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08.02.2012 Nigeria

Nigerian airport officials lock out journalists, hold equipment

By Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
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NEW YORK, February 8, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Nigerian authorities have locked reporters based at the country's biggest airport out of their press center and withheld their equipment since Saturday, according to local journalists and news reports.

Officials of the State Security Service and the protocol department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have denied over 60 journalists reporting from the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, the country's commercial capital, access to their cameras, voice recorders, and other tools of their trade.

According to local media reports, authorities have accused the journalists of posing a risk to national security and have threatened them with arrest if they are sighted in the vicinity of the press center at the presidential wing of the airport, where their belongings are being held.

Today, the head of the protocol department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Afolabi Oduniyi, declined to comment on the issue in a phone call with CPJ, due to the "sensitive nature of the question you are asking me," he said.

"Officials must explain why they have arbitrarily closed a long-established press center and denied access to the premises and journalists' equipment," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. "We call on authorities, including at the federal level, to ensure that journalists are free to carry out their work."

Aviation correspondent Chris Agabi for local newspaper Daily Trust wrote that "journalists have used the facility for over 30 years and not even the military regimes shut it down." The president was uncomfortable with reports about some people's movements around the airport, including a picture of one traditional leader using a presidential jet, Agabi wrote.

Vanguard reported, without citing sources, that the dispute arose after officials tried unsuccessfully to suppress publication of reports on a robbery incident that occurred at the airport Wednesday.

But the president of the Aviation Reporters Association, Chukwuemeka Iwelunmo, told CPJ that the government has not given any reason for the lockout. "We've been going about our normal business," said Mr. Iwelunmo, who reports for Insider Magazine.

The chairman of the Lagos state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Deji Elumoye, told CPJ that he had tried to resolve the spat but failed when government officials refused to say who ordered the lockout."They only told us that they had instruction from their ogas [bosses] in [the capital] Abuja that they should send our members out of the press center," Elumoye said. "I asked the director of protocol of the presidential lodge if I could see a copy of the memo or circular. He was not forthcoming."

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