Nigeria's Fresh FM radio station partially demolished following critical reporting

August 27, 2018 5:56 PM ET

A market along the street in Ibadan, in Nigeria's southwestern Oyo state, on September 22, 2012. Fresh FM radio station in Ibadan was partially demolished on August 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

Fresh FM, a privately owned radio station based in Ibadan city, in Nigeria's southwestern Oyo state, was partially demolished by bulldozer during the early hours of August 19, 2018, upon the order of the Oyo state government, Samson Akindele, head of news for Fresh FM, and David Ajiboye, station manager for Fresh FM, told CPJ. The demolition order followed Fresh FM's critical reporting on the Oyo state government, including reports on local healthcare issues and corruption allegations, Akindele and Ajiboye said. The two Fresh FM staff told CPJ they believed their reporting caused the government to pursue demolition of the station.

Akindele and Ajiboye also told CPJ on August 21, 2018, that the station was still able to broadcast because the demolition spared a studio space at the back of the building, which is also known as The Music House and owned by Nigerian musician Yinka Ayefele.

Nigerian musician and Fresh FM owner Yinka Ayefele (right) and Abiola Ajimobi, governor of Oyo state (left), greet each other on August 26, 2018, at an event for the 90th birthday of Oba Saliu Adetunji, The Olubadan (Lord of Ibadan). (Tolani Alli)

Toye Arulogun, Oyo state commissioner for information, culture and tourism, defended the decision to demolish the radio station as a response to Fresh FM's contravention of planning laws, according to a report by the privately owned news website Premium Times. In an email exchange with CPJ on August 24, 2018, Arulogun said he "would be glad to respond to the tissues of lies and conjectures," referring to claims that the demolition was a response to critical reporting. CPJ's repeated calls to Arulogun before and after the email, as well as a follow-up email, went unanswered.

Ajiboye told CPJ he disagreed that there was any structural issue with the building to legitimize its demolition. If there is legitimate grounds for demolition, "why do you come to demolish in the middle of the night on Sunday?" Ajiboye said.

On July 3, 2018, Fresh FM received a letter, which was seen by CPJ, from the Oyo state Office of the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice demanding retraction of an allegedly libelous broadcast on a program, "Political Circuit," about the Oyo state governor's alleged financial interest in the company constructing and operating a new slaughterhouse. The letter demanded a retraction and a letter of apology, and threatened to sue Fresh FM for 500 million naira (US$1,379,300) for noncompliance.

Ajiboye told CPJ that the state government also filed a complaint with Nigeria's media regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), but that after review of the broadcast Fresh FM was not sanctioned. CPJ's calls to Maimuna Jimada, head of public affairs at the NBC, and Mallam Is'haq Modibbo Kawu, director general of the NBC, went unanswered, but media reports indicate that Kawu condemned the demolition to reporters and said that it "does not speak well of the [state] government."

Fresh FM on August 15, 2018, served the state government a writ of summons in an effort to prevent the demolition but the matter did not come before a judge at the Oyo state high court in Ibadan until August 20, according to Akindele and a report by Premium Times. The case adjourned until September 12, according to the same report. Ayefele and Abiola Ajimobi, governor of Oyo state, also met on August 23, 2018, to discuss resolution of the dispute, according to the privately owned Nigerian Tribune newspaper.

Multiple Nigerian press and rights groups have taken issue with the demolition. The Oyo State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in a statement sent to CPJ by the NUJ Oyo state chairman Adewumi Faniran said it was "disturbed by the demolition" and "expected that the court would have been left to take a definite decision on the issue of demolition before it was carried out."

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a Nigerian human rights group, said in a statement that the demolition violated "the right to freedom of expression and media freedom."

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