Nigeria’s SSS grills journalists over story critical of ruling party

New York, January 10, 2007—An article raising critical questions about Nigeria’s ruling party led state security agents to raid the offices of an Abuja daily, seize documents, and detain the story’s author, a newspaper executive told the Committee to Protect Journalists today.

State Security Service (SSS) officials were still holding reporter Danladi Ndayebo, a reporter for the private daily Leadership, after questioning him for seven hours about the sources for his January 6 story, Managing Director Shehu Dauda told CPJ. Ndayebo’s story contended that presidential candidate Peter Odili was forced out of the presidential primaries by President Olusegun Obasanjo. Nigeria will hold a presidential election in April to choose a successor to Obasanjo.

“We condemn this intimidation and harassment of journalists in the lead-up to historic presidential elections. It is particularly alarming that the SSS, which reports directly to the presidency, is behind this raid,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the authorities to ensure that all Nigerian journalists are free to report and comment on the elections without fear of reprisal.”

SSS agents sealed off Leadership‘s offices on Tuesday afternoon, detaining staff for an hour, searching offices, and demanding that the paper turn over internal drafts of the article, according to news reports and the Lagos-based press freedom organization Media Rights Agenda (MRA). SSS agents detained Editor Bashir Bello Akko for 15 hours, General Manager Abraham Nda-Isaiah for nine hours, and staff member Abubakar Dzukogi for two hours to pressure them to produce the author of the article, according to MRA and Dauda.

Two elements of the story were particularly sensitive, according to Dauda. The article alleged that state security officials had seized Odili’s campaign funds as a way to pressure him to step out of the race. The article also alleged that Obasanjo and Odili were business partners in a private airline company. Public officials in Nigeria are forbidden to engage in private business while in office.

Leadership, a popular newspaper in the northern part of Nigeria, is regarded as close to the opposition and has consistently produced investigative reporting critical of the ruling administration, according to Uwugiaren. NUJ has condemned the act.

CPJ research has found a recurring pattern in which SSS agents have detained journalists, raided news outlets without warrants, and harassed news vendors in connection with critical reporting on the presidency or ethnic separatist movements.