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Nigeria 6 January 2005

Two badly hurt when police charge journalists at ruling party meeting

Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today that two journalists were badly hurt and one was hospitalised with a broken leg when police charged a dozen reporters and photographers at a congress of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on 4 January in the Nigerian federal capital of Abuja.

"The Nigerian security forces have once again behaved with extreme and intolerable brutality," the organisation said. "We insist on the right of journalists to work without constant fear of being the victims of violence, especially as police inspector general Tafa Balogun had just promised to do everything possible to protect them in their work. His apologies fall far short of what is needed."

Reporters Without Borders said it called for full compensation for the victims by those responsible, both for hospital charges and for equipment that was damaged or destroyed.

"The police, State Security Service (SSS), anti-riot units and politicians’ bodyguards continue to sustain a climate of arbitrary violence verging on political persecution," the organisation added. "The impunity must end and those responsible must be brought to account."

The two journalists who sustained the most serious injuries at the PDP congress were Yomi Odunuga, the Abuja bureau chief of The Punch, and Segun Jacob Olatunji of The Tribune, who was rushed to hospital by his colleagues with a broken leg. Both newspapers are national dailies.

The disturbance began when Anambra state governor Chris Ngige arrived and news photographers tried to take pictures of a dispute between an SSS member in charge of protecting the governor and the police commissioner in charge of federal operations, Lawrence Alobi.

When the police attacked the journalists, the following sustained damage to their photographic equipment: Gbenga Abiodun of the Daily Independent, Abayomi Fayese of the Guardian, Kennedy Ebomade of the Daily Trust, Ibrahim Samaila of The Punch, Francis Ojo of the Daily Champion, Akin Osimolade and Sunday Adah of the magazine TELL, Innocent Okafor of This Day and Monday Emoni of The Comet. The TV camera of George Edemevughe of Channels Television was also damaged.

The police said they acted on the orders of PDP officials who did not want the press to cover the congress. The Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) issued an ultimatum to the authorities to bring those responsible to justice within a week or the press might decide to stop covering police activities.

Rivalry has long existed within the PDP and has often led to violence. When the supporters of Anambra state political boss Chris Uba (the former backer of Ngige, the present governor) held a meeting on 10 November 2004, about 100 Ngige followers went on the rampage, attacking public radio stations in two localities, tying up and beating night staff and setting fire to the premises.

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