Police violence against journalists continued. Despite a slight improvement, press freedom was still precarious in the north of the country. The authorities also have their sights on the foreign news media.
Regional and local authorities continued to harass journalists and news media, especially in the north and south-east. Provincial governors constantly displayed their dislike of an independent press. The only good news in 2003 was the announcement in January by the governor of the northern state of Zamfara declaring the November 2002 fatwa against journalist Isioma Daniel to be illegal and unconstitutional. Daniel was accused of writing a blasphemous article about the Miss World contest that was supposed to take place in Nigeria.
The federal authorities often reiterated their commitment to press freedom. At the beginning of 2003, the senate repealed several repressive decrees and laws on defamation and press offences. The news media welcomed this step, which had been demanded since Gen. Sani Abacha’s death in 1998 and the return to civilian rule a year later.
Nonetheless, the violence against the press did not stop. Several journalists were again attacked and beaten by the national police or the security agencies in Lagos and Abuja, the federal capital.
Relations between the government and the international press remained very tense. The British and US media were accused of biased news coverage. CNN’s correspondent was often targeted by the police. In the past two years, several political leaders have called on CNN to withdraw its correspondents. Each time, the embarrassed and image-conscious government has finally stepped in to avoid the expulsion of an American journalist. Some of the local news media have supported these campaigns against the foreign press.
Three journalists imprisoned
Lawson Heyford, the correspondent in the south-eastern city of Port Harcourt for the magazine The Source, was arrested on 22 August 2003 and taken to the headquarters of the Federal Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) in Lagos. He was released four days later after being interrogated about a report on a conflict between clans that left several dead.
Kayode Fasua of Contact and Tunde Ajayi of Class, two publications based in the southwestern state of Ekiti, were detained on 26 November while distributing a third newspaper, Razor. The police claimed that Razor’s content was likely to disturb the peace. The authorities released Fasua and Ajayi on 30 November but did not return the 2,000 copies of Razor they had confiscated.
Nine journalists detained
Funmi Komolafe of the daily The Vanguard and Agence France-Presse stringer Ola Awoniyi were detained during a demonstration in the federal capital of Abuja on 30 June 2003 by the National Labour Congress (NLC), the main labour confederation. They were taken to the regional police headquarters and held there for more than an hour before being allowed to go.
Ben Adaji, the correspondent of the magazine The News in the eastern state of Taraba, was detained by police on 22 July, a day after his magazine ran an article headlined "Abacha in police uniform" about local police abuses. He was held for two days in the state prison of Jalingo before been released.
CNN’s West Africa correspondent, Jeff Koinange, and his cameraman, Simon Munene, were detained in Lagos airport as they got off a plane from Ghana. They were released a few hours later afer colleagues called the Nigerian authorities to ask them to explain their arrest. Customs officials told them they were being expelled on orders from "on high." The cameraman was hit as he tried to film the scene.
Albert Akpor of the daily Vanguard was detained on 8 October on the orders of Lagos region deputy police commissioner John Haruna because of an article referring to an attempt to kidnap Haruna’s daughter. He was released after seven hours of interrogation.
Osa Director, the editor of the weekly Insider, and two other members of its staff, Janet Mba-Mba Afolabi and Chuks Onwudinjo, were arrested in Lagos on 24 November because of an article accusing senior officials of being involved in the sale of stolen petroleum. They were charged two days later with sedition and libel and released on bail. They were due to be tried in 2004.
Journalists physically attacked
Thugs hit a dozen journalists and damaged cameras at an opposition party news conference in the southwestern city of Ibadan on 19 May 2003. The assailants also attacked opposition leaders present.
Three journalists were beaten by police on 1 July in Abuja while covering trade union protests against a fuel price increase. Funmi Komolafe and Rotimi Ajayi of the Vanguard and Associated Press photographer George Oshodi were kicked and hit with rifle butts. Oshodi was badly bruised and his equipment was destroyed. Abuja police chief Tafa Balogun promised the next day that those responsible would be punished.
Sunday Aghaeze, a photographer with the daily Thisday, was roughed up by police on 25 July in Lagos on the orders of federal high court judge Wilson Egbo-Egbo when he tried to take pictures of the judge. His equipment was damaged.
Akintunde Akinleye, a photographer with the Daily Independent, was beaten and hit with gun butts on 30 August by some 10 police officers guarding Vice-President Atiku Abubakar when he tried to photograph the vice-president at the coronation of a traditional chief. Left unconscious, he was taken to a hospital. The vice-president presented his excuses to Akinleye two days later and ordered an internal enquiry to identify and punish those responsible for the attack. National police inspector-general Tafa Balogun also apologised to Akinleye and his newspaper on 10 September and paid his hospital bill.
Emma Nwatu, Michael Chika and Chinazo Ilechukwu of Minaj Systems Television in Obosi, in the state of Anambra, were physically attacked by armed civilians led by a police officer at the end of August. A few days earlier, on 22 August, the station had carried a report saying bus drivers were being charged an illegal toll to cross a bridge to Nkpor junction.
Osita Nwajah, deputy editor of the magazine Tell, and Ademola Akinlabi, one of the magazine’s photographers, were beaten by members of a local militia in Warri, in the south of the country, at the end of August while covering a conflict linked to the oil industry. Their equipment and money was taken. They were freed a few hours later and the head of the militia apologised.
Two journalist threatened
Ofonime Umanah of the daily The Punch received telephone threats at the start of October 2003. He said he was being persecuted by security agents of Cross River state and the bodyguards of Liberia’s former president, Charles Taylor, now in exile in Nigeria. The Punch had reported that Taylor had illegally bought real estate in Nigeria.
Oluwole Adeboye of the daily PM News fled from his home in Agege, in the Lagos area, on 11 December for fear of reprisals because of a report he helped write that accused a police officer, Bamidele Adeola, of stealing a vehicle and money. The police officer was arrested and held for several days after the report was published. Thereafter, Adeboye was harassed and received frequent death threats.
Harassment and obstruction
Vanguard reporter Victor Ahiuma-Yound and a photographer with the Comet were detained for nearly an hour on 9 February by the security staff of Tower, an aluminium company in Lagos, while covering a National Labour Congress demonstration against Tower.
JFM, a local radio station in the village of Adeje in Delta state, was closed on the orders of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission at the end of April for reporting an opposition candidate’s victory in an election for state governor before the close of polls. Police immediately surrounded the station and detained presenter Esther Ofuegbe and five other employees. All were released but they were prosecuted for broadcasting false news.
To prevent the circulation of the 20 June issue of the weekly Tell, one of Nigeria’s leading investigative magazines, nearly all available copies were bought by hundreds of plain-clothes security agents operating throughout the country on 23 and 24 June. The issue’s cover story, headlined "Scandal in Aso Rock [the president’s residence]: Anti Corruption Campaign a Fraud," was about alleged fraud in a multi-million dollar contract for media coverage of the 8th All Africa Games. The organising committee of the games, the COJA, had on 21 June offered Tell’s editors to buy up the entire issue.
The magazine The News was bombarded in June with threatening letters from members of a Pentecostal group, the Christ Embassy, after the magazine investigated the church and ran a cover story in its 9 June issue headlined: "Pastor of thieves: How Oyakhilome received another stolen money."
The magazine Tell said in a press release on 31 July that it was the target of anonymous telephone calls threatening its editorial staff. Its staff were also being watched and followed, the release said.
The authorities in the southeastern state of Akwa Ibom on 15 August ordered Haruna Acheneje, the correspondent of the daily The Punch, to leave the region within a week because of a report about shortfalls in the payment of certain benefits to the public. Acheneje refused to comply, saying the order was illegal. The local parliament on 22 August voted to expel him immediately and three armed men came looking for him at the newspaper’s office. However, he was not there and he reacted by immediately demanding protection from the national police. The police sent two bodyguards to protect him and in the end, he was not expelled.
The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) on 21 August ordered the closure of Independent Television (ITV), a station based in Benin City in the south of the country, because it broadcast martial music, which is usually reserved in Nigeria for military coups or serious threats to the nation’s stability. ITV explained the next day that it had broadcast this music in homage to a contributor who died a few hours earlier. The station was allowed to resume broadcasting two days later.
Cyril Mbah, a correspondent of the Monitor accredited to Aso Rock, the presidential residence, was escorted from the residence by agents of the State Security Service (SSS) on 17 September. They confiscated his press card and told him never to come back. Three days earlier, he had reported that President Olusegun Obasanjo forced government ministers to pray.
Mac Davis Ajibade, a reporter for the daily Tribune, was also barred from Aso Rock on 27 October because of an article deemed too critical of the government. Guards at the presidential residence said they had instructions "from on high" that Ajibade was no longer welcome.