Nigerian journalist threatened, rebuffed by police

Lagos, Nigeria, March 20, 2015–A Nigerian journalist told the Committee to Protect Journalists he received threats on Sunday and reported them to the police but had been rebuffed. CPJ condemns the threats and calls on Nigerian authorities to ensure the journalist’s safety.

Etim Ekpimah, correspondent for the daily PUNCH newspaper in the southern state of Akwa Ibom, told CPJ he received several threats via phone and text message on Sunday from individuals who said they would force him out of the state over the story he had published that day. The story, called “Akwa Ibom: State where commissioners, others, kneel for Akpabio’s wife,” recounted how government officials knelt toward the wife of the governor of Akwa Ibom state at a political rally and at the Independent National Electoral Commission office, where ministers were being presented with certificates.

Ekpimah told CPJ he is taking the threats seriously following information he got from friends close to government officials who warned him to tread cautiously. “When an Akwa Ibom person says he is going to do something, don’t take it lightly. I am being very cautious,” Ekpimah said.

“Nigeria already has an unimpressive record of unsolved attacks on journalists. It is therefore worrisome that Etim Ekpimah would report receiving threats to the chief police officer of a state only to be rebuffed,” said CPJ West Africa Representative Peter Nkanga. “Authorities should immediately investigate the threats and ensure Ekpimah’s safety.”

On Monday, the journalist spoke with Gabriel Achong, the Akwa Ibom state commissioner of police, to report the threats, he said. Achong said, “You are on your own. I do not have any business protecting you. I do not care about what happens to you,” PUNCH reported.

Achong also accused Ekpimah of collecting money from opposition parties to write the story, the report said. Ekpimah denied the allegation to CPJ.

Achong told CPJ he had told Ekpimah to file an official complaint about the threat so the police could begin an investigation.

“I told him that if you collected money from any person to tarnish the image of somebody, if that person writes for libel, I will arrest you and prosecute you,” he told CPJ. “And if you feel your life is threatened, write a petition to me and I will set up an investigation team to know the remote and immediate cause of the threat.”

Toyosi Ogunseye, the Sunday PUNCH editor, told CPJ the newspaper would file an official complaint to the police.

Emmanuel Ojukwu, spokesman for the national police, told CPJ in a text message that the alleged response of the police commissioner would be investigated. “The mandate of the police is to protect the lives of all citizens. … The life of every journalist falls in line with that mandate.”

Murders in Akwa Ibom state are often unresolved, according to news reports. On Wednesday, Okon Joseph Uwah, former deputy speaker at the state House of Assembly, was beaten to death by unknown assailants, according to news reports.

Since 2009, five Nigerian journalists have been targeted and killed while no perpetrators have been brought to book. Nigeria ranked 11th on CPJ’s 2014 Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free.