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Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Nigeria

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2005
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Nigeria, February 2005, available at: [accessed 18 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

A year after President Olusegun Obasanjo was re-elected to a second term, this oil-rich West African country continued to struggle with widespread corruption and civil conflict. Despite being Africa's largest oil producer, more than three-quarters of Nigeria's 130 million people live in poverty.

While press freedom has improved since the presidential election of 1999 ended years of military rule, local journalists are concerned by signs that the Obasanjo administration is borrowing repressive tactics from Nigeria's past to intimidate the press. On September 4, armed State Security Service (SSS) agents broke into the offices of the private Lagos-based Insider Weekly with sledgehammers, seizing documents, equipment, and money, according to local sources. They detained at least two magazine employees for several days before releasing them without charge; confiscated the entire print run of the September 5 edition; and sealed off the offices, replacing the locks. Other employees went into hiding, fearing for their safety.

The SSS later issued a statement accusing Insider Weekly of "attacking, disparaging and humiliating the person and office of the president and commander-in-chief as well as some notable people in government" and defending the raid on national security grounds. It listed articles published in the magazine since 2001 that the SSS alleged had insulted or undermined the presidency. They included an article comparing Obasanjo to notorious former dictator Gen. Sani Abacha, and a story suggesting that Obasanjo wanted to amend the constitution to allow him to run for a third term. Obasanjo has said he will not seek a third term, although speculation about his plans persists.

Reaction to the raid was swift, with many private newspapers running editorials criticizing the administration; using the SSS to harass media was a common tactic under Abacha.

Fears increased when the SSS raided the offices of the Lagos-based Global Star magazine on September 8 and arrested editorial consultant Isaac Umunna the next day. The SSS held Umunna, who is also the general editor of the London-based monthly Africa Today, for eight days before releasing him without charge. Umunna told CPJ that his detention was linked to articles in Global Star on the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, which seeks to found an independent state in eastern Nigeria for members of Nigeria's Igbo ethnic group. In 1967, three eastern states attempted to secede as the Republic of Biafra, sparking a bloody three-year civil war.

Insider Weekly, known for its critical stance toward Obasanjo's administration, had been targeted before. However, local journalists were surprised by the SSS action against Global Star, a little-known new publication that was not widely distributed.

Local journalists continued their long but as-yet-fruitless lobbying effort for the Freedom of Information Act, which would allow journalists and citizens greater access to government information and provide protection for government whistleblowers. The bill has stagnated in the National Assembly since it was introduced by a coalition of civil-society groups more than five years ago. The House of Representatives passed the act in August, but the Senate and Obasanjo have yet to ratify it.

Ethnic, religious, and political conflicts remained sensitive topics for the press. Local journalists reported threats and harassment while covering hot spots across the country. Warring groups accused journalists of bias, and the government accused the media of sensationalizing the crises. Following deadly fighting between rival Christian and Muslim ethnic groups, Obasanjo declared a state of emergency in Plateau State in May, suspended its governor, dissolved the state legislature, and appointed retired army Gen. Chris Alli to administer the state. In August, Alli accused the local press of reporting negatively on government activities and threatened to take action against journalists who "want to cause problems," according to the private daily ThisDay. In December, soon after Gov. Joshua Dariye returned to office, Dariye himself warned against publications or broadcasts that might incite "unnecessary tensions," the private daily Vanguard reported.

Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region erupted in violence several times in 2004, with hundreds of warlords in the area intensifying their efforts to control local resources and gain self-determination. Local sources told CPJ that insecurity in the region made travel difficult and inhibited independent reporting. Armed police in Port Harcourt, a city in the southern Delta region, stormed the private radio station Rhythm FM in October to prevent the station from airing a recorded interview with a rebel militia leader.

Authorities have generally failed to punish members of security forces who have attacked local journalists, despite some improvements under Obasanjo. The trial of five suspects in the 1996 assassination attempt against Alex Ibru, former publisher of the independent daily Guardian, was still ongoing five years after it began in 1999. While covering the trial in November, a photographer working for the Vanguard was assaulted by bodyguards for Maj. Hamza al-Mustapha, a co-defendant and former Abacha security chief.

A controversial Journalism Enhancement Bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in August. Citing the need to improve professional standards, the Nigerian Union of Journalists helped draft an early version of the bill. But local journalists and press freedom organizations were alarmed at provisions that could quash critical reporting – notably, the establishment of a Media Practitioners Complaints Commission with the power to punish journalists who violate broadly defined standards. The press freedom group Media Rights Agenda said another provision states that journalists should not report "in a sensational way, or in a manner that glorifies" such things as "violence, religious or inter-ethnic or tribal conflicts, armed robberies, terrorist activities, national controversies such as intergovernmental and/or parliamentary conflicts, natural disasters, vulgar displays of wealth, or other negative trends and tendencies." Deliberations on the bill were suspended in September after widespread protests by news organizations.

In April, the official broadcast regulatory agency, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), banned radio and television stations from relaying live news broadcasts from foreign sources, such as the BBC, CNN, and the Voice of America. The NBC said the ban was in line with existing regulations that had not been enforced. The Independent Broadcasters Association of Nigeria challenged the ban in court, and the suit was pending at year's end.

2004 Documented Cases – Nigeria

JULY 21, 2004
Posted: July 29, 2004

Emmanuel Ujah, The Sun

Ujah, a correspondent for the national daily The Sun in central Benue State, was assaulted by police officers who also destroyed his camera and tape recorder, according to local journalists and press freedom groups.

Police attacked Ujah when he went to the Benue State police headquarters along with other local correspondents to investigate the detention of Johnson Babajide, a Benue State correspondent for the national daily Nigerian Tribune.

According to The Sun, Assistant Commissioner of Police H.C. Ugwu confronted Ujah about his reports on ongoing violence in Kwande, an area in Benue State where politically backed armed militias have been fighting each other since contested local elections in March. Ugwu accused Ujah of portraying the state police as incapable of handling the crisis, The Sun reported.

Sources at The Sun told CPJ that the state governor's office had earlier told Ujah and other local correspondents to downplay the violence.

Johnson Babajide was released later the same day without charge.

JULY 21, 2004
Posted: July 29, 2004

Johnson Babajide, The Nigerian Tribune

Babajide, a correspondent for the national daily Nigerian Tribune in central Benue State, was detained at his home in early morning and beaten by a group of supporters of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), according to local sources and press freedom groups.

Local sources reported that Babajide said the PDP supporters forcefully took him to the house of Benue State Governor George Akume, where he was again beaten before being handed over to local police. He was released later the same day without charge.

Local sources told CPJ they believe that the attack stemmed from recent articles Babajide had written about ongoing violence in Benue State between politically backed armed militias. The violence flared in March in Kwande after disputed local elections. Kwande is an area in Benue State where many residents are sympathetic to the opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). One of Babajide's articles had described an alleged attack on Akume's house by one of the armed militias, local sources said.

CPJ sources say that officials in Benue state have pressured local journalists to downplay the Kwande violence.

The Benue State governor's Chief Press Secretary Tahav Agerzua later issued a written statement denying that the journalist had been mistreated.

Updated: November 1, 2004

Insider Weekly

The Nigerian State Security Service (SSS) raided the Lagos news magazine Insider Weekly, arrested employees, seized equipment, censored the news, and shut its offices.

Armed SSS agents broke into the magazine's offices with sledgehammers, seizing documents, equipment, and money belonging to the magazine, according to local sources. They arrested the production manager, Raphael Olatoye, and brought him to the magazine's printing press, where they confiscated the entire print run of the magazine's September 5 edition, as well as the plates for printing it, local sources told CPJ.

SSS members returned to Insider Weekly's offices the following day and arrested the magazine's circulation officer, Cyril Mbamalu. They confiscated all 14 of the publication's computers, as well as other equipment. SSS agents then sealed off the offices and replaced the locks. Local sources told CPJ that an unidentified dispatcher was arrested later when he arrived at the offices to pick up copies of the magazine for distribution. The dispatcher was later released.

Olatoye and Mbamalu were released without charge on September 10, but the magazine's offices remained sealed. Other employees went into hiding and feared for their safety, according to local sources.

On September 4, the SSS released a detailed statement justifying its actions that was published in the national Lagos-based daily ThisDay on September 5. The statement accused Insider Weekly of "attacking, disparaging and humiliating the person and office of the President and Commander-in-chief as well as some notable people in government," and defended the raid on national security grounds.

The statement then listed articles published in Insider Weekly since 2001 that the SSS alleged had insulted or undermined the presidency. For example, an October 27, 2003, article compared President Olusegun Obasanjo to former military dictator General Sani Abacha, and a "current" article implied that Obasanjo wants to amend the constitution to allow a third presidential term.

This is not the first time that Nigerian authorities have targeted Insider Weekly for its critical stance toward Obasanjo's administration. In November 2003, police detained the magazine's editor-in-chief, Osa Director, and two of its directors, Janet Mba-Afolabi and Chuks Onwudinjo, for two days and charged them with defamation and sedition. The charges stemmed from an article alleging that top officials in Obasanjo's administration were involved with criminal syndicates that steal oil in the southern Niger Delta region. The charges have not been withdrawn, despite protests by many local journalists.

In October 2004, the magazine regained the use of its offices, and the SSS turned over all confiscated equipment, Raphael Olatoye told CPJ.

Posted: September 22, 2004

Isaac Umunna, Global Star, Africa Today

Global Star

Isaac Umunna, an editorial consultant to the private, Lagos-based weekly Global Star and general editor of Africa Today, a monthly news magazine based in London, was arrested at the headquarters of Nigeria's State Security Service (SSS).

On September 8, SSS members raided the offices of Global Star and arrested Umunna's wife, Hope Umunna, and two Global Star employees. The SSS agents confiscated documents and computers belonging to the publication and then went to Global Star's printing press, where they interrogated several of the paper's printers, according to Hope Umunna.

Hope Umunna was released the same day on the condition that her husband would report to the SSS. The two Global Star employees were also released at the same time.

On September 9, Isaac Umunna reported to the SSS headquarters in Shangisha, outside Lagos. SSS agents arrested him and detained him for six days at Shangisha. He was then moved to a detention center in the capital, Abuja, for another two days, before being released without charge.

After his release, Umunna told CPJ that his detention was linked to his journalistic work. Global Star, which covers Nigeria's eastern region, has frequently published articles on the activities of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB). MASSOB, an organization based in eastern Nigeria, claims an independent state in the area for members of Nigeria's Igbo ethnic group.

According to Umunna, the SSS questioned him about whether he was involved in MASSOB. Tensions between MASSOB and the central government intensified recently, after MASSOB called a general strike by Igbo throughout the country in late August, according to news reports.

OCTOBER 25, 2004
Posted: November 29, 2004

Owei Sikpi, Weekly Star

Thugs assaulted Sikpi, a reporter working for the privately owned Weekly Star, and warned him not to write about a local government official, according to Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and other local sources. Sikpi had recently written an article alleging that Steven Diver, chairman of the semi-autonomous Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, was involved in embezzlement and fraud.

MRA, a local press freedom organization, reported that Sikpi's assailants threatened him not to write about Diver again. Sikpi has petitioned local police to investigate the attack and bring the assailants to justice. The Weekly Star is based in the southern city of Port Harcourt, center of Nigeria's oil-producing region. The extent of Sikpi's injuries was not immediately clear, although MRA described the beating as severe.

NOVEMBER 10, 2004
Posted: January 18, 2005

Anambra Broadcasting Service

Unidentified armed vandals ransacked and set fire to radio stations and transmitters operated by the state-run Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) during violent riots in southern Anambra State. The riots were sparked by a feud between the state's embattled governor, Chris Ngige, and Ngige's rival and former mentor, businessman Chris Uba. According to local journalists, rioters targeted the stations as symbols of Ngige, who has been battling a rival faction of the ruling People's Democratic Party led by Uba since May 2003, when Ngige came to power. Following the election, Uba accused Ngige of reneging on political deals.

Other government buildings were also attacked, including the governor's office and the offices of the Independent Electoral Commission in the state capital, Awka. Fred Chukwuelobe, a spokesman for Ngige, accused Uba of inciting the riots in order to provoke President Olusegun Obasanjo into declaring a state of emergency, according to the independent daily ThisDay. A PDP member who supports Uba denied the charge, ThisDay reported.

In December, Ngige approved 25 million nairas (about US $190,000) to replace the damaged transmitters and other equipment at the ABS stations.

NOVEMBER 11, 2004
Posted: January 18, 2005

Diran Oshe, Vanguard

Oshe, a photographer working for the Lagos-based independent daily Vanguard, was assaulted by security guards while covering the trial of Major Hamza al-Mustapha, former head of security under the notorious military dictator General Sani Abacha. Al-Mustapha is one of five defendants accused of involvement in the 1996 attempt to assassinate Alex Ibru, then publisher of the leading independent daily Guardian.

Security agents guarding al-Mustapha assaulted Oshe when he tried to take pictures of the former security chief, according to local sources. The guards kicked Oshe and beat him with rifle butts until a court security officer intervened; the guards also smashed the journalist's camera.

Ibru was shot and badly wounded while driving from his office to his home in Lagos in February 1996. Police initially classified the attack as an attempted armed robbery, although nothing was stolen. The suspects' trial began after Olusegun Obasanjo was elected president in 1999 following Abacha's death. Local journalists believe the attack on Ibru came in retaliation for the Guardian's criticism of Abacha.

NOVEMBER 27, 2004
Posted: January 18, 2005

Stephan Faris, Time

Faris, a reporter on assignment for the U.S.-based news weekly Time magazine, was expelled by Nigerian security agents upon arrival in Lagos from Nairobi, Kenya. According to a statement released by Time, Faris held a valid Nigerian visa and had informed the Nigerian Ministry of Information of his arrival. "However, Nigeria's State Security Service in Lagos told Mr. Faris he could not enter and held his passport until he was escorted onto a flight headed for Nairobi," Time News Director Howard Chua-Eoan said in the statement.

Faris was planning to report on unrest in the oil-rich southern Niger Delta, where violence has repeatedly erupted because of hundreds of local warlords demanding more control over resources and greater self-determination.

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