A hallmark of the military men who have ruled Nigeria in recent years
has been their ferocious repression of the country's press, long the
most vibrant and independent in Africa. Many of the military's worst
atrocities—torture, beatings, indefinite detention without charge,
solitary confinement in filthy, unlit jail cells—have been reserved
for journalists who dared expose the regime's brutality and rampant
Since the death in June of Gen. Sani Abacha, the repression of journalists
has eased somewhat. But after years of having to resort to underground
or "guerrilla" journalism, most journalists consider the current respite
nothing more than a temporary breather. While Nigeria's new ruler,
Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, has released a dozen imprisoned journalists,
the patterns of persecution persist: One journalist has been arrested
and several more were assaulted in three separate incidents since
Gen. Abubakar took power. And this month, the regime alleged that
a journalist missing since 1996, Bagauda Kaltho of TheNews and Tempo,
was the bomber in a 1996 blast at the Durbar Hotel in Kaduna. Managers
of TheNews and Tempo vehemently deny the charge, as well as an allegation
from local police that the managers themselves were connected to the
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has been encouraged by
the release of many of the imprisoned journalists in Nigeria—a country
that has been one of the world's worst repressors of press freedom.
But four journalists remain imprisoned or unaccounted for by the military
authorities, and at least 20 government decrees, used by Gen. Abubakar's
predecessors to harass and imprison journalists, remain in place.
The existence of these decrees means that Nigeria's military rulers—many
of whom served in the Abacha and Babangida regimes—can at any moment
resume the confiscation of publications, the seizure of editorial
equipment, and the use of secret military tribunals to prosecute journalists
and impose life sentences.
Gen. Abubakar's military regime also continues to consider a draft
constitution that would create a National Mass Media Commission, with
broad powers to impose further restrictions on the press. And although
it has not yet been used, a press court—set up solely to prosecute
journalists and other media professionals—remains in place.
For these reasons, CPJ continues to be deeply concerned about the
safety of Nigerian journalists. Of greatest urgency is the fate of
the following journalists:
Moshood Fayemiwo, publisher of the now-defunct weekly Razor, who was
living in exile in Cotonou, Benin, when Nigerian security agents kidnapped
him in 1997 in broad daylight and secretly transported him to Lagos.
Fayemiwo reportedly has been tortured and chained to a pipe in solitary
confinement. Colleagues confirm he is in very poor health.
Niran Malaolu, editor of the daily newspaper The Diet, who was arrested
by military intelligence officials late last year at the newspaper's
editorial offices. A special military tribunal tried Malaolu on charges
that he was connected with an alleged coup plot. His initial life
sentence was reduced to 15 years in July.
Okina Deesor, a producer with Radio Rivers, who was detained in July,
1996, after broadcasting the national anthem of the Ogoni people.
To date, Deesor's whereabouts remain unknown.
Chinedu Offoaro, a reporter for The Guardian, who disappeared in May,
1996. State Security Service officials in Nigeria have refused to
confirm or deny that they took Offoaro into custody. Colleagues suspect
that Offoaro was killed while in detention.
Nigeria's independent press continues to operate under the threat
of decrees that have been used to punish dozens of journalists. Among
these is State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No. 2 of 1984,
which allows indefinite, incommunicado detention of Nigerian citizens,
and has been used frequently against journalists. Other decrees that
specifically restrict the media are:
Offensive Publications (Proscription) Decree No. 35 of 1993—This decree
allows the government to seize any publication that contains an article
deemed likely to "disrupt the process of democracy," or to "prevent
the progress toward democracy as established by the transition to
civil rule programme," or to "disturb the peace and public order of
Treason and Treasonable Offences Decree, Decree No. 29 of 1993—Under
the provisions of this decree, a special military tribunal in 1995
convicted four journalists and sentenced them to life in prison, later
commuted to 15 years' imprisonment. (All four were released this summer.)
The charges stemmed from articles they wrote after an alleged coup
plot against Gen. Abacha; by writing about the alleged plot, they
were deemed to be "accessories after the fact to treason."
As a nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending our colleagues
around the world, the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Nigeria's
military rulers to take immediate steps to free all journalists and
eliminate the mechanisms used by past regimes to harass, intimidate,
and restrict the press. Specifically, CPJ calls upon Nigeria's military