Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today at the "perverse methods of intimidation" used against the Lagos-based weekly The Exclusive by Nigeria’s intelligence agency, the State Security Service (SSS), which carried out a heavy-handed raid on its offices on 19 August and then used threats to deter street vendors from selling its latest issue.
"President Olusegun Obasanjo can pose as an African peace-maker as much as he likes, but Nigeria continues to be one of the continent’s most violent countries for journalists," the press freedom organisation said. "His intelligence service has no scruples about punishing dissident voices and using perverse methods of intimidation if necessary."
Reporters Without Borders said it called on Alpha Oumar Konare, the chairman of the commission of the African Union (AU), to make a formal protest about the permanent climate of hostility towards journalists in Nigeria. "As the current holder of the AU’s rotating presidency, this country should be an example of respect for the treaties it has signed," the organisation said.
The raid on the privately-owned weekly’s premises was carried out by 14 SSS agents, one of them a woman. They burst into the editorial office and demanded all the copies of the latest issue. When the staff present said the issue had already gone out to street vendors, the agents threatened them and accused them of refusing to cooperate. They finally left, warning they could return.
A Lagos street vendor subsequently told Reporters Without Borders he was no longer selling The Exclusive because many vendors had been roughed up by SSS agents who were confiscating all the copies they could find. This represented a big financial loss for the vendors, he said.
The Exclusive editor Ofa Irabor told Reporters Without Borders the SSS did not explain the reason for their actions but he believed it was prompted by the newspaper’s coverage of the re-emergence in recent months of separatist unrest in the southeastern Biafra region, where an earlier bid for independence by the Igbo ethnic group led by Odumegwu Ojukwu resulted in a murderous civil war from 1967 to 1970. The pro-independence movement’s new leader is Chief Ralph Nwazurike.
Irabor said, "we have so far brought out 19 issues, but the two issues that SSS agents have demanded are those in which we covered Igbo unrest, above all the issue which had Biafra as the cover story."
Reporters Without Borders last year added the SSS to its list of press freedom predators.