Nigerian Journalists Recount Prison Ordeals in CPJ Report

New York, Feb. 24, 1999 — With Nigeria on the threshold of a national presidential election and a possible return to democratic rule, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a special report today depicting the horrors Nigerian journalists have endured under oppressive military rule.

Despite his promises of a democratic election and a transition to democracy, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar has failed to take steps to ensure that the repressive laws used to criminalize independent media are repealed.

“Outliving Abacha: Six Journalists’ Prison Stories,” CPJ’s special report on Nigeria, comprises vivid narratives by prominent independent journalists who were imprisoned because of their journalistic work: Kunle Ajibade, Chris Anyanwu, Ben Charles-Obi, George M’bah, Onome Osifo-Whiskey, and Babafemi Ojudu. The report stresses that despite the release of 16 journalists who were imprisoned under Abacha, one newspaper editor has not been freed: Niran Malaolu, the editor of The Diet, has been in prison for more than a year. He was arrested on December 27, 1997, and tried and convicted by a special military tribunal in April 1998 for alleged involvement in a coup plot. In July, his life sentence was reduced to 15 years. He is reportedly critically ill and denied medical treatment.

“The continued imprisonment of Niran Maloulu serves as a warning to journalists that while Abacha, the tyrant who put them behind bars, is gone, his successor could take away their freedom on a whim,” wrote Kakuna Kerina, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in an introduction to the report.

During the run-up to the February 27 elections, journalists have once again become targets of the government, said Kerina. Earlier this month, police raided the printing plant that produces The News, seizing 80,000 copies of the magazine and arresting three people. The confiscated edition carried an article titled “Abacha’s Co-Looters, Aluko Reveals All.”

“While Abubakar has made some improvements in the climate for journalists, we are deeply concerned that violations of press freedom continue during this sensitive period of transition to representative democracy in Nigeria,” said Kerina. “We have not seen the new regime act to remove the legal weapons that still intimidate Nigerian journalists in their daily work.”

Kerina called upon Abubakar to repeal “all decrees and laws that have been used to punish scores of journalists,” including the State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No. 2 of 1984, which authorizes indefinite, incommunicado detention of any citizen; the Offensive Publications (Proscription) Decree No. 35 of 1993, which allows the state to seize any publication that offends the government; and the Treason and Treasonable Offenses Decree No. 29 of 1993, which granted a special military court authority to impose life sentences on journalists accused of reporting an alleged plot against the Abacha regime