Operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) in Abeokuta, Ogun State, South- West Nigeria, on Monday, June 23, 2003, bought out all available print runs of the week’s edition of the TELL magazine, in an apparent orchestration by government officials to prevent the circulation of the issue with the banner headline, “Scandal in Aso Rock”.
The Edition No. 26 (dated June 20,2003) of the TELL magazine carried in its lead story, a report which was considered invidious of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government.
According to Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) Nigeria sources, three plain-clothes security men went to Ijeoma, the newspaper distribution centre in Abeokuta, as early as 7:00am, and succeeded in buying 120 copies from the magazine’s two agents. Earlier, on Saturday, June 21, 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 press statement issued on Tuesday, June 24 and signed by Ayodele Akinkuotu, editor of the magazine, also alleged that prior to this mopping up operation, COJA officials visited the magazine’s headquarters in Ogba, Lagos, on Friday, June 20, and “made overtures to the magazine’s management to buy the whole edition.”
The MFWA is appalled by this evidence of an insidious intolerance of a critical press by state officials – coming as it does, at a time that the sub-region is still celebrating the relative gains made for democracy in Nigeria by the election and swearing into office on May 29, of Gen. Obasanjo as President in a renewed four-year mandate.
The attempt to prevent circulation of issues of the TELL magazine amounts to censorship, which undermines the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression rights of the media and general public in Nigeria. It is also contrary to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the right to hold and share opinion and information without let or hindrance.
We call on you to condemn this abuse of press freedom and freedom of expression in Nigeria.