Attacks on the Press 2000: Nigeria

PRESIDENT OLUSEGUN OBASANJO HAS REPEATEDLY PRAISED NIGERIAN JOURNALISTS for their role in bringing down successive military dictators, but Nigeria’s return to democracy has not relieved journalists of legal restrictions or of the hostility they face from the political class.

Like much of the country, the press was caught up in an often-turbulent national debate last year over the adoption of an Islamic legal system, known as sharia, by nine Nigerian states. Ahmed Sani, governor of Zamfara State, charged that Nigerian press coverage of the issue showed that local journalists were a “force of destruction” bent on “pitting citizens against one another.” Sani had earlier ordered the official Zamfara State Radio not to air anti-sharia news items. In March, he ordered security agents to seize all copies of three daily newspapers, The Nigerian Tribune, The Vanguard, and The Guardian, because they contained reports on sharia.

A former Nigerian ruler, Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Shagari, also accused the media of instigating so-called sharia riots between Muslims and non-Muslims, during which hundreds of people died. Speaking to reporters in early July, Shagari said, “You people simply want to sell your papers and so you come up with all sorts of sensational headlines. Are you not tired of creating confusion?”

Yet Nigerian journalists had good reason to be concerned by the prospect of working under Islamic law. In the Nigerian version of sharia, for example, reporters found guilty of publishing offensive stories could receive 60 strokes of a cane at a public forum that would be witnessed by their editors and covered by the print and electronic media. In October, a sharia court in Zamfara State began hearing its first press case. Ironically, the case was filed by the chairman of the local branch of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Alhaji Ibrahim Kanoma, who sought redress against Alhaji Nababa Sanda, the editor of the tabloid Legacy, for describing him as a “mischief-maker and an unprofessional journalist.” The court had not yet issued a ruling at year’s end.

Press freedom also suffered in regions where secessionist movements are active. In the former Biafra, for instance, where the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) is fighting for independence from the federal government, police arrested Corlinius Igbokwe, editor of the monthly magazine The Globe, and held him for five days. The journalist had criticized MASSOB’s demands for an independent state, to which the local police apparently subscribed.

The Nigerian Press Council (Amendment) Decree No. 60, issued in 1999, established a regulatory office staffed by journalists who are paid by the government to enforce professional ethics. Predictably, the Press Council has itself become a subject of heated controversy, with most journalists describing it as a vehicle of censorship. The Press Council is empowered to accredit and register journalists, and can suspend journalists from practicing their profession. All Nigerian publications must register annually with the council, which imposes fines of US$2500 or up to three years in jail for publishing without a license. Publishers are also required to send a performance report to the council, or risk a fine of US$1000.

In November, a meeting of Nigerian professional media groups in Abuja issued a manifesto demanding a single law for print and broadcast media that would make defamation a civil, rather than criminal, offense and protect reporters against compulsory disclosure of their sources. The journalists also endorsed a liberal freedom-of-information bill being considered by Nigerian legislators.

At year’s end, hopes ran high that the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC), set up in June 1999 by President Obasanjo, would open up Nigeria’s traumatic history of military dictatorships for objective scrutiny, along the lines of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One case on the Commission’s current agenda is the 1986 parcel bomb killing of investigative journalist Dele Giwa. Lawyers for Giwa’s family have blamed Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s military regime for the murder.

Nigerian journalists also urged the commission to look into the still-unresolved 1996 disappearances of Bagauda Kaltho, Kaduna correspondent for The News, and Chinedu Offoaro, a reporter for The Guardian.

Eubaldus Enahoro, The Observer
Sunday Osadebamwen, The Observer

Angry inhabitants of Adeje, a small village near the town of Warri in Nigeria’s Delta state, chased reporter Enahoro into the bush where he spent the night. He was declared missing by his employer until he showed up unharmed two days later. The journalist, who works for the Edo state-owned paper The Observer, had arrived in Adeje to investigate reports that villagers had vandalized an oil pipeline and were siphoning off fuel for sale.

Two days before Enaharo’s arrival, the villagers had frightened off Osadebamwen, a photographer for The Observer.

Wale Adeoye, Punch
Tunde Aremu, Punch
Nicholas Nwafor, The News
Lekan Otufodunrin, Journalist for Christ

More than 50 Nigerian police stormed the International Press Centre (IPC) in Lagos and arrested several people, including four journalists from independent newspapers: Adeoye and Aremu of Punch, Nwafor of The News, and Otufodunrin of Journalist for Christ. The police also ransacked offices and demanded to see computer files.

According to local journalists, the police raid was aimed at rounding up suspected terrorists whom the police believed to be attending a press conference in the IPC’s hall (which is regularly hired out on a commercial basis). The press conference was being given by the Oodua Liberation Movement, which is similar in name but quite distinct from an outlawed political organization, the Oodua People’s Congress.

The four journalists and others arrested at the scene were released without charges the same day.

Igba Ogbole, Radio Benue

Ogbole, a reporter with Radio Benue in Benue state, was assaulted, arrested, and detained by local police. He was stripped naked and held in a cell, where other inmates beat him severely.

Ogbole, producer of Radio Benue’s weekly personalities program “View Point,” had invited the Benue state police commissioner, Sunday Aghedo, to appear on the show. Apparently, police public relations officer Ike Nwosu also wanted to be interviewed. When Nwosu was told that only the commissioner of police could appear and not a subordinate officer, he became angry and ordered Ogbole’s arrest.

Ogbole was released a few hours later after police officers interceded on his behalf.

Mayor Adeyi,

Plainclothes detectives arrested Adeyi, assistant editor and Jos City bureau chief of the independent weekly magazine TELL, at his office in Jos, the capital of Plateau state. He was taken to the local Criminal Investigation Bureau and then moved to a detention facility in the state capital, Abuja. He was released the next day.

The arrest resulted from Adeyi’s interview with Senator Joseph Kennedy Waku in that week’s edition of TELL. During the interview, Waku called for a military coup against President Olusegun Obansanjo.

The Senate subsequently suspended Waku pending an investigation by its disciplinary committee. Waku, however, threatened to sue the magazine over what he called “misrepresentation of view.” (He did not in fact pursue legal action against TELL).

The Senate reinstated Waku on February 10, after an ad hoc committee of legislators reviewed a tape of the interview and found that he had made no statement that “buttressed the call for a military coup.”

Stanley Yakubu, Punch

Sokoto state authorities threatened Yakubu, a local correspondent for the Lagos daily Punch, because of what they described as continuous negative coverage of their administration.

The state director of press affairs told Yakubu that the authorities were increasingly disturbed by his reporting style, according to CPJ sources. The director also warned the journalist to be more careful in the future and to stop “writing nonsense” if he wanted to live a long life. “Here, we take good care of people like you,” the official added.

Timothy Olakunde Ojo, The News
Saka Anifowose, The News

Olakunde Ojo, sales manager for the weekly magazine The News, and Anifowose, a driver employed by the magazine, were attacked in Kaduna, northwest Nigeria, by a group of Muslim activists who threw stones at their car. The attackers expressed vocal hostility towards the press, damaged the car, and stabbed Anifowose three times in the stomach. Anifowose survived his injuries after receiving treatment in a Kaduna hospital.

Throughout February, the town of Kaduna was the scene of deadly clashes between Muslim activists campaigning for the adoption of sharia (Islamic law) in Kaduna state and Christian activists who opposed them.

African Newspapers of Nigeria

Twelve armed security agents stormed the Ibadan headquarters of the African Newspapers of Nigeria, publishers of the Nigerian Tribune, and sealed off the entire company, interrupting production of the Tribune and other newspapers. According to some sources, the agents told company workers that the federal government had instructed them to ensure that the Tribune did not come out that day. Journalists at the paper, however, said they had no idea what motivated the attack.

Emmanuel Okike-Ogah,
Ebonyi Times
Ogbonnaya Okorie, Ebonyi Times
Kingley Eze, Ebonyi Times

Okike-Ogah and Okorie, both reporters at the private daily Ebonyi Times, were arraigned on civil defamation charges along with Eze, a vendor of the paper, in Abakaliki, capital of Ebonyi state in Nigeria’s eastern region.

Ebonyi governor Sam Egwu had sued the two reporters for defamation, based on a November 7, 1999 Ebonyi Times article titled “What Is Happening in Ebonyi State?” Eze was charged for being in possession of the Ebonyi Times issue that contained the allegedly libelous article.

Co-written by Okike-Ogah and Okorie, the story charged that Governor Egwu had attempted to bribe local legislators to approve his nominees for a range of government positions.

All three men pleaded not guilty to charges of “conspiracy to commit misdemeanor and publishing a seditious article in an unregistered paper.” They were released on 5000 Naira (US$50) bail each.

It was unclear if the journalists were to appear in court again, or if the charges against them had been dropped.

David Oladimeji, News Flash
Gbade Ademola, News Flash
Bashiru Fasasi, News Flash
Kamilu Shitta, News Flash

Lagos police arrested Oladimeji, editor of the independent daily News Flash, news editor Ademola, and reporters Fasasi and Shitta.

The police apparently reacted to an article in the February 10 edition of the newspaper, entitled “Afikuyomi, Akande Implicated in Drug Deal” (Tokunbo Afikuyomi is a senator, and Bisi Akande is a prominent businessman and member of the opposition All Purpose Party.)

Police charged the four journalists with seditious libel capable of causing public unrest. They were denied bail during the investigation, according to CPJ sources in Nigeria. At least three of the four journalists remained in jail until March 9, when they were released on bail and warned to be “more careful next time.”

The Independent Monitor
Banner News
Union Oyadongha, Banner News

Bayelsa state security forces raided newsstands in Yenegoa, the state’s capital, and seized copies of The Independent Monitor and Banner News. The officers also arrested Oyadongha, the publisher of Banner News, which circulates only in Bayelsa.

The raid came in response to a report that ran in both papers under the headline “134 Bayelsa, Rivers Indigenes Killed in Kaduna Sharia Riots.” Police asked Oyadongha to explain how he knew that those killed in the riots were natives of Bayelsa and Rivers states. Oyadongha was released a day later.

Nduka Obaigbena, ThisDay

State security agents raided the Abuja office of the daily newspaper ThisDay with a warrant to arrest Obaigbena, the paper’s editor.

The authorities later claimed that they wanted to question Obaigbena over an allegation that he had left unsettled hotel bills of nearly US$24,000 during a September 1999 IMF-World Bank meeting in Washington, D.C. ThisDay denied the charges, saying that the Nigerian National Council on Privatization was responsible for the bills.

Obaigbena told reporters that he had received several threatening phone calls prior to the raid, warning him against publishing stories implicating President Olesegun Obansanjo’s national security advisor, Aliyu Mohamed Gusau, in allegations of graft under the late dictator General Sani Abacha. ThisDay had alleged that Gusau was at least aware of a multibillion-dollar scandal involving a Russian-built steel plant.

Three days after the raid, Obaigbena unexpectedly resigned from the paper. Obaigbena was cleared of the hotel nonpayment charges on April 21, after the manager of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., confirmed that his bill had been settled in full.

CPJ protested the raid on ThisDay in an April 14 letter to President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Neville Amorighoye, Vanguard

A gang of knife-wielding youths assaulted Amorighoye, a correspondent for the Lagos daily Vanguard, in the Niger Delta town of Warri. The youths were apparently angered by an Amorighoye article reporting that, contrary to popular belief, the Shell Petroleum Development Company had apparently not dumped toxic chemicals in a local river.

Amorighoye said that eight youths stormed the local office of Vanguard and inflicted knife wounds on his forefinger to deter him from writing any more articles about the toxic-waste controversy.

MAY 29
Soni Daniel, Punch
Tony Ita Etim, Punch

Three of Akwa Ibom state governor Victor Attah’s security guards assaulted Daniel and Etim, correspondents for the Lagos newspaper Punch. The assault took place at the governor’s office in Uyo, the state capital, where the two reporters were attending a press briefing.

When Daniel and Etim arrived at the governor’s office, security men prevented them from entering the reception area, even though Daniel identified himself as an accredited reporter. An overzealous security guard then pushed Etim from the staircase and dragged him outside the lobby.

When Daniel attempted to intervene, he sustained several blows to his body. Etim was injured in the lower neck, while Daniel suffered a cut on his right hand.

Ken Eseni, Minaj Broadcasting International
Wale Fatoye, Minaj Broadcasting International

Eseni and Fatoye, reporter and cameraman, respectively, with the private television network Minaj Broadcasting International (MBI), were attacked and beaten by police while on assignment in Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital.

The two-man television crew was attacked while filming a spontaneous demonstration by a group of citizens protesting a recent fuel price hike. Eseni and Fatoye were later arrested and interrogated at the Wuse police station in Abuja. Upon their release several hours later, both journalists checked themselves into Iduma Specialist Hospital with bruises, cuts, and minor concussions.

Canice Ikwuwgbu, ThisDay

Ikwuwgbu, a reporter for the Lagos daily ThisDay, was assaulted and beaten by police officers while covering a fire that destroyed two warehouses belonging to the Lagos company Witt and Busch. The reporter arrived at the scene of the fire at about 8 a.m. When Ikwuwgbu asked police to brief him on the fire damage, they assaulted him, saying they did not want any reporters at the scene. They also confiscated his identification documents and bag, which they later handed back.

The journalist was treated for bruises on his head, neck, back, knees, and ankles.

Funmi Komolafe, Vanguard

Veteran reporter Komolafe of the private daily Vanguard was attacked and savagely beaten by a group of striking labor union workers at the Alausa Secretariat building in Lagos, where she had gone to interview an official from the Nigeria Labor Union.

Sources contacted by CPJ said that Komolafe, who has covered the Nigerian labor movement for decades, “would have been killed” had she not been rescued by people present at the scene. She suffered several injuries and a severe concussion and was unable to work for a week.

Zamfara State Radio

Commenting on press coverage of issues surrounding the adoption of the Islamic legal system (sharia) by several Nigerian states, Governor Ahmed Sani of Zamfara state proclaimed that the Nigerian press was a “force of destruction” bent on “pitting citizens against one another.”

The governor, whose statement was broadcast in the July 8 edition of “Hmsohi,” a talk show program of the Hausa-language service of the BBC, also said 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,” he said.

The adoption of sharia by nine Nigerian states in early 2000 sparked protests that caused the deaths of several hundred people.

Sam Onwuemeodo, Vanguard

Onwuemeodo, the Port Harcourt correspondent for the Lagos independent daily Vanguard, was assaulted by Ogoni youths when two factions of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) clashed in the Niger Delta town of Bori. Angered that Onwuemeodo was attempting to photograph the mob violence, two youths assaulted the journalist and broke his camera. The clash left five people, including Onwuemeodo, seriously injured, and three cars destroyed.