By JON GAMBRELL
LAGOS, Nigeria -- Prosecutors filed criminal charges Tuesday against two journalists at a Nigerian newspaper over a story they published on alleged plans by the nation's presidency to disrupt opposition parties. The charges are a sign of growing government pressure on the media.
Tony Amokeodo and Chibuzo Ukaibe face 10 counts of forgery after the daily Abuja-based newspaper Leadership reported on a memo it claimed came from officials working for President Goodluck Jonathan. Amokeodo and Ukaibe appeared briefly in court Tuesday before being released on bail, said Azubuike Ishiekwene, the group managing director of the newspaper.
Though the presidency later denied the authenticity of the memo, It is unclear why authorities are charging the two journalists criminally as libel is handled typically as a civil matter in Nigerian courts. Federal police spokesman Frank Mba did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
In the story, the newspaper said the memo called for officials to disrupt the business interest of opposition party leaders. The
newspaper said the memo also included a mention of influencing the country's Independent National Electoral Commission, as well as potentially raising the price of the oil-rich nation's subsidized gasoline - an issue that sparked a nationwide strike last year.
Officials with Nigeria's presidency later described the purported memo as a forgery and "cheap blackmail." Yet, police officials earlier detained four journalists from the newspaper over it, including Amokeodo and Ukaibe. Those two journalists were released after their colleagues only on condition they reported regularly to police investigators. Officers arrested the two when they reported to police headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, on Monday.