Nigerian intelligence agency raids news site

Is the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Nigeria’s foreign intelligence service, trying to eliminate this respected investigative medium in order to save his skin?

Four NIA officials broke into the headquarters of the Peoples Gazette news site yesterday demanding to meet the editor and a journalist to identify the source of a confidential note that has been the subject of several articles published by the site in December. Neither the managing editor nor the reporter were there when the raid took place.

Memo leaked to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari by unidentified NIA directors claimed current NIA chief executive Ahmed Rufai Abubakar was forced to retire from the agency in 2012 after failing promotion exams from the post of deputy director to director three times in a row. The four NIA officials handed a letter to reporters present criticizing Peoples Gazette for failing to contact the agency to verify the authenticity of the note and for threatening to use “other options” if the website did not hand over its copy of the note and identify those who had it drafted. In one responnse published on the site, Peoples Gazette said he had no doubts about the authenticity of the note and said President Buhari’s spokesperson confirmed to the website that the president had received the note.

We strongly condemn the pressure exerted on this medium, which violates the most basic rights of journalists, said Arnaud Froger, head of RSF’s Africa office. “It is extremely dangerous for an intelligence agency to raid a news organization to identify a source for the sole purpose of protecting its own interests. We call on the authorities to end the harassment of this site, which is constantly under pressure and threats due to the quality of its reporting and the serious subjects it discusses.

The authorities have deliberately blocked online access to the Peoples Gazette site since January 2021, a few months after its launch and its first denunciations, which revealed in particular that the son of the president’s chief of staff had access to privileges and responsibilities while he did not hold any official position.

The situation for journalists and the media has deteriorated steadily in recent years in Nigeria, which today is by far the most repressive and dangerous country for West African reporters. Three journalists have been killed during protests or large gatherings since 2019, and many more have been attacked or arrested during protests. These violations have gone completely unpunished, so journalists censor themselves and some have fled abroad.

Nigeria is ranked 120th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

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