Explosion destroys newspaper’s offices

New York, November 20, 2002—On Friday, November 15, an explosion destroyed the offices of the independent weekly National Pilot in Ilorin, the capital of Nigeria’s west central Kwara State. Five people were seriously injured in the blast—which local sources suspected was a politically motivated bomb attack—including the paper’s deputy editor-in-chief, Mudasiru Adewuyi.

The explosion occurred at approximately 12:30 p.m. on Friday, while the paper’s staff was preparing its latest edition for release on Monday. The blast caused the roof of the building to collapse, injuring five workers and destroying a substantial amount of equipment. The injured workers were taken to a local hospital.

With printing assistance from the private daily This Day, which is based in Lagos in southwestern Nigeria, National Pilot issued this week’s edition on Monday, November 18.

Dr. Bukola Saraki, a prominent local businessman and son of Nigeria’s former senate leader, launched National Pilot four months ago. Known for its critical coverage of the local government, the newspaper has become one of the most popular in Kwara Sate.

Saraki called the attack “state terrorism against the press.” When contacted by CPJ, he explained that the attack followed a visit to the newspaper’s offices earlier that week from local government officials who asked about a front-page story in National Pilot‘s previous edition that mentioned a petition calling for an anti-corruption probe into Kwara State governor Muhammed Lawal, who is suspected of misappropriating funds. When the newspaper’s staff refused to cooperate, the officials threatened their lives, Saraki said.

Lawal denied state government involvement in the explosion, said local newspapers, and instead accused National Pilot of mounting a “self-inflicted attack” aimed at discrediting his administration. Nigerian sources said that tension between Lawal and Saraki is mounting ahead of national elections scheduled for Spring 2003, in which Bukola Saraki is considering running for governor of Kwara State.

Over the weekend, Nigerian president Olesegun Obasanjo promised a federal police investigation into the attack, saying that the national government would deal with those responsible. Lawal, meanwhile, ordered state authorities to conduct an inquiry rather than leaving the investigation to the police.

On November 18, Lawal inaugurated a seven-member panel of inquiry, composed of individuals from state security forces, a High Court judge, and a representative from the Nigerian Union of Journalists, to investigate the attack on the National Pilot. Local sources later said that Lawal told reporters that police had apprehended several suspects, who have been taken to Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, for further questioning.

Political violence in Kwara State has been rising ahead of national elections. In August, a senior politician in the state from President Obasanjo’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was murdered. Two months earlier, at least two people died in street fighting between supporters of the PDP and Lawal’s All Nigeria Peoples Party in Kwara.