New York, October 12, 2011–Police in Nigeria arrested six journalists and one staff member from independent daily The Nation on Tuesday concerning the publication of a purported private letter from former head of state Olusegun Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan about administrators of government agencies, local journalists reported.
On the front page of its October 4 edition, The Nation published a letter, allegedly written by Obasanjo, that recommended Jonathan replace five CEOs of several government agencies, news reports said. Obasanjo filed a complaint last week, accusing the newspaper of publishing the letter with a forgery of his signature, Olusola Amore, the national police spokesman, told CPJ. The Nation, widely perceived as an opposition paper, said in a statement that they stand by their story and the letter’s authenticity.
On Tuesday afternoon, detectives raided The Nation offices in the commercial city of Lagos and the capital, Abuja, and arrested four editors after failing to find the publication’s senior leaders, General Editor Kunle Fagbemi told CPJ. Later that day, police arrested two reporters and the newspaper’s chief of security who had accompanied the editors to the Central Police Station in Lagos. None of the journalists have been charged yet.
“While we do not know if the letter was forged, we note that forgery is merely a civil offense in Nigeria. There is no reason for the former president to exert such pressure on the police to intimidate and silence journalists,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “Authorities should release the journalists immediately.”
The journalists–Deputy Editor Lawal Ogienagbon, News Editor Dapo Olufade, reporters John Unachukwu and Dupe Olaoye-Osinkolu from the Lagos office, and Bureau Chief Yomi Odungu and Managing Editor Yusuf Ali from the Abuja office–are expected to be in court tomorrow, Amore told CPJ.
Prior to the arrests, Abuja police had requested a Nation editor, Gbenga Omotoso, reveal the source of the letter, news reports said. The paper’s lawyer, Femi Falana, told police the journalist was traveling abroad and would present himself in Abuja upon his return.
“These arrests scar the country’s recent positive track record of supporting press freedom,” said Keita. In July, Nigeria passed a long-awaited Freedom of Information Act.