US-Nigerian professor and journalist Okey Ndibe was on 8 January questioned for several hours by the internal intelligence agency, the State Security Service (SSS), after arriving at Muritala Muhammed international airport in Lagos.
Both his American and Nigerian passports were confiscated without any explanation and were not returned to him until today when he was again summoned by intelligence agents.
Reporters Without Borders, outraged at the abuse of power by the SSS and the opaqueness of their methods, calls on the Nigerian authorities to promptly provide an explanation for this incident. Did Okey Ndibe get this “special treatment” because of his vitriolic criticism of the government? We condemn the constant repressive reflexes against independent voices in this country where journalists already have to work in difficult conditions.
Okey Ndibe lives in the United States where he teaches English literature at Trinity College, Connecticut and at Brown University, Rhode Island. He writes a weekly political column for Nigerian daily The Sun and contributes regularly to Nigerian publications. He says that the Nigerian government, displeased at the critical tone of his articles, was behind his short period in custody and the seizure of his passports.
Okey Ndibe in 2007 strongly condemned the election, which he considered fraudulent, of President Umaru Yar’Adua, angering the government. Ndibe said that an anonymous source had warned him that an arrest warrant had been issued against him in 2008. He had not returned to Nigeria since.
While anxieties are being voiced about the forthcoming general elections in April 2011, Ndibe said recently that “Nigeria [had] become the kingdom of terrorists and criminals". Yesterday he repeated his criticism of the government, but said he was not concerned about his own fate. "I have not broken any law so I have no reason to worry”.
The incident has provoked some strong reactions. Nigerian professor Wole Soyinka, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, said, “Election neurosis has clearly gripped a most insensitive and inept Security apparatus. (…) It must never happen again. The nation is urged to remain vigilant and proactive in the protection of their citizen rights. These, let us remind ourselves, include freedom of expression, freedom to associate, and freedom of movement. The infringement of any one of these, no matter who is the victim, becomes the collective responsibility of all and must be sternly addressed. A movement towards fascism begins with seemingly innocuous violations”.
Two Nigerian organisations based in the United States, the Nigeria Democratic Liberty Forum (NDLF) and the Nigeria Peoples’ Parliament in the Diaspora (NPPID), said they feared “a resurgence of official terrorism on the part of the federal government and the security forces” that was “reminiscent of the dark days in the history of our country”.
Reporters Without Borders recorded at least 40 press freedom violations in Nigeria in 2010. Four journalists were murdered during the year, two of them while doing their jobs. The country, one of Africa’s most lethal for journalists, and where the safety of members of the media is a source of permanent concern, is ranked 145th out of 178, in the organisation’s 2010 world press freedom index.
The State Security Service appeared for the last several years on Reporters Without Borders’ list of press freedom predators, before being replaced in 2010, by Ogbonna Onovo, inspector general of police. For more information.