CPJ urges thorough probe in Nigerian editor's slaying

January 22, 2007

His Excellency Olusegun Obasanjo
President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
C/o The Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
3519 International Court NW
Washington, DC 20008

Via facsimile: (202) 362-6552

Your Excellency:

We are writing to urge that you use all of your influence to ensure a transparent and thorough investigation into the recent murder of veteran award-winning journalist Godwin Agbroko in Lagos. The murder, which federal police officials have characterized as an assassination, casts a deep chill on journalists reporting the news in Nigeria in the run-up to April's historic presidential election.

Agbroko, editorial board chairman of the private daily ThisDay, was shot in his car while driving home from work on December 22, 2006. He was found dead at the wheel around 9 p.m., killed by a single bullet to the neck with his valuables untouched, according to local journalists and news reports. He was found with his seatbelt strapped, the engine, stereo, and air conditioning running, the windows rolled up, and the doors locked. The crime scene was a short distance from Daleko police station, local journalists told CPJ.

The circumstances of the killing remain unclear. Several initial reports said Agbroko was slain when he encountered the scene of a robbery. In an interview with CPJ, Lagos state police public relations officer Bode Ojajuni said the police would conduct "a full investigation of what appears to be an incidence of armed robbery." Agbroko's family categorically rejected the claim of robbery, noting that a valuable mobile phone was not taken from his car, family members told CPJ.

During a visit to the paper's offices on January 15, Lagos State Police Commissioner Emmanuel Adebayo was quoted by the paper as saying: "Since nothing was taken from him by the killers, let us assume it is a case of assassination. ... I want to assure you that his killers would be found, but more time should be given to the police to go through all these processes." This was the first time the police publicly retracted their earlier assertion about an apparent robbery, according to local journalists.

Agbroko's last weekly political column critically commented on the presidential primaries of the ruling PDP party, according to CPJ research. As Nigeria nears the first handover of power between two consecutive democratically elected governments in its history, it is crucial that the government uphold the rule of law through fair and transparent investigations. CPJ respectfully urges you to ensure that the federal police conduct an impartial and thorough investigation into Godwin Agbroko's murder. We further ask that the results of the investigations be made public.

The murder comes at a time when several newspaper offices and journalists have been victims of violent unsolved robberies, as well as raids and arbitrary arrests by security services over critical reporting, according to CPJ research. Just this month, the State Security Service (SSS) raided the offices of two private newspapers in Abuja on consecutive days, seizing documents and detaining top officials for hours. CPJ is concerned by the actions of the SSS, which targeted journalists of the daily Leadership and the weekly Abuja Inquirer over articles raising critical questions about the ruling PDP party.

We urge you to ensure that journalists in Nigeria are treated in accordance with section 22 of Nigeria's 1999 Constitution, which clearly states that "the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold ... the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people."

We look forward to hearing from you.


Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director



January 22, 2007 12:00 PM ET |

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