By Tayo Joseph Lagos, Nigeria
Uyo, Nigeria, May 23, 2017–Nigerian authorities’ demolition of the office of radio Breeze 99.9 FM is a shocking affront to press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. State authorities in Nassarawa, roughly 200 kilometers (124 miles) east of the capital Abuja, on May 20 demolished the radio station’s office and transmitter while police shot in the air to disperse a crowd that had gathered to try to save the station, according to media reports.
Adamu Sule, managing director of the Nassarawa State Urban Development Board, said Breeze FM was demolished for not having approval to operate in a residential area, and that the station was notified prior to the demolition, according to media reports. Correspondence between the station and the board reviewed by CPJ shows that days before the demolition, the board had told the station to apply for a permit to continue operating. Breeze FM’s management told CPJ that they believe the state demolished their office in retaliation for the station’s broadcasts.
“Demolishing a radio station’s office and equipment in retaliation for its coverage would be censorship in its bluntest and most violent form,” said CPJ West Africa Representative Peter Nkanga. “We call on authorities in Nigeria’s Nassarawa state to take all possible measures to return Breeze FM to the air.”
In a May 17 letter to Breeze FM, Sunday A. Abason, the board’s assistant general manager, wrote, “You are hereby directed to submit forthwith an application for Planning Permit from the Board, if you wish to continue using the property for whatever purpose.”
Breeze FM Director Nawani Aboki told CPJ he received the board’s letter on May 18, and that he went to the board’s office the following day to submit the application and building plans for approval. Officials at the board refused to receive the application on the grounds that board employees were on strike. “Yet the board’s officials, who are striking, went and marked the station for demolition that same May 19, and carried out the demolition on May 20 by 8 a.m.,” Aboki said.
Aboki told CPJ that Breeze FM began broadcasting only in February 2017, and that he believed the demolition was politically motivated because he does not belong to the ruling All Progressives Congress party and because the station aired a live discussion to mark the May 1 Nigerian national holiday of Workers’ Day, in which invited guests and callers criticized the government for not paying state workers’ salaries, according to media reports. The board first ordered Breeze FM to stop ongoing construction work at the station in a letter dated May 12. A board official who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press privately agreed the demolition was wrongfully carried out, but directed all inquiries to Adamu Sule, the board’s managing director.
Sule did not respond to text messages CPJ sent to his mobile phone number.
The Nassarawa state branch of the Nigeria Union of Journalists condemned the demolition as “an assault on the media and threat to freedom of the press in the state,” news reports said.