The office of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said a memo published by Leadership newspaper was fictitious. (AP/Sunday Alamba)
The office of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said a memo published by Leadership newspaper was fictitious. (AP/Sunday Alamba)

Nigeria police harass Leadership staff over memo

Lagos, Nigeria, April 10, 2013–Nigerian police should stop harassing the staff of the leading independent daily Leadership over a story critical of President Goodluck Jonathan, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On Monday, police in the capital Abuja summoned four Leadership journalists for questioning over an April 3 story entitled “Outrage Trails Presidential Directive on Tinubu, APC,” according to the newspaper. The story reported on public criticism of Jonathan following Leadership‘s publication a day earlier of a purported presidential memorandum in which Jonathan allegedly laid out plans to increase petrol prices and sabotage a merger of opposition political parties ahead of the 2015 elections by targeting their leaders’ business interests.

In a press statement, the presidential State House called the document “fictitious, designed to mislead the public, discredit the person and office of President Goodluck Jonathan, and cause disaffection within the polity,” according to news reports.

Managing Editor Chuks Ohuegbe and Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe, human resources director and a former editor, were released on Monday after more than nine hours of interrogation over the sources of the document, Azubuike Ishiekwene, Leadership Newspapers Group managing director, told CPJ. However, police held news editor Tony Amokeodo and political reporter Chibuzor Ukaibe incommunicado overnight, demanding they produce the source of the story. They were released late Tuesday on condition they report to police headquarters every day at 10 a.m.

“Nigerian police efforts to intimidate journalists of Leadership newspaper into revealing the source of a document, which the government has dismissed as fake, is a heavy-handed abuse of power unacceptable in a democracy,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita from New York. “We call on Nigerian police to halt harassment of Leadership.”

Ishiekwene said the newspaper group considered the conditions of the journalists’ release “obnoxious and unacceptable” and planned to defy the order that the journalists report to police each day.

Police had previously visited the newspaper’s Abuja office three times demanding to see the journalists who wrote the story on the presidential memo, Leadership reported.  Media and rights groups condemned the journalists’ arrest, according to news reports. In a statement sent to CPJ, Ishiekwene said he believed police were acting on direct orders from Jonathan. Neither police spokesman Frank Mba nor presidential spokesman Doyin Okupe responded to CPJ’s calls and text messages.

Ugo Udoji, the journalists’ lawyer, told CPJ he has filed a court process against the police for violating the constitutional rights of the journalists by detaining them without access to their families or their lawyer.