Abuja, Nigeria, February 25, 2016–Nigerian authorities should investigate claims that a businessman threatened freelance journalist Augustina Armstrong-Ogbonna over her investigation into his company, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Armstrong-Ogbonna, who won the 2015 United Nations Foundation Prize for humanitarian coverage, said she was threatened by Emmanuel Iheanacho, a former interior minister, while investigating allegations that his company, Integrated Oil and Gas, was dredging around Irede community in the commercial capital, Lagos, without government approval and without an environmental impact assessment, according to news reports. Iheanacho denied the allegations about his company to CPJ.
Armstrong-Ogbonna told CPJ that when she contacted Iheanacho for comment when writing the story he threatened her and told her not to publish. The journalist included the alleged threats in her report, writing that Iheanacho “warned me not to publish any story or else I will put myself in the firing line. He threatened to visit my office.” The story was published on the Environews website on February 15, and broadcast and discussed on two radio stations including Radio One 103.5 FM.
Armstrong-Ogbonna told CPJ that on Monday, Raymond Gold, the Irede community spokesman she quoted as a source, was arrested on accusations of breaching the peace through a provocative story reported in the media. The community spokesman called Armstrong-Ogbonna from court on Tuesday and told her police were acting on Iheanacho’s orders and planned to arrest her too. The journalist told CPJ she plans to report the threats to police.
“We are concerned by this report of a powerful public figure seeking to intimidate a journalist,” said CPJ West Africa Representative Peter Nkanga. “We call on the authorities to investigate these threats against Augustina Armstrong-Ogbonna in a timely and thorough manner.”
Funke Treasure Durodola, the general manager at the government-owned station Radio One 103.5 FM, told CPJ that Iheanacho visited the station’s offices in Lagos last week and reported Armstrong-Ogbonna to the station’s management. Armstrong-Ogbonna told CPJ Iheanacho accused her of being paid to write the story to tarnish him. Durodola said the station’s legal department was looking into every aspect of the matter.
Iheanacho denied threatening Armstrong-Ogbonna and told CPJ she was spreading falsehood about him. He said he has reported Armstrong-Ogbonna to all security agencies, including the police, for smearing his reputation.
When CPJ asked Lagos state police spokeswoman Dolapo Badmus about the threats and claims that police, acting on Iheanacho’s orders, planned to arrest the journalist, she responded by text message, saying that Armstrong-Ogbonna needs to petition the police and provide evidence for the threat to be investigated.