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Nigeria Deports Foreign Reporter Citing 'Immigration Matter'

A reporter for the British magazine The Economist was deported from Lagos Thursday in what the Nigerian government says was an immigration matter. But journalists see the deportation as yet another attack by the government on freedom of the press.

The correspondent, Silvia Sansoni who had worked in Nigeria since 2002, was escorted by police to the Lagos airport to be deported.

The Nigerian ministry of information issued a statement saying that Ms. Sansoni had failed to apply for the proper work visa and press accreditation in order to remain in the country and had entered on a tourist visa.

Ms. Sansoni's problem with the government began when she complained that Nigerian authorities asked for an excessive fee to process her papers. She denied she was attempting to circumvent the law.

Africa editor of The Economist, Robert Guest, was reported as saying, "We regard this as a blow against freedom of the press in Nigeria."

But according to the spokeswoman for President Olusegun Obasanjo, Remi Oyo, the officials were merely following the law.

"It is curious that people are making a whole lot of noise about one journalist," she said. "What has happened here is that the rule of law has been brought to bear. Now the fact that our doors are open does not mean that Nigerians will allow anybody to break the law of the land."

The Africa investigator with Reporters Without Borders, Jean-Francois Julliard, says there are more sinister reasons behind the expulsion. And, he says this is not the first case in Nigeria of a journalist being harassed by the authorities.

"It seems that the authorities don't want to see some critical articles or critical report in the international press so they put a great pressure on the international correspondents who are based in Nigeria," said Jean-Francois Julliard. "It was the case with the CNN correspondent in 2003 who had been arrested at the airport and threatened to be expelled and in the recent case of the journalist from The Economist who had been expelled yesterday."

In its latest report on press freedom around the world, Reporters Without Borders ranked Nigeria near the bottom of the list.