April 13, 2000
President Olusegun Obasanjo
State House, Abuja
Federal Capital Territory, Nigeria
VIA FAX: 011-234-9-523-2136
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned that despite last year’s landmark democratic elections, the right of journalists to freely and independently report the news continues to be routinely violated in Nigeria.
CPJ wrote Your Excellency on April 13, 2000, in the wake of a violent police raid on the Abuja offices of the independent daily ThisDay and urged you to ensure that journalists in Nigeria were treated in accordance with section 22 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, which guarantees the inviolability of press freedom. Since then, however, the conditions that Nigerian journalists must work in have become increasingly difficult.
On July 5, for example, veteran reporter Funmi Komolafe of the private daily Vanguard was savagely beaten by a group of striking labor union workers at the Alausa Secretariat building in Lagos. CPJ sources said that Komolafe, who is well-known in Nigeria and among labor unions for her coverage of the activities of organized labor, was “so badly treated” by the group of irate male assailants that “she would have been killed” had she not been rescued by others at the scene. Komolafe was planning to interview an official from the Nigeria Labor Union (NLC) when she was assaulted.
Prior to this, on June 9, police in Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital, attacked reporter, Ken Enseni and camerman, Wale Fatoye of the private Minaj Broadcasting International (MBI), when they began filming a spontaneous demonstration protesting a recent fuel price hike. Police beat the journalists, arrested them, and interrogated them at the Wuse police station in Abuja. When released several hours later, Enseni and Fatoye checked themselves into Iduma Specialist Hospital for treatment of bruises, cuts, and head trauma.
Furthermore, on May 29, three security aides to Akwa Ibom State Governor, Victor Attah assaulted and roughed up Soni Daniel and Tony Etim, correspondents for the Lagos-based Punch. The attack took place in the governor’s office in Uyo, the state’s capital, where the two reporters had gone to cover a press briefing by Governor Attah. Although the journalists were properly accredited to cover the event, security men forcibly prevented them from entering the conference room. Daniel sustained several blows to his body and lacerations of the right hand; Etim’s neck was injured.
While it is the work of journalists to gather and circulate information even in the face of adversity, CPJ believes it is the responsibility of the state to create and maintain minimum conditions of safety for the functioning of the press. CPJ is concerned by the message sent when the use of state violence against journalists goes unpunished; private citizens may interpret such behavior as license to settle their own grievances against journalists though physical attacks.
We also believe that a state whose officials contribute to establishing an environment hostile to the media places itself at risk of losing both its credibility and its authority. Verbal assaults against journalists by state or government officials must also be regarded as press freedom violations, because they can have a chilling effect on journalists’ ability to report the news objectively.
We therefore condemn a recent statement by Governor Ahmed Sani of Zamfara State. Commenting on press coverage of the issues surrounding the adoption by several Nigerian states of the Sharia Islamic legal system, Governor Sani called the Nigerian press a “force of destruction” responsible for “pitting citizens against one another.” The governor’s statement was broadcast in the July 8 edition of “Hmsohi,” a talk show on the Hausa-language service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). He also revealed that he had ordered the official Zamfara State Radio not to air anti-Sharia news items or comments. “Those who oppose Sharia in Zamfara state should go elsewhere to speak their minds,” the governor said.
We urge Your Excellency to demonstrate your administration’s commitment to press freedom by publicly condemning attacks on the press in Nigeria. We also urge you to call on all Nigerians, including government officials, to respect and honor the right of journalists to seek, receive, and impart information without fear of reprisal, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
These rights are also guaranteed under section 22 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, which unambiguously 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.”
Ann K. Cooper