed was assassinated. The use of newsprints as a weapon of control by the Buhari/Idiagbon regime which realizing its significance refused to grant news media exemption from the 20 per cent (20%) duty imposed on all imports. It also ordered that the payment of customs duty on newsprint be done in advance. This led to the April 1985 hike of newspaper price from 20 kobo to 30 kobo. Also, General Ibrahim Babangida’s administration sent a combined team of soldiers and policemen to close down and occupy the premises of Concord newspaper, Punch, Sketch, Abuja News Day and the Observer as a result of the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election. On the other hand, the Obasanjo regime decided to control the government owned media as a result of incessant criticism from the Nigerian press. For instance, the former Chief of Staff, supreme headquarters in the regime, Major-General Sheu Yar’Adua said that journalists working in government owned newspapers should “learn to toe the government tune or quiet”. This directive however put the government owned newspapers’ operation in some kind of dilemma over what exactly to do on certain crucial national issues. On the other hand, privately owned newspapers did not hesitate in playing watchdog roles as well as responding to the constitutional demand of rendering the account of the government to the people during the military era. Today, there are over one hundred newspapers in Nigeria and over fifty magazine organizations.

The Electronic Media

Broadcasting in Nigeria is one of the gains Nigeria had from colonialism. The foundation was laid by the then Director-General of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) who conceived the idea of ‘Empire Broadcasting’. This did not materialize until 1932 when the ‘Empire’ was divided into five zones, namely: Canada, South Africa, India, Australia and East Africa. Lord Reith, who was the prime mover behind the idea, was said to believe that ‘Empire Broadcasting’ would overcome some of the isolation and directness that is the fate of many of our overseer relatives. If we bring to them and to others some share of the amenities of the home country and metropolitan interest and culture, which for one reason or another, may not be fully available.

Broadcasting came to Nigeria in stages. The first stage or step was the introduction of wired broadcasting known as ‘radio distribution’ or ‘rediffusion’. On Sunday, December 1, 1935, the wired broadcasting service known as the Radio Distribution Service (RDS) formally took off as it was commissioned in Lagos. Subscribers responded well at its introduction. However, after the Second World War, a 300-watt short wave transmitter was installed in 1948 under the name Radio Nigeria. Radio Nigeria was in the main to rely the BBC with one hour of its broadcasting however, set aside in the evening for local programs which featured entertainment, news and local announcements. The RDS operation came to an end in 1951, the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) was established. It had stations in Ibadan, Abeokuta, Warri, Enugu, Ijebu-ode, Onitsha, Port-Harcourt, Calabar, Jos, Kaduna, Katsina, Zaria and Kano. However, after the regional independence, the Western Regional government demanded its own broadcast station. Thus, on October 31, 1959, the government of Western Nigeria under Chief Obafemi Awolowo went ahead to found Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS) the first in Nigeria and in ‘black Africa’. It is pertinent to say, it is the WNBS which also championed the advent of television broadcasting not only in Nigeria but also in Africa. Thus, as contained in the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) handbook in 1981, television broadcasting under the WNBS was initially under the trading name of Western Nigeria Radio Vision Services limited, in partnership with overseas radio-fusion limited, United Kingdom, UK. This later changed into Western Nigeria Broadcasting Services/Western Nigeria Television (WNBS/WNTV). It has ‘first in Africa’ as its slogan. The WNBS/WNTV gave way, a year later (1960) to the former government of Eastern Nigeria, to set up the second Nigeria television service known as Eastern Nigeria Television (ENTV). The establishment of Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service WNBSTV) combining radio and Africa’s first television services, triggered a race by other two regions to set up their own broadcasting services. In 1962, the Northern Regional Government established a television which was an arm of Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria (BCNN). Also, in Kaduna was situated Radio Kaduna Television (RKTV). This was jointly owned by the regional government and the British Television Company. The Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) took over when America partnership was terminated. The post-civil war economic boom precipitated the take-off of the new states station in the Midwest, Benue-Plateau (first color television), Kano, Rivers, East Central (at Aba) and North Western states. WNTV gave way to the establishment of many television stations not only in Nigeria but in Africa as a whole.


Today, one finds out in Nigeria that each state has at least two television stations, one for the federal government. The federal government owns the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) which was inaugurated in 1977. Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) was also established in 1978 with NTA as federal monopolies. The decree 24 of 1977 which established it was promulgated in March, 1977 but took effect from April, 1976 by the decree, the NTA became the only body empowered to understand television broadcasting in the country, and it commenced network news to all states of Nigeria. Broadcasting system in Nigeria has taken a giant step with the advent of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) which was established in 1992 to monitor and regulate broadcasting in Nigeria. This came as a result of decree No. 38 of 1992 which ushered in the participation of private broadcasting stations and outfit in Nigeria. The decree put under NBC all transmission by sound or vision by cable television, radio, satellite or any other medium of broadcast from anywhere in Nigeria to its authority. However, there are over fifty radio stations owned and controlled by both federal and state governments, about thirteen radio stations owned by the private sector. While there are about thirty-two television stations owned by the federal government, about thirty owned by the state government and about ten owned by the private sector. This is the reason Nigeria has been regarded a media proliferation due to the continued increase in mass media, thus, print media-newspapers and magazines and broadcast media-radio and television.


  1. Ogunyem et al. (2014). Problems of Mass Media in Developing Countries Available at: (Accessed: 23rd March 2019).

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