Recent Attacks on the Press in Nigeria

Thursday, April 4, 1996

RECENT ATTACKS ON THE PRESS IN NIGERIA
The crackdown against the press in Nigeria has escalated since the hanging of Nigerian author Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists on 10 November 1995, with journalists being arrested weekly and newspapers being closed down or simply torched. The following is a list of the violations recorded by members of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX):

* Tell magazine was seized twice in December and again in January - this time from vendors. It has been publishing underground since then. Nosa Igiebor, editor-in-chief of Tell, was arrested on 23 December and remains in detention. The home of Tell's managing editor, Onome Osifo-Whiskey, was raided on the same day, and four Tell were arrested in mid-December, and later released. Other Nigerian journalists remain in hiding. There is particular concern at the 2 February shooting at point-blank range of The Guardian publisher Alex Ibru, who underwent a six-and-one-half hour operation in a London hospital.

* Foreign correspondents are banned from Ogoniland and those who sneak in face arrest. Paul Adams, a Financial Times of London journalist, was arrested in Ogoniland and later released in January. On 15 February, American BBC journalist Hillary Anderson was detained as she left the offices of Reuters in Lagos. She was held for twenty four hours without explanation.

* In December, The Guardian was the target of arson and police laid siege to AM News. Then police assaulted and temporarily detained four photojournalists: Peter Obe and Segun Olakitan of Tell, Abiodun Ajala of This Day, and Bayo Ewuoso of AM News. Lagos vendor Olabisi Akintoye was arrested for possession of "unpatriotic magazines." On New Year's eve, the office of the Independent Communications Network, publisher of The News, Tempo, and Tempofootball, was firebombed, destroying millions of naira worth of property.

* At least six writers and journalists remain in jail and there is ample reason to fear that some of the journalists are at risk of being put to death.

* Four have already been sentenced by military tribunals to 15 years in jail (reduced from life sentences), after trials which -- like Saro-Wiwa's -- fell far short of international standards of fairness. Christine Anyanwu, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Sunday Magazine, and Ben Charles Obi, editor of Weekend Classique, had their life sentences reduced to 15 years in October. Kunle Ajibade, executive editor of The News, and George Mbah, an assistant editor of Tell magazine, were both sentenced to 15-year terms after being held in detention since mid-May. Prison conditions are reportedly sub-standard for these four journalists, and there are reports of maltreatment, torture and denial of medical attention. In addition, novelist Mohammed Sule has reportedly been held incommunicado since February 1995 in connection with a documentary he was researching.

* Two media attorneys continue to be held without charge in deplorable conditions. Gani Fawehinmi, Nosa Igiebor's lawyer, has been in detention since he was picked up by State Security Service agents at his Lagos home on 30 January. In March, he collapsed from hypertension at a prison facility in Bawchi and is now being held in Bawchi General Hospital. Attorney Femi Falana is being held in solitary confinement in an underground cell at the State Security Service Interrogation Centre in Lagos. Falana was arrested without charge on 14 February. No reason was given for his arrest, but he has been involved in court cases against the government.

(Prepared by the Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists, April 1996)