Accessibility links

Two Nigerian Journalists Charged Over Jet Story

  • Gilbert da Costa

There's an angry backlash after Tuesday's arraignment of two Nigerian journalists in a court in Abuja on sedition charges. The trial is raising questions about tolerance for press freedom in Africa's most populous country.

An Abuja court Thursday will consider a plea for bail by two journalists charged with sedition over reports critical of the president.

The journalists, who first appeared in court on Tuesday, have questioned the age and cost of an executive jet purchased for the president and delivered last month.

President Olusegun Obasanjo's first flight aboard the new jet was aborted midair due to technical problems prompting questions about the newness of the multi-million dollar jet.

Legal experts say the sedition law in Nigeria has been rendered obsolete and ineffective by an appeal court ruling in 1983.

"The court of appeal ruled that looking into the constitution of Nigeria, vis-à-vis the law on sedition, it cannot stand and they struck it down, saying that we are in a republic," said Maxi Okwu, a lawyer in Abuja. "Sedition is a colonial legacy, just like the Public Order Act, so that you don't embarrass the queen. Obasanjo is not the queen. Obasanjo is a citizen elected to be our leader. Therefore, he must take the heat in being a citizens' president."

Several groups and individuals, in and outside Nigeria, have criticized the government's decision to prosecute the reporters. The World Association of Newspapers in a review of press freedom worldwide, said press freedom has deteriorated in Nigeria, citing attacks on journalists, legal harassment of the private media as well as threats and censorship.

The National Human Rights Commission, an agency of the Nigerian government has also issued a strong denunciation of alleged government's attacks on the media. The commission notes that there has been a consistent pattern by security agencies to silence the media, it said in a recent statement.

Okwu says the privately-owned press is being targeted for supporting the opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment that could have allowed Obasanjo run for a third term.

"I believe it is a backlash, a sort of resentment by the government on it being floored or worsted in the struggle for tenure elongation. So the level of intolerance will increase," said Okwu. "Where is our democracy going if we are so intolerant of other views?"

The senate rejected the amendment in May, after weeks of storm debates in the press and the national assembly.

Government opponents say the media and critics have come under pressure from security agents ahead of next year's elections.

XS
SM
MD
LG