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Nigeria May 17, 2012
H.E. Goodluck Jonathan
Office of the Head of State
State House, ASO Rock
Federal Republic of Nigeria
Dear Mr. President:
On behalf of the Overseas Press Club of America, which has been defending the freedom of the press around the world for seven decades, we wish to express our solidarity with Nigerian journalists who are under attack by the terrorists of Boko Haram. But we also write to express our alarm over what appears to be a systematic attempt by the government to suppress the news of Boko Haram’s acts, as well as news that might lead to criticism of the government.
The suicide bombings of newspaper offices in Abuja and Kaduna on April 26, for which Boko Haram claimed credit, and the threat made by the same organization against other newspaper offices obviously created a level of tension for journalists that makes it hard for them to do their jobs. At least one TV journalist, Enenche Akogwu, has been gunned down by Bopo Haram this year. Many others have been harassed and threatened.
Another journalist, Ahmad Salkida, who has covered the conflict with Boko Haram extensively, offers a more equivocal case. He says his life is threatened. He claims he has been followed by and received threatening phone calls from people he believes are state security agents. The callers accuse him of being the link for negotiations between Boko Haram and the government and tell him “to desist otherwise they will descend on me.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Paris published a report earlier this month with a long list of threats, harassment and abuses of journalists that led to this conclusion: “There was glaring evidence during the first quarter of 2012 of the Nigerian authorities’ desire to control the country’s image and monitor what the media publish or broadcast.” RSF saw a paradox in the “pluralism and vitality of the media” on the one hand and on the other the fact that Nigeria “has one of Africa’s worst records for infringement of press freedom.”
Of the many incidents reported this year, perhaps the most striking is the closure of the press center at the Lagos airport. It had remained open for 30 years, through dictatorship and democracy, and was regularly used by 60 journalists. Now these journalists are accused of being a threat to national security and threatened with arrest if they attempt to approach the center, where many of them have stored equipment. There have been many other incidents.
Ironically, on World Press Freedom Day on May 3 – the day Information Minister Labaran Maku affirmed that Nigeria’s media “is one of the freest in the universe” – seven journalists got a different message. When they showed up at the Special Fraud Unit in Lagos to interview a politician who was alleged to have committed a fraud, they were directed to an office where they were abruptly locked up. Within 15 minutes, as soon as the politician had been driven off, they were released.
We wish your government well in its efforts to end the threat from Boko Haram to the nation’s stability, which clearly has a high priority. But we also urge your government not to allow the acts of terrorists to deprive Nigeria of the freedom enjoyed by the press. Suppressing bad news does not help a country’s stability. It allows rumors to replace the truth. Rumors are generally more dangerous than the truth.
Freedom of the Press Committee
H.E. Viola Onwuliri
Minister of State — Foreign Affairs
Maputo Street, off Abidjan Street, Wuse Zone 3
P.M.B 130 Garki Abuja
Federal Republic of Nigeria
Justice Mohammed Bello Adoke
Federal Ministry of Justice
Federal Secretariat Towers
Shehu Shagari Way, Central Area
P.M.B. 192, Garki Abuja
Federal Republic of Nigeria
H.E. Adebowale Adefuye
Ambassador of Nigeria to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
3519 International Court, N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 362.6552
Ambassador to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the United Nations
828 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 697.1970
H.E. Terence P. McCulley
U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria
Embassy of the United States of America
Plot 1075 Diplomatic Drive
Central District Area, Abuja
Attn. Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi
Chairman of the Board
Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520