Despite tense relations with the press at times, President Olusegun Obasanjo, in power since 1999, has being liberalising Nigeria. In October 2001 the National Human Rights Commission, set up in 1999 to investigate human rights violations in Nigeria since the first military regime took over in January 1966, announced that it had heard all the witnesses. It is scheduled to submit its final report in February 2002. In March the commission recommended the exhumation of the body of Bagauda Kaltho, The News correspondent in Kaduna in northern Nigeria, murdered in 1996, in order to establish the exact causes of the death. In August 1998 the authorities had announced that the journalist had died in an attack of which he was the author. His family and colleagues consistently claimed, however, that he had been kidnapped and murdered due to his critical articles about the regime of General Sani Abacha.
In September the commission summoned former military dictator Ibrahim Babangida in connection with the murder in 1986 of Dele Giwa, editor-in-chief of the magazine Newswatch. The journalist had died when opening a parcel bomb received at his Lagos home. The former president of Nigeria, from 1985 to 1993, has often been accused of being behind this murder. Ibrahim Babangida refuses to testify and has questioned the competence of the commission in the appeal court. In early October his objection was overruled but the former dictator still refuses to appear in court.
The most densely populated country in Africa has a crucial problem of escalating inter-denominational violence, especially since the introduction of sharia law in January 2000 in the northern state of Zamfara. Since then about 12 other states have also decided to apply Islamic law. In these regions journalists are often harassed and accused of not obeying sharia law. In July journalists in Zamfara boycotted local government activities. "Some of our members have gone underground after being accused of anti-Islamic or anti-sharia activities by the regional government", regrets the journalist’s spokesperson. Local authorities have responded by announcing "measures to revive [their] relations with the press".
One journalist killed
Rockfeller Okeke, one of the managing staff of the state-owned radio station in Anambra and former editor at News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), was shot dead outside his Ukpo home on 25 April 2001. The police opened an inquiry but no suspects were identified. On 1 January 2002 nothing allows us to affirm that this murder was related to the journalist’s professional activities.
One journalist jailed
Police arrested Nnamdi Onyenua, managing editor of the magazine Glamour Tends, on 8 June 2001. Two days before that the weekly had published a story headed "Obasanjo’s secret trips", claiming that the president had accumulated 58 million dollars (about 65 million euros) in subsistence and travel allowances since his arrival in power. The journalist, charged with "libel" by President Olusegun Obasanjo, was released on bail on 21 June.
Three journalists arrested
On 12 February 2001 a magistrate ordered the arrest of two journalists who had wanted to cover a court hearing. Sam Chindah from Tide and Rosemary Nwisi of Post Express were locked in a cell with other detainees throughout the hearing. The magistrate explained that no one was allowed to cover hearings over which he was presiding, without his written permission.
A City People journalist, Victor Orilola, was arrested by police on 14 May and taken to the Omole police station in Lagos. The next day he was transferred to the general investigation department where he was questioned about an article he was writing on corruption at a regional bank. He was released a little later in the day.
Seventeen journalists attacked
A correspondent for the Hausa service of Voice of America, Ahmed Mohammed Kwalam, was attacked on 7 January 2001 at his Kano home in northern Nigeria. His head and hands were slashed with a machete. According to another journalist in the area, this attack was related to several reports on VOA about the introduction of sharia law in several states in the north of the country. The week before, Bassey Inyang, Post Express correspondent, had escaped a similar attack.
On 23 January police in Maiduguri hit Raymond Gukas, Daily Champion correspondent in the state of Borno, in north-eastern Nigeria. The journalist was following a delegation of the local parliament through the streets of the town when the group’s spokesperson asked him what he was doing there. An officer then ordered his men to give him "VIP treatment". They obeyed and hit the journalist. According to the daily, this assault could be related to an article published in Daily Champion the day before, headed "Kachallah [the state governor] must be deposed".
A policeman stabbed Prince Ken, journalist with Radio Rivers, during a Nigeria-Sudan football match on 27 January in the south-eastern town of Port Harcourt. The reasons for this assault are not known. The journalist was treated at a local hospital.
On 13 February Lagos police hit Mr Niyi, journalist with the US television channel CNN, and Sotunde Afolabi, from Ovation Magazine. The two journalists were covering the launching of a book at the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs when policemen set on them and hit them. The police officers were there to protect the governors of the states of Ogun and Abia, present at the ceremony. The two men were unable to explain this assault.
Tade Adesungboye, photographer for The Punch, was assaulted by five policemen from the FCID, the federal criminal investigation department, on 3 April at the Lagos high court while taking photos of a murder suspect. They also confiscated his film.
Members of the security police manhandled the Tempo correspondent in Abuja, Akinjide Akintola, on 23 April and confiscated his notes. The reason for this assault are unknown.
Agents of the presidential security guard assaulted Okon Sam, journalist with Pioneer, on 23 April outside the buildings in which a meeting of the ruling PDP (People’s Democratic Party) was taking place, in Abuja. The journalist had the required accreditation. Other journalists, cameramen and photographers were treated likewise.
On 22 May police assaulted five journalists with the television channels Channels (Bashiru Adigun, Stella Din and Emmanuel Oghenede) and Murhi (Kunle Fatokin and Sunday Taiwo). The journalists were covering the demolition of a building in Coker, in Lagos state, when police questioned them on their presence. They kicked them before letting them leave. One of the journalists was hospitalised.
A group of youths kidnapped and hit The Post Express correspondent Francis Onoiribholo, on 26 May in Delta state. The journalist was covering violent clashes in Warri between two ethnic groups, the Itsekiri and the Urhobo.
The Kano correspondent for AFP, Aminu Abubakar, went to Tafawa Balewa, in the neighbouring state of Bauchi, on 4 July to cover violent clashes between Christians and Muslims. While he was questioning people in the street, young Christian members of the organization "Youth of Zar" threatened to lynch him and forced him to tear up his note book. Aminu Abubakar, a Moslem, left the town under police escort.
Andy Uneze, correspondent for the daily This Day in the south-eastern state of Enugu, was attacked by security police during a political meeting on 30 September. He had just witnessed clashes between members of the security police and participants in the meeting.
One journalist threatened
On 25 July 2001 several hundred students at Adekunle Ajasim University in the south-western state of Ondo, went to the offices of The Punch about an article published the day before, headed "Adefarati advises students on use of English". They threatened to kill the local correspondent Tunde Adesola. The next day they returned, after another article on the same subject had been published. The students vandalised the premises and destroyed copies of the newspaper.
Pressure and obstruction
On 3 January 2001 the president of the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State and the entire governing board of the radio station were suspended by the state governor. The governor said the next day that the station had not broadcast the government’s political programme correctly and had thus "failed in its duty".
The governors of 19 northern Nigerian states issued a common communiqué on 9 January, in which they opposed the privatisation of The New Nigerian by the federal government. "This newspaper belongs to us" said the officials who use the newspaper to publish their information.
Port Harcourt correspondents of several private-sector publications (The News, National Concord, National Interest, The Punch, The Guardian, etc.) were prevented from covering a local parliamentary session on 7 February. "Instructions" had been given.
In early March four trucks of the mobile police unit dispersed several newspaper vendors on a square in Abuja. The police shot into the air and threw teargas grenades, forcing the vendors to flee. Their equipment (tables, chairs and stands) was gathered together and burned.
Several journalists with accreditation were prevented from attending the PDP congress on 3 March by one of the party leaders. No explanation was given.
On 3 April the Oyo state government withdrew the accreditation of Dayo Omotosho from the newspaper The Comet. No reason was given but it seems that the governor was reacting to an article about how he and his wife had deliberately ignored the vice-president’s wife at a wedding. A few days after that decision, Dayo Omotosho received threats over the phone. His accreditation was restored to him a month later.
On 30 April the governor of Kano state threatened to take sanctions against media professionals who write "negative" articles about his activities. In July he threatened to have journalists "who did not tell the truth" tried in the Islamic court.
Agents of the SSS (State security services) arrested and hit newspaper vendors on 21 and 22 May in the streets of Owerri in south-eastern Nigeria. The men confiscated and burned copies of the newspapers that had published articles on MASSOB, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra.
Mohammed Abdul, correspondent for The Daily Times in the northern state of Jigawa, was expelled from local government buildings on 20 June because of a recent article that allegedly displeased the authorities. In July SSS agents went to the offices of The Daily Times and the news agency NAN, on the instructions of the governor’s special adviser. According to him, the premises were reserved for the administration. The building was damaged and the officers promised to return.
On 17 July two Post Express and Federal Radio Corporation journalists were locked in the office of a school principle in Abeokuta, in Ogun state, for a few hours. They had gone to the school to do a report on the lack of chairs and desks for the pupils. Prior to that, the state governor had affirmed that his administration had just bought school equipment.
On 28 July the president of the independent electoral commission expelled Odudu Okpongete, of the newspaper South-South, from the Port Harcourt offices of the commission. The journalist was doing a report on a disputed local election.
Police, acting on the orders of the minister of sports and social development, prevented many journalists from attending the elections on 31 July of the association of 29 national sports.
Agents of the SSS went to the Abeokuta offices of The Champion on 8 August, looking for correspondent Kola Adejobi to question him on an article published three days earlier.
In August Obiora Chukwumba, sales manager of the magazine Insider Weekly, complained about the harassment of all the editorial staff members by SSS agents. The security services accused the magazine of being "a danger for state security".
On 23 August Judge Abdullahi Oyekan prevented the press from covering the trial of the leader of the sect "The ministers of glory".