Nigerian police have detained a number of journalists a week after their newspaper reported that President Goodluck Jonathan had issued orders to frustrate a newly potent opposition by any means, including surveillance.
Africa's most populous nation has a vocal and relatively free press by the standards of the region and even vitriolic criticism of the president is usually tolerated. However, the suggestion that he was resorting to illicit political tactics was an inflammatory one.
“Yes, we have some journalists in custody over ongoing investigations,” police spokesman Frank Mba said on Tuesday, declining to give further details.
Presidency spokesman Reuben Abati last week described the Leadership newspaper's April 2 story as “concocted lies”. He was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.
The paper said on Monday that four of its reporters had been detained and asked to reveal their sources.
The article said Jonathan had issued a directive that “everything [is] to be done to frustrate the merged opposition parties”, including security surveillance of opposition state governors.
The story did not specify whether the order had been directed at the government or at Jonathan's People's Democratic Party (PDP) or his campaign team.
Nigeria's four main opposition movements announced a merger in February, posing the sternest threat in years to Jonathan and the PDP ahead of elections in 2015.
Azubuike Ishiekwene, managing director of Leadership Group, called the arrests “a calculated and brazen affront on press freedom”.
“We are bereft that a supposedly elected government will come this low,” he said in a statement. “We stand by our story and will neither be cowed nor intimidated by the strong-arm tactics of President Jonathan.”