New York, March 11, 2010—An angry crowd of mourners attending a mass funeral in Dogo Nahawa, central Nigeria, assaulted state radio reporter Murtala Sani on Monday. Sani, a reporter for the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, was assigned to cover the funeral of more than 40 people killed during a bloody March 7 attack on four villages in central Nigeria.
Sani and other journalists told CPJ that the state governor’s adviser on religious matters, Pastor Choji, demanded Sani hand over his identification card and told nearby men that the reporter was an ethnic Hausa-Fulani. One man struck Sani and enlisted the crowd to join in the assault. “He was inches from losing his life,” said Wall Street Journal reporter Will Connors, who covered the funeral. “They wanted to kill him and throw his body in the mass grave with the others.”
Police fired in the air to disperse the assailants and then took Sani to a military hospital in the nearby city of Jos, the journalist told CPJ. He was treated for multiple injuries to his head and body. He was moved to a secure location today, journalists said. Sani’s car was destroyed and his equipment was stolen, they told CPJ.
Conflicts between Yoruba and Igbo Christians and Hausa-Fulani Muslims have occurred intermittently in central Nigeria for nearly a decade. Hundreds of Christians were killed on Sunday in four villages near Jos, Plateau state, in an attack seen as reprisal for a January assault on Muslims. Although the conflict has evident religious and ethnic dimensions, it is also centered on land, resources, and political posts, local journalists told CPJ.
“The terrible violence in central Nigeria needs in-depth local and international coverage,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator
State Commissioner of Information Gregory Yenlong met Sani after the incident and pledged to cover his medical expenses. “[Sani] is a responsible, committed journalist. But he must take precautions in these tense times; he should ask for security coverage when covering these events.”
The crowd at the funeral also accosted Agence France-Presse reporter Aminu Abdulla and demanded that he prove “that he was a Christian” by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, the journalist told CPJ. Abdulla managed to escape with the help of other journalists but lost equipment that he had kept in Sani’s car, he said.