Nigerian president Buhari must ensure release of journalist Jones Abiri

June 21, 2018

President Muhammadu Buhari
Aso Villa, Yakubu Gowon Crescent,
The Three Arms Zone, Asokoro,
Abuja, FTC, Nigeria

Via email to:
Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information
Femi Adesina, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to Muhammadu Buhari
Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari

Dear President Muhammadu Buhari,

We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-profit organization that champions press freedom internationally, and 20 other organizations, are writing to call for the release of journalist Jones Abiri, who has been held by Nigeria’s Department of State Security (DSS) for nearly two years, and to call for DSS to be held accountable for its attacks against journalists in Nigeria.

We were disappointed that, after repeated requests during CPJ’s visit to Nigeria in April 2018, we were not permitted to visit Abiri in detention. In a meeting with CPJ on April 24, 2018, Garba Shehu, your presidential spokesperson, confirmed that Abiri remained in DSS custody and said he would be charged in court on allegations of being a militant. Yet after almost two years behind bars, Abiri has not seen a courtroom, nor has his family been given any information about his health and well-being.

The DSS operates under Nigeria’s coordinator of national security, which reports directly to you, according to the 1986 National Security Agencies Act. During a visit to State House in April, Garba Shehu also told CPJ that you would be made personally aware of Abiri’s ongoing detention. We therefore call for your swift action to ensure Abiri’s release and that those responsible for his prolonged and illegal detention are held accountable.

In February and March 2018, the DSS also arrested Tony Ezimakor, the Abuja bureau chief of the privately owned Daily Independent newspaper. CPJ documented Ezimakor’s week-long detention without charge or court appearance, during which the DSS threatened the journalist with terrorism charges for his reporting.

Over the last two years, CPJ has repeatedly tried to contact Lawal Musa Daura, director general of the DSS, and Gbeteng Bassi, director of operations of the DSS, without success. Nigerian journalists have similarly told CPJ, with dismay, that they are unable to reach the DSS for comment, regarding the arrest of their colleagues or otherwise. During the same April 2018 meeting with CPJ, Garba Shehu confirmed that the DSS has not designated anyone responsible for communicating with the Nigerian public. We urge you to improve accountability and make the DSS accessible to the press. This includes the appointment of a DSS spokesperson.

Your action to ensure the safety of journalists and the promotion of open dialogue through the press is made even more important because Nigeria will hold elections in February 2019. Around the world, CPJ has documented how attacks on journalists have escalated during election periods and other political processes. It is in this context that we urge you to take decisive action to ensure that journalists are free to report on matters of public concern, and that a culture of self-censorship does not cloud public decision-making processes. As part of this, Abiri should be released without delay.


Joel Simon
Executive Director
Committee to Protect Journalists

Shu’aibu Usman Leman
National Secretary
Nigerian Union of Journalists

Wade H. McMullen, Jr.
Managing Attorney
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Elizabeth Chyrum
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea

David Kode
Head of Advocacy and Campaigns

Edmund YaKani
Executive Director
Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, South Sudan

Zohrab Ismayil
Programmes Director
Caucasus Civil Initiatives Center (CCIC)

Yared Hailemariam
Association For Human Rights In Ethiopia (AHRE)

Dina Meza
Directora Ejecutiva
Asociación por la Democracia y los Derechos Humanos

Melanie Sonhaye Kombate
Programs and Advocacy Director
West African Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN)

Rahman Gharib
Metro Center for Journalists Rights & Advocacy

Alphonsus B.M. Gbanie
Executive Secretary
Human Rights Defenders Network- Sierra Leone

Yemisi Ransome-Kuti
Founding Executive Director and Board Member
Nigeria Network of NGOs

Osai Ojigho
Amnesty International – Nigeria

Cristina Palabay
Secretary General
Karapatan – Philippines

Adilur Khan
Secretary General
Odhikar – Bangladesh

Carles Torner
Executive Director
PEN International

Folu Agoi
PEN Nigeria

Sulemana Braimah
Executive Director
Media Foundation for West Africa

Tshivis Tshivuadi
Secrétaire Générale
Journaliste en Danger (JED-RDC)

Hannah Forster
Executive Director
African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)