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Police raid newspaper seeking arrest of 15 editors, detain deputy editor for six hours, over critical article

(MRA/IFEX) - On 6 May 2008, about a dozen armed, plain-clothed policemen from the Niger State Command (in north-central Nigeria) raided the head office of "Leadership" newspaper in Abuja, Nigeria's Federal Capital, and arrested the newspaper's deputy editor, Danladi Ndayebo, over a feature article published by the paper.

The newspaper's editor, Prince Charles Dickson, told MRA that the policemen came with a list of 15 senior editorial staff of the newspaper whom they wanted to arrest, claiming that they were wanted in Minna, the Niger State capital, to answer to charges of criminal defamation filed against them at a magistrate's court in Minna. Dickson said, however, that the policemen had no court order authorizing an arrest, nor any warrant of arrest issued by police authorities; they claimed to be acting on the orders of the state police commissioner.

The policemen first, forcefully detained Abraham Nda-Isaiah, the newspaper's executive director, in his office for over two hours, despite pleas by the newspaper's legal adviser. They then threatened to take everyone in the office to the Abuja police station and thence to Minna.

Nda-Isaiah told journalists later that "the policemen came here fully armed, saying they are from the Niger State Police Command and that they are looking for one Mr. Abraham, that they want to take him to Minna to answer some questions over the defamation of character of one Senator Isa Mohammed."

Nda-Isaiah said he reminded them that the principle of the rule of law is that if anyone feels that his character has been defamed by the newspaper, the option open to that person is to take the newspaper to court so that "we meet in court and sort out the grievances, but not to take me to Minna".

Although Nda-Isaiah did not go with them, they took Ndayebo, who was the most senior journalist present at the time, with them to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Police Command.

Ndayebo was detained for six hours and questioned by the policemen, who wanted to know the source of the information in the article. The policemen threatened to retain Ndayebo until the newspaper's former political editor, Saidu Usman Sarki, who is reported to have written the feature article, could take Ndayebo's place in jail.

However, Ndayebo was released about six hours after his arrest and told to ask Sarki to report to the police. The policemen are said to be continuing their hunt for Sarki.

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