Nigerian SSS raids another newspaper, arrests a top official

New York, January 11, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Nigerian government’s apparent crackdown on critical reporting, as security service agents reporting directly to the president engaged in the second newspaper raid in as many days.

State Security Service (SSS) officials were holding Dan Akpovwa, publisher of the private weekly Abuja Inquirer, incommunicado late today in connection with an allegedly “seditious” story in the current edition, correspondent Emmanuel Iffer told CPJ. Akpovwa, who had not been charged as of late today, has been held since a Wednesday afternoon raid at his newspaper’s offices in Abuja.

In its current edition, the newspaper claimed that a military coup was possible because of a public row between outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar, according to news reports. Obansajo ousted Abukakar from the ruling PDP party after accusing him of corruption, effectively blocking the vice president from getting the party’s crucial presidential nomination. In April, Nigerian voters will elect a president in the first democratic handover of power since Sani Abacha’s dictatorship ended eight years ago.

“It is becoming clear that Nigerian authorities are cracking down on dissent before historic presidential polls,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “In a country that claims to be democratic, it is unacceptable that security services reporting to the president arbitrarily arrest journalists for doing their work. We call on authorities to immediately end this behavior and allow the press to report on issues of public interest without fear of reprisal.”

Editor Sode Abbah was arrested with Akpovwa on Wednesday after SSS agents sealed off the Abuja Inquirer’s offices, detained staff for four hours, and seized computer discs, a hard drive, and copies of the paper, Iffer told CPJ. Abbah was released after more than 24 hours of detention.

The raid on the Abuja Inquirer came a day after the SSS searched the offices of the private daily Leadership and interrogated its journalists for hours over a story critical of Obasanjo’s ruling PDP party. Reporter Danladi Ndayebo was interrogated for nine hours before being released late Wednesday. Several other Leadership journalists were also questioned at length.