LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) Ã¢â‚¬â€ A Nigerian journalist said Thursday police threatened him with sedition charges over a story he wrote about presidential influencing in the oil-rich nation, as he and six newspaper colleagues were released from custody.
Yusuf Alli of The Nation newspaper said detectives also claimed he’d face forgery and defamation charges for his Oct. 4 story alleging former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote a letter to current leader Goodluck Jonathan to fire government officials.
Alli said he refused to admit anything and was released after about two days in custody with an assurance he wouldn’t face criminal charges.
“No matter what the pressure, I won’t disclose my source,” Alli told The Associated Press. “I stood my ground that the letter was not forged and I did cross-check my facts before I published.”
Police arrested Alli and his colleagues Tuesday following a raid on the Lagos-based newspaper’s office. Several of those arrested had nothing to do with the story, with police jailing them as they couldn’t immediately find the newspaper’s senior management, the publication said.
The small daily, one of many in Nigeria’s unruly and outspoken press, published Alli’s story alleging Obasanjo wrote Jonathan to replace the leaders of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund and four other agencies with his own candidates.
The letter has hit a nerve in Nigerian politics, as it recommends replacing leaders from the Muslim north as opposed to the country’s Christian south, where Jonathan and Obasanjo both come from. Some also view Jonathan as beholden to Obasanjo’s interests, so the letter raises new concerns about Jonathan’s independence as a leader.
Alli said threat of sedition charges came from that perceived religious-and-ethnic divide in Africa’s most populous nation.
“They said that the story was a security breach, that I intended to cause separation between the north and the south,” the editor and investigative reporter said. “I wrote the story in the public interest, in the sake of the unity of Nigeria.”
Obasanjo denied the authenticity of the letter and threatened legal action, but the newspaper said it stood by its story.
Activists and other journalists criticized the arrests as a means to stifle criticism of the country’s weak central government.
Attacks against journalists remain common in Nigeria, a country of 150 million where corruption pervades government and business. Reporters found themselves routinely targeted during military rule of Africa’s most populous nation as well, though 12 years of democracy in the nation have enshrined a belief, if not an absolute right, to free speech.
However, many reporters accept cash payments from interview subjects or “brown envelope” bribes slipped into briefing materials at news conferences. Major politicians also finance newspapers to influence their coverage.