Nigerian leader curbs dissenting press : Police raid newspapers and state TV after criticism of annulled presidential elections

NIGERIA'S military rulers have stepped up their drive to snuff out dissent by launching an unprecedented press clampdown, closing several media houses including one owned by the winner of last month's annulled presidential elections, Chief Moshood Abiola.

Those affected included Chief Abiola's Concord press, the Abuja Newsday paper, the dailies Sketch and Punch, and the Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation. The police action, carried out late on Thursday, followed an allegation on Tuesday by the Information Secretary, Uche Chukwumerijie, that 'disgruntled politicians have intensified their efforts to take the whole country hostage through increased misuse of sections of the press and the conscious spread of misinformation'.

Most of the media houses were based in south-western Nigeria where the dominant Yoruba people are strong backers of Chief Abiola. They had been sharply critical of President Ibrahim Babangida's decision to cancel the 12 June elections and hold fresh polls, an action that has plunged the country into its worst crisis in a decade.

Abuja Newsday, three of whose staff were arrested, apparently angered the authorities by carrying a report on an alleged relationship between the son of Chief Abiola and General Babangida's daughter.

The clampdown followed several months of temporary detentions and seizures of magazines that have carried scathing reports on the eight-year-old military government and questioned its willingness to step down on 27 August as promised.

Five editors from the weekly magazine The News, which was closed in May and later proscribed, are currently wanted by the security police. They do not sleep at home and suffer constant harassment. Since the closure of The News, the editors have published a new title, Tempo, which they print clandestinely. All 50,000 copies are sold.

'There is really no law that permits the government to stop us from publishing,' said Seye Kehinde, 27, an editor with The News and since its banning, Tempo. 'To the extent that the government itself is not really obeying the laws which it promulgates, we feel we should just go ahead.'

The five editors first clashed with the Babangida government in April last year while they worked for Chief Abiola's weekly African Concord. The police closed the Concord publishing house after the weekly severely criticised the government's performance. Ironically, at the time Chief Abiola demanded that his editor, Bayo Onanuga, apologise to the President. Mr Onanuga resigned instead and was followed by four other editors.

'I said at the time we should give them sleepless nights so that when they wake up in the morning, they should be afraid to open the newspapers,' said Mr Onanuga, the 36-year- old chief editor of The News and Tempo. 'We must keep them on their toes so they know we are really performing the role of a watchdog.'

After leaving Concord, the five formed The News last February. It quickly became combative. They spent a weekend in jail in March after being charged with contempt of court by High Court Justice Moshood Olugbani, whom the magazine had portrayed in an unflattering manner.

Other stories with titles such as 'Help] Nigeria is Dying' earned them regular visits from security agents. On 18 May, a week before its closure, The News issued a joint statement with another critical weekly magazine, TELL, warning that 'as the nation moves laboriously towards 27 August, a conscious policy is afoot to destroy some of the vital pillars of democracy. The press is clearly one of those institutions that can sustain a virile democracy. But now, it is under a fatal assault by a regime that has promised democracy.'

This week's assault on the press has not daunted journalists. 'Society needs certain truths to be told and we should not be afraid to say it,' said Mr Onanuga. 'Journalism should have some sort of social conscious. We should try to sensitise our people so all of us can go forward together.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor