Reporters Without Borders protested today against the ransacking and torching of two public radio stations in the southeastern state of Anambra by a local politician’s thugs, and the beating received by a newspaper photographer from the bodyguards of the late dictator Sani Abacha’s security chief in a Lagos court.
These two press freedom violations are the latest in some 50 incidents of this kind registered by Reporters Without Borders so far this year in Nigeria.
"The violence reigning in Nigeria makes it one of the most dangerous countries in Africa for journalists," the organisation said, pointing out that it was being perpetuated by the impunity enjoyed by some of the prominent personalities involved. "President Olusegun Obasanjo should take stock of this scandal, restore order to his party, and ensure that journalists are able to work in a reasonable climate," it added.
The violence in Awka, the capital of Anambra, began on the evening of 10 November when a meeting being held by supporters of local political Chris Uba was forcefully disrupted by the supporters of his former protégé, state governor Chris Ngige, and fighting ensued. The news agency Reuters quoted a witness as saying that a group of pro-Uba activists then staged a reprisal attack on the building that houses the state electoral commission.
In the early hours of 11 November, about 100 of Uba’s activists stormed public radio station studios in Enugu-Ukwy and in Onitsha, attacking staff who were on night duty. According to the accounts obtained by Reporters Without Borders, Uba’s activists tied up and beat the staff in both incidents before setting fire to the studios.
These incidents were the latest round in an internal battle between Uba and Ngige within the regional branch of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) since Ngige became governor in 2003. Ngige was elected with the support of Uba, the brother of one of President Obasanjo’s top advisers, but they fell out after Ngige refused to award major public contracts to Uba.
In response to a question from Reuters, Ngige accused his rival of provoking these incidents in order to push President Obasanjo into proclaiming a state of emergency in Anambra and firing him. Municipal elections are supposed to be held on 18 December after they were postponed in April because of the split within the PDP.
High court violence
Meanwhile the federal high court building in Ikeja (Lagos) was the site of a violent attack the same day on Diran Oshe, a photographer with the daily Vanguard, by military intelligence agents acting as bodyguards for Maj. Hamza Al-Mustapha, the security chief of the late dictator Sani Abacha.
Oshe had gone to cover Al-Mustapha’s trial for alleged involvement in the attempted murder of The Guardian editor Alex Ibru. He was attacked by the bodyguards when he tried to take a photo of Al-Mustapha at the end of the hearing. They hit him several times with a rifle butt and smashed his camera. A court security officer intervened and helped him break away from his assailants, his face swollen and his clothes torn.