Foreign correspondents accused of bias and journalists in the provinces, especially the north, were the most at risk. Despite the efforts of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC), impunity was still the rule in the cases of journalists murdered during the military dictatorships before 1999.

The threats to the press came not so much from the central government as the state governors who acted with complete impunity. Several political leaders made statements threatening journalists. They included the governor of central Plateau state who in early November 2002 threatened to expel journalists who wrote "negative" reports about the endemic ethnic and tribal violence in his state. Anything lacking in truth was "satanic," the governor said. The situation became especially worrying in the north in November when several Islamist organisations declared a fatwa against a woman journalist, who had to leave the country immediately.

After the ethnic clashes in the Lagos neighbourhoods of Mushin and Idi-Araba in early February that left at least 100 dead, the authorities launched an offensive against the perceived impartiality of the foreign press. On 8 February, information minister Jerry Gana accused the foreign media of undermining the process of democratisation in Nigeria, naming Cable News Network (CNN) and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). The same day, parliamentarians threatened to expel CNN's bureau chief, Jeff Koinange. The information minister asked CNN to withdraw its correspondents a few days later. Some of the local media supported the authorities and joined in the criticism of CNN, accusing it above all of taking sides in the ethnic clashes in Lagos. Koinage was especially criticised for reporting in one piece that people were demoralised , that they said they preferred the old military regime, and that they said democracy had done more harm than good.

Aware of the concerns aroused by this case, the government tried to sound reassuring a few weeks later. On 15 March, the information minister pledged not to arrest any journalists or close any news media, contrary to the practices of the military governments prior to 1999. The Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC), which was formed in 1999 to look into the abuses during three decades of military rule, published it findings in May. It implicated former President Ibrahim Babangida (1985-1993) and two former intelligence chiefs, Halilu Akilu and A.K. Togun, in the 1986 parcel bomb murder of Newswatch Magazine editor Dele Giwa and called for the police investigation to be reopened. Lawyers for Gen. Babangida (who had refused several times to testify to the commission) filed a petition in early June to stop its recommendations being implemented on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. In November, the supreme court put off a decision until 31 January 2003. A few days later, Gen. Babangida announced that he would stand for the National Democratic Party (NDP) in the 2003 presidential election.

A journalist physically attacked

Adeyami Adebanjo, a reporter with the newspaper P.M. News, was beaten by 10 armed policemen in Lagos on 14 February. They hit him with their gun butts after discovering he was a reporter. According to a witness, one of them said his newspaper was giving them problems so they were going to finish him off.

17 journalists threatened

Several hundred Muslims who arrived in buses set fire to the offices of the newspaper This Day in Kaduna on 20 November, four days after it ran a report condemned as blasphemous by many religious groups in the north of the country. The newspaper's editor, Simon Kolawole, was briefly detained by agents of the State Security Services (SSS) in Abuja on 22 November. The northern state of Zamfara, which has a Muslim majority, on 26 November proclaimed a fatwa against Isioma Daniel, the reporter with This Day who wrote the article. The offending article said that the Prophet Muhammad would probably have chosen a wife from among the competitors in the Miss World contest that was to have taken place on 7 December in Nigeria. This Day thereafter published several apologies to Nigeria's Muslims and announced Daniel's dismissal. The Zamfara state government said through its spokesperson Umar Dangaladima that it did not issue the fatwa but supported it. In a speech carried by a local radio station, Dangaladima said all Muslims, wherever they were, should regard the journalist's death as a religious duty. Daniel fled abroad. On 3 December, the Movement against the Attack on the Prophet Muhammad threatened to kill 16 journalists who work for This Day, giving their names and announcing that they would be beheaded, and their arms and legs would be cut off.

Pressure and obstruction

A senior member of the government of the southeastern state of Abia demanded at the end of March 2002 that the Comet and Sunday Tribune newspapers retract their reports that all of President Obasanjo's portraits had been taken down from government offices in the state as a result of a dispute between the president and state governor Orji Uzor Kalu.

Justice minister Kanu Agabi announced on 24 April that he would prosecute foreign journalists in Nigeria who published "malicious lies" about the country. This warning followed a report in the US news weekly Time Magazine that foreign journalists received an envelope containing 50,000 nairas (450 euros) at a conference on honest and fair journalism. Several foreign correspondents confirmed that they had received such an envelope and had given it back.

Uche Maduemesi, a journalist with the weekly The Republican, reported in early July that he had received death threats, and threats against fellow journalists. Strangers had reportedly come to the newspaper several times and asked about the staff, and journalists had received anonymous threatening calls.

The legal affairs correspondent of the National Interest newspaper, Abu Sumainah, reported to the Lagos state commissioner of police on 5 July that he had repeatedly received threats from individuals acting on behalf of Femi Falana, a former human rights lawyer and candidate for the governorship of Ekiti state, who had been portrayed in a bad light in an article by Sumainah.

Femi Shodunke, The Comet's correspondent in southwestern Ogun state was locked up for more than four hours on 11 September by staff of the local tax office while he was investigating the presumed embezzlement of some 58 million nairas (457,000 euros) by tax officials.

A bomb exploded in the premises of the National Pilot in Ilorin in central Kwara state on 15 November, seriously injuring five people. Bukola Saraki, the newspaper's editor and son of an opposition leader, called the attack "state terrorism against the press." Police arrested 11 people a week later.


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