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Nigerian Secret Police Detain Journalists

The State Security Service, Nigeria's secret police are interrogating a number of journalists following their recent arrest over stories considered offensive by authorities. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports that the arrests could heighten concerns about press freedom in Nigeria ahead of crucial elections in April.

Lawyers representing the detained journalists are hoping to get them released or charged to court, as soon as possible.

The publisher and editor of the weekly Abuja Enquirer were detained Wednesday after agents of the State Security Service searched their office in central Abuja. Ovie Akpovwa, an associate of the publisher, told VOA that lawyers who accompanied the journalists to the office of the secret police were asked to come back Thursday.

"We haven't heard from them. As of 12 midnight yesterday, they just told the lawyer to leave… that he was not going to see them again… that we should come back today," he said. "So, me and the lawyer will be going back there at about 10 this morning to see what is happening."

Security men sealed off the office for more than three hours, searching for copies of the newspaper's current edition, which featured a story speculating the possibility of a military coup in the wake of the feud between the president and his deputy.

Akpovwa says the secret police were looking at those involved in writing the article.

"They took all the papers they found in the office concerning that coup story," he added. "That is our current edition. When I was there yesterday, they were asking me who wrote the story. I told them I didn't know. So, they were trying to find out who wrote that story."

The State Security Service (SSS) Tuesday raided the office of another Abuja-based newspaper, the Leadership, over a story suggesting President Olusegun Obasanjo could be the owner of a private airline. Two of the newspaper's editors were detained.

The SSS could not be reached for comment. The force had invaded media institutions and arrested journalists in the past, often over reports considered offensive by the authorities.

With crucial elections scheduled for April, analysts are increasingly worried that the Nigerian press could come under more government pressure.

Two journalists were charged with sedition last year, over a story saying the president's new jet was second-hand.