- State Security Service (SSS) officials in Abeokuta, Ogun State, south-western Nigeria, this week purchased all available print runs of the week's edition of 'Tell' magazine, which had featured harsh government critiques.
- The move was an apparent attempt by government officials to prevent circulation of the magazine's issue with the banner headline, "Scandal in Aso Rock", according to a statement made by the Media Foundation of West Africa (MFWA) today.
The 20 June edition of 'Tell' carried in its lead story a report that was considered invidious of President Olusegun Obasanjo's government, the MFWA added.
According to the MFWA's Nigeria sources, three plain-clothes security men went to Ijeoma, the newspaper distribution centre in Abeokuta, as early as 7:00 a.m. (local time) and purchased 120 copies from the magazine's two agents.
On 21 June, officials of COJA (the Organising Committee of the All Africa Games, Abuja 2003) in Lagos and other parts of the country tried to prevent the magazine from reaching the newsstands by buying it off the vendors.
A 24 June press statement by Ayodele Akinkuotu, the magazine's editor, also alleged that prior to this operation, COJA officials visited the magazine's headquarters in Ogba, Lagos, on 20 June and "made overtures to the magazine's management to buy the whole edition."
The MFWA today says it is "appalled by the state officials' evident intolerance of a critical press." The incident had occurred as the sub-region "is still celebrating the relative gains made for democracy in Nigeria by the swearing in on 29 May of Mr Obasanjo as president for a renewed four-year mandate."
- The attempt to prevent circulation of 'Tell' amounts to censorship, which undermines the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression rights of the general public and media in Nigeria, the MFWA statement said.
It was also contrary to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stipulates the right to hold and share opinion and information without let or hindrance, the West African media watchdog said.
The group recommended all friends of e free press to send appeals President Obasanjo, "calling on him to condemn this abuse of press freedom and freedom of expression in Nigeria."
After the return of democracy with President Obasanjo, there have been few obstacles for the independent press made by central government. It has rather been state governors and other political leaders that have made threats and assaults against journalists. These leaders often act with complete impunity, however.
According to the annual press freedom report made by Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), one journalist had been physically attacked and 17 journalists had been threatened in Nigeria during 2002. Pressure and obstruction were normal government tactics in several Nigerian states.
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