CPJ urges Nigerian president to combat impunity

December 14, 2007

His Excellency Umaru Musa Yar’Adua
President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
C/o The Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
3519 International Court NW
Washington, D.C. 20008

Via facsimile: (202) 362-6552

Mr. President,

The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes your recent directive to Nigeria’s federal police to renew investigations into all unresolved criminal cases, particularly assassinations. As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, we would like to draw your attention to a pattern of impunity in the violent murders and disappearances of at least five Nigerian journalists since 1986.

We urge you to ensure the federal police pursue all leads in conducting thorough and transparent probes into these cases.
Award-winning journalist Godwin Agbroko, 53, editorial board chairman of the private daily ThisDay, was found shot dead on December 22, 2006, in his car with his valuables untouched while driving home from work in the commercial city of Lagos. Federal police officials characterized the murder as an assassination, but have not produced any suspects, according to local journalists. In January, CPJ wrote a letter to former President Olusegun Obasanjo urging a thorough and transparent probe into the murder, but did not receive a response.

Omololu Falobi, 35, founder and director of media advocacy group Journalists Against AIDS, was gunned down on October 5, 2006, as he left his office in Lagos. Falobi, former features editor of the private daily The Punch was found at the wheel of his car with his valuables untouched, according to local journalists. No arrests have been made in the case, according to CPJ research.

Bagauda Kaltho, 35, a senior correspondent of independent The News magazine based in Kaduna, went missing in 1996. In August 1998, the police’s Task Force on Terrorist Activitiesannounced that Kaltho was the unidentified person killed at the scene of a January 1996 bomb blast at a local hotel, and alleged that Kaltho was the bomber, according to news reports. Kaltho’s colleagues vehemently denied the accusations. A few weeks before his disappearance, Kaltho said he received death threats in connection with stories critical of Nigeria’s military government, according to Usman Leman, the National Secretary of the Nigerian Union of Journalists.

In May 1996, Chinedu Offoaro, a reporter of the private daily The Guardian in Lagos failed to return to the paper’s offices from a reporting assignment in the southern city of Owerri. His whereabouts remain unknown and he is presumed dead. State Security Service officials have refused to cooperate with the family, and have not answered questions about whether they detained Offoaro.

On October 19, 1986, a parcel bomb bearing the government’s coat of arms killed Dele Giwa, founding editor of the Lagos-based weekly magazine Newswatch, at his home. A day before his death, the head of the State Security Service (SSS) under the military administration of former dictator Gen. Ibrahim Babangida had called Giwa’s wife for directions to his residence, according to CPJ research. Babaginda has refused to cooperate with any official inquiries. No one was ever prosecuted for the murder. Local media cited veteran Lagos-based lawyer Chief Gani Fawehinmi as saying this week that Giwa was allegedly working on a drug-related investigative story involving Babaginda’s wife.

Since your administration assumed office on May 29 after a historic civilian handover of power, officials in your government have publicly stated your commitment to ending the “impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of Nigeria’s abuses,” according to a statement issued by Information Minister John Odey in October. Lawmakers have also indicated their support in passing a Freedom of Information bill, according to news reports. With this in mind, we ask you to extend your directive to include journalists–to be sure that the federal police pursue all leads in conducting thorough and transparent probes into a pattern of unsolved criminal cases involving media workers, including these five journalists, in order to bring closure to their families and colleagues.

When journalists cannot be assured of their safety, self-censorship ensues. To create a secure environment for the press, your administration also needs to ensure that the media will not be persecuted unnecessarily. In light of this, recent events involving the SSS are troublesome. Several journalists have been either harassed or detained by the SSS in recent months, including publisher Jerome Imeime of the private weekly Events. Imeime was held for three weeks and later charged with sedition over a story critical of the governor of southern Akwa Ibom state, according to CPJ research. In order to end a long-standing pattern of extrajudicial arrests of media workers, we call on you to ensure that officials and security services are held to account for their actions.  

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.


Joel Simon
Executive Director