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Nigeria 6 September 2004

Intelligence agents storm independent weekly in Lagos

Reacting to a dawn raid on the premises of the privately-owned Insider Weekly on 4 September in Lagos, Reporters Without Borders today said it was astounded by the re-emergence of brutal practices by the State Security Service (SSS) five years after civilian rule was restored in Nigeria.

In the course of a 12-hour raid, SSS agents confiscated all of the newspaper’s computers, files and copies of its latest issue, and closed its officers. Reporters Without Borders was told that two staff members, Raphael Olatoye and Cyril Mbamalu, were arrested and are still being held at SSS headquarters in Shangisha. Manager editor Obed Awowede said all the other journalists had gone into hiding for fear of being arrested.

"The SSS must stop treating journalists like gangsters," Reporters Without Borders urged, calling for The Insider Weekly’s premises to be reopened, all equipment and material to be restored to the owners, and the newspaper to be allowed to resume publishing.

The organisation added: "The federal authorities should ensure the safety of Nigeria’s journalists instead of putting them in jeopardy."

A report in yesterday’s edition of This Day quoted an SSS communique as saying the authorities had no choice but to act promptly as The Insider Weekly had for some time been constantly attacking the president and commander in chief and other government personalities, and publishing discourteous articles about them.

Since 2001, The Insider Weekly has often carried reports about alleged corruption and illegal practices or questionable political manoeuvring by President Olusegun Obasanjo, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and the speakers of the senate and house of representatives.

The federal authorities are always ready to reiterate their commitment to press freedom, but violence against journalists continues. Like other Nigerian journalists, several members of The Insider Weekly’s staff were arrested last year.

This year had been relatively calm, but now seems to be taking an alarming new course if journalists become the target of SSS raids just for being "discourteous" toward the president and other high officials. Reporters Without Borders points out that article 39 of Nigeria’s constitution guarantees "freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference".

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