Security service agents raid private newspaper

New York, August 26, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed outrage at a raid by the State Security Service (SSS) on the Lagos-based weekly The Exclusive. Fourteen SSS agents raided the tabloid’s offices on August 19 and confiscated over 200 copies of its latest edition. They also detained and harassed vendors of the newspaper, local sources said.

The Exclusive‘s editor, Osa Irabor, told CPJ that the authorities wanted to censor coverage of ethnic Igbo nationalist groups, and threats by Igbos to secede from Nigeria. In a July 27 article the newspaper reported threats by the head of the Igbo Youth Congress to take up arms if Igbos were not adequately represented in the 2007 presidential election. Two articles on August 16 reported on Igbo secession movements, including the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), which claims an independent Igbo state in southeastern Nigeria.

In 1967, three southeastern states attempted unsuccessfully to secede as the Republic of Biafra, sparking a bloody three-year civil war.

SSS agents threatened to arrest staff if the newspaper ran further articles unfavorable to the government, according to Irabor. Agents also confiscated copies of The Exclusive from newsstands, and told vendors not to carry it. Several vendors were detained for several hours before being released without charge.

“CPJ is outraged by these heavy-handed tactics which have unfortunately become all too frequent in Nigeria,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “Armed raids on private publications and intimidation of newspaper vendors are not what one expects to see in a democratic country. We call on the authorities to ensure that such abuses cease immediately.”

CPJ has documented a pattern of SSS suppression of publications reporting on MASSOB. In January, SSS agents in the southeastern city of Enugu raided newsstands and harassed vendors selling copies of the local tabloid Eastern Pilot, which carried a story on MASSOB claiming the “emergence of a new Biafra nation.” In September 2004, the SSS arrested Isaac Umunna, a well-known journalist and editorial consultant to the small Lagos-based weekly Global Star, and detained him for eight days after the paper published stories on MASSOB.