Security services arrest television presenter

New York, June 15, 2006—State security agents arrested a presenter for Nigeria’s leading private television channel after he hosted a panel discussion about next year’s presidential election, a station manager said today.

State Security Service (SSS) detained Mike Gbenga Aruleba of African Independent Television (AIT) in the capital, Abuja, on Wednesday. Mac Amarere, general manager of the station’s Abuja bureau, told the Committee to Protect Journalists that the SSS had refused to discuss the arrest, and had denied access to Aruleba.

The SSS asked the station to turn over a tape of Tuesday’s “Focus Nigeria” program, hosted by Arubela, which featured three guests speaking about the election. One of the speakers was a ruling party member of the National Assembly, Amarere said. The Lagos-based press freedom organization Media Rights Agenda reported that another speaker, former senator Joseph Waku, harshly criticized President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration during the segment.

“CPJ has documented numerous cases where the SSS has detained journalists extra-judicially, in connection with their work,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “The SSS must put a stop to this outrageous behavior, and release Mike Gbenga Aruleba immediately and unconditionally.”

“All journalists in Nigeria must be free to report and comment on the upcoming historic elections without fear of reprisals,” Cooper added. Next year’s polls are expected to mark the first transfer of power between democratically elected civilian leaders in Nigeria’s history.

This is not the first time AIT has come under fire from the government. On May 14, plainclothes security agents told managers at the Abuja bureau to stop broadcasting a privately produced 30-minute documentary about past failed efforts by Nigerian leaders to prolong their time in office. The seizure occurred as Nigeria’s National Assembly debated whether to amend the country’s constitution to allow President Olusegun Obasanjo to run for a third term in office.

Following the seizure, Raymond Dokpesi, the head of AIT’s parent company, said he had received telephone threats over the station’s decision to broadcast live the National Assembly’s debate on the proposed amendment. The amendment was defeated on May 16.