In Nigeria, 4 journalists receive death threats

New York, April 30, 2010Four journalists who covered the recent dismissal of the electoral commission chairman received anonymous death threats via text message on Wednesday, according to CPJ interviews and news reports. The messages, sent from the same number, said the reporters would meet the fate of three slain Nigerian journalists.

“We will deal with you soon. Remember Dele Giwa, Bayo Ohu, and Edo Ugbagwu?” the text messages said, invoking three unsolved Nigerian journalist murders, according to local reports. The reporters who received the message were: Yusuf Ali of The Nation, Olusola Fabiyi of The Punch, Chuks Okocha of ThisDay and Gbenga Aruleba of Africa Independent Television (AIT).

The journalists received identical messages after covering Acting President Jonathan Goodluck’s decision to remove the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Maurice Iwu.  

Iwu denied any involvement in the threats, news reports said. Some local journalists suggested Iwu’s political enemies could have staged the threats in an attempt to smear him.

The threats come just days after three journalists were killed in two separate incidents. Unknown gunmen shot private daily Nation reporter Edo Sule Ugbagwu at his home outside Lagos on Saturday, local journalists told CPJ. The same day, rioters killed two journalists working for a local Christian newspaper The Light Bearer, Deputy Editor Nathan Dabak and reporter Sunday Gyang Bwede, in the restive city of Jos, Plateau State.

“The text messages mention of Giwa, Ohu and Ugbagwu is an ugly reminder that journalists have been murdered in Nigeria with impunity,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “With three Nigerian journalists killed recently, police must take no chances and provide full security to these journalists.”

Aruleba, a presenter on the political talk show “Focus Nigeria” for AIT, received a warning Monday evening from a government contact that his name was on a hit list, he told CPJ. Aruleba had produced several programs critical of Iwu’s handling of the state elections.

National Police Spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu told CPJ that they are aware of the threats and are investigating. In the Ugbagwu murder, Ojukwu said, police have detained some suspects.