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Nigerian Government Closes Major TV Station

The Nigerian government has shut down a major TV station, after it broadcast a report Tuesday that President Umaru Yar'Adua would resign for health reasons.

Government officials angrily denied the report, calling it rumor and fabrication. And Wednesday, it took action against first media outlet to broadcast it.

VOA reporter Chinedu Offor is following the story. From Umuahia, the capital city of Abia State in southeastern Nigeria, he spoke to English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the crackdown.

"The government is really serious about this report. It has shut down one of the main private TV/radio stations in Nigeria. It is called Channels TV. And not only that, the government also descended on the station with plainclothes security people, who chased out all the staff and sealed up the station. Information Minister John Odey was very, very angry at the station, saying the station reported the supposed resignation of President Umaru Yar'Adua without confirming the story," he says.

The source of the story is in question. Offor says, "The story supposedly originated from the News Agency of Nigeria (and was) e-mailed to several news organizations, saying the president had resigned. But the News Agency of Nigeria said that it was not the source of that report. As a result, authorities have clamped down on the TV station and there are plans to also shut down several others."

The government has described the resignation report as "rumor, fabrication" and "deliberate sabotage in an attempt to cause chaos in the country." Offor was asked when the last time the Nigerian government shutdown a major media outlet. He says, "You can trace that back to the last military administration. And that is about nine years now. That's gotten a lot of people here worried. They're saying are we back to the days of military dictatorship when the government can shut down private radio, TV stations or even newspapers."

Offor says it's unclear where the powers to shut down the station come from, or whether President Yar'Adua actually ordered the station closed himself.

Civil society is criticizing the move, questioning the government's pledge to a free and open press.