In Nigerian capital, government demolishes broadcaster’s offices

New York, June 22, 2007—Nigeria’s leading independent broadcast network says it will take the government to court next week after authorities demolished three new station facilities in the capital, Abuja. 

African Independent Television (AIT) plans to sue for damages after the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), a local government entity, last week bulldozed without warning three structures, including a digital studio, a technical operations office, and a common room for news anchors.

The FCT said the station contravened city planning rules and encroached on neighboring property when it built the structures over the past year, Issa Shuaid, FCT director for urban development, told CPJ. He also accused the station of using commercial premises for residential purposes.

The FCT charges regarding the land encroachment were announced for the first time on the day of the demolition, said Ladi Lawal, head of operations for Dar Communications, AIT’s parent company. He denied the other charges, saying the station altered its building plans in July 2006 at the direction of authorities, who then inspected the site on several occasions.

AIT Chairman Raymond Dokpesi said he believes the demolition was politically motivated and was intended to intimidate the station because of its critical coverage during the recent elections in May. The station, for instance, aired a public forum during which members of Nigeria’s assembly critically appraised former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure.

AIT, which broadcasts across Africa, has several other facilities in Lagos and Abuja.
“We are deeply disturbed by this arbitrary demolition,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “African Independent Television had no chance to defend itself against the charges brought by the authorities. Given the station’s history of critical reporting, it is hard to escape the conclusion that there is more behind the razing of its new offices than a planning code violation.”

AIT has been the target of frequent harassment in connection with its broadcasts.  In April, intelligence agents raided its studios in Abuja after the station aired a paid political program that was critical of former president Olusegun Obasanjo.