Nigerian broadcaster attacked amid election dispute

New York, May 25, 2007—A journalist and a dozen staffers of a public broadcaster in southwestern Oyo State were injured on Wednesday when armed supporters of a faction of the ruling PDP party ransacked the station, according to local journalists and news reports.

The attack was apparently prompted by the station’s announcement that local elections would take place on Thursday, local journalists said. A split within the PDP over the timing of the election resulted in violent unrest in the state in recent weeks, according to local sources. At least five people were killed during Thursday’s polls.

The Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS) was forced off the air Wednesday after a dozen minibuses carrying vandals armed with axes, machetes and firearms pulled in front of the station, Chief Reporter Oye Oyewole told CPJ. The attackers, led by former station chairman Yaya Adetunji, fired in the air, smashed equipment, and assaulted staffers, according to Senior Editor Ninyo Adediji, who was among the victims. Television presenter Josephine Adekola was forced to end a live news bulletin, but escaped unhurt. The mob carried away key parts of the station’s radio and television transmitters and destroyed the car of Chief Editor Tunji Alawaye, Alawaye said. Most of the staffers were treated for light injuries and discharged, but two remained in intensive care today, according to Oyewole. The station remained off the air today as police posted officers to guard the station.

“We condemn this violent attack on the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the authorities to conduct a full and transparent investigation of this attack and bring all responsible parties to justice.”

The attack on BCOS, located in Ibadan, 244 miles (393 km) southwest of the capital, Abuja, came in the context of a political row between embattled outgoing Gov. Rashidi Ladoja and his successor, Deputy Gov. Christopher Alao-Akala, according to Wale Ojo Lanre, chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Oyo State. Akala, backed by a powerful local PDP politician, had sought to hold the local elections after he took office next Tuesday. Thirty-three district representative seats were up for grabs.

The local dispute is reflective of a larger national split within the PDP, pitting former president Olusegun Obansajo against outgoing vice president Atiku Abubakar. The vice president and several governors, including Ladoja, had opposed efforts to amend the constitution to allow Obansajo to seek an additional term.

BCOS was the second broadcaster harassed for its coverage of Nigerian elections this year. Last month, intelligence agents raided the studios of private African Independent Television in Abuja in connection with a paid political program.