New York, September 15, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply troubled by the continued detention of Isaac Umunna, an editorial consultant to the private, Lagos-based weekly Global Star as well as the general editor of Africa Today, a monthly news magazine based in London.
On September 8, members of Nigeria’s State Security Service (SSS) raided the offices of Global Star and arrested Umunna’s wife, Hope Umunna, and two Global Star employees. The SSS agents confiscated documents and computers belonging to the publication and then went to Global Star‘s printing press, where they interrogated several of the paper’s printers, according to Hope Umunna.
Hope Umunna was released the same day on the condition that her husband would report to the SSS. The two Global Star employees were also released at the same time.
On September 9, Isaac Umunna reported to the SSS headquarters in Shangisha, outside Lagos. There, the SSS arrested Umunna, and he remains in custody of the SSS, although no charges have been brought against him.
Local journalists and representatives from press freedom organizations who spoke with Umunna before his arrest believe that his detention is linked to his work for Global Star. The publication, which covers Nigeria’s eastern region, has frequently published articles on the activities of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB). MASSOB, an organization based in eastern Nigeria, claims an independent state in the area for members of Nigeria’s Igbo ethnic group.
According to Hope Umunna, who has visited her husband in detention, the SSS questioned Isaac about whether he is involved in MASSOB. Tensions between MASSOB and the central government intensified recently, after MASSOB called a general strike by Igbo throughout the country in late August, according to news reports.
Umunna’s arrest is particularly alarming because it occurred less than a week after SSS agents raided the Lagos-based news magazine Insider Weekly, arrested three employees, seized equipment, censored the publication, and shut its offices. The employees, who included production manager Raphael Olatoye, circulation officer Cyril Mbamalu, and an unidentified dispatcher, were later released, but the magazine’s offices remain sealed, and several staff members are in hiding, fearing for their safety.
“The recent arrests and raids on private publications in Nigeria are alarming, particularly in a country that prides itself on establishing democracy after many years of military rule,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on Nigerian authorities to release Isaac Umunna immediately and unconditionally, and to re-open Insider Weekly. Journalists in Nigeria must be able to work without fear of government reprisal.”