Reacting to a heavy-handed secret police raid on a TV station on 14 May, Reporters Without Borders today urged the Nigerian authorities to show more restraint towards the press and said it feared there could be more attacks on journalists critical of a proposed constitutional amendment to allow President Olusegun Obasanjo to run for a third term.
“The debate about a third presidential term must be allowed to take place,” the press freedom organisation said. “It is unacceptable that the constitutional amendment’s opponents are subject to intimidation by the president’s supporters, whether policemen or political activists. Those running the government must ensure respect for the basic rules of democratic debate.”
On 14 May, eight members of the State Security Service (SSS) burst into the offices of Daar Communications Limited - which owns radio Ray Power FM and the TV station Africa Independent Television (AIT) - in Asokoro, a district of the federal capital, Abuja.
Claiming they had been sent by the president’s office, they confiscated a documentary that had been aired on AIT two days before. Called “A Documentary on Tenure Elongation,” it was about all the unsuccessful attempts by previous Nigerian rulers to remain in office longer than they were supposed to. It was funded by an independent pressure group called the “National Patriots,” which is opposed to a third term for Obasanjo.
Nigeria’s oldest privately-owned TV station, ATI has been in the government’s sights since it began carrying live broadcasts of the national assembly debates about the amendment to the 1999 constitution proposed in recent weeks by Obasanjo’s supporters, which could allow both the president and state governors to run for another four-year term.
Meanwhile, death threats have been made against James Ojo, the national assembly correspondent for the privately-owned daily The Sun, after he upset Obasanjo supporters. He has received several anonymous phone calls in which he was told his life would be at risk if he did not stop his “negative reporting on the third term.”