Nigeria detains ex-minister over newspaper column


Nigeria’s secret service detained a former cabinet minister and leading opposition figure over a newspaper column in which he criticised the high cost of government in Africa’s most populous nation.

The State Security Service (SSS) said it detained Nasir El-Rufai, a senior figure in the opposition Congress for Progressive Change party, early on Saturday at Abuja airport.
“This became necessary following El-Rufai’s recent articles in the cyber and print media which have been considered by well-meaning Nigerians to be inciting, inflammatory and grossly misleading,” the SSS said in a statement, Reuters reports.

It cited a July 1 column in the This Day newspaper in which El-Rufai bemoaned the low standard of public services and high cost of government. The SSS said he had failed to check facts.
“The politician who rigs himself into office then proceeds to loot the treasury, these are all the people whose standard of living we are spending nearly 75 percent of the 2011 budget to pay for,” El-Rufai wrote in the This Day column.

The former government minister is a respected opposition figure in Nigeria and was a vocal critic of the ruling People’s Democratic Party in the run-up to general elections in April.

He is not the only critic of the cost of government.

Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi and former Finance Minister Olusegun Aganga were hauled before parliament last year to explain comments attributed to them that the National Assembly was eating up too much of federal budget overheads.

Many economists have also regularly voiced concern that Nigeria spends more running government than it does on badly needed capital projects, although President Goodluck Jonathan has pledged to tighten spending.

Nigeria has a vibrant print media but its journalists are generally poorly paid and easily intimidated, with sponsored articles common. It ranked 146 out of 178 in the 2010 Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

Jonathan, who began his first full term in office just over a month ago, signed a Freedom of Information Bill in May, touted by officials as sign government was becoming more transparent.

But the SSS used the bill as part of its justification for El-Rufai’s detention.
“It is pertinent to note that the Freedom of Information Bill has been passed into law, yet he refused to cross check his facts before publishing,” its statement said.