Tell (Nigerian Magazine)

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Date: 1993

Region: Africa

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Print Journalism


Artist: Nosa Igiebor, Kola Ilori, Onome Osifo- Whiskey, Ayodele Akinkuoto

Confronting Bodies: Nigerian Government

Dates of Action: April 1993

Location: Nigeria

Description of Artwork: The Nigerian magazine Tell was established by five journalists who had previously worked for Newswatch, Nigeria's first weekly news magazine. As explained by Tell's editor-in-chief Nosa Igiebor, the journalists were uncomfortable with the "coziness" which had developed between Newswatch 's "founding editors and the government." Tell was initiated by the journalists to be a more challenging and critical publication. After its first year on the newsstands, Tell gained a reputation as a leader in questioning (military ruler Ibrahim) Babangida's willingness to hand over power to a civilian government. Tell's popularity soared in the run-up to the June 1993 presidential election and in the turbulent aftermath. The magazine's print run was as high as 100,000 copies a week at the time, according to Igiebor.

The Incident: Tell became one of Babangida regime's favorite targets in April after the magazine published an interview with former head of state Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. The cover of the issue featured a quote from Obasanjo in large block red letters, which read, 'IBB's Regime is a Fraud.' Over the next four months, state security forces kept the magazine's offices under constant surveillance, occupied them on more then one occasion, seized thousands of copies of the magazine, and assaulted its journalists." This consistent pressure from the government forced Tell to begin printing underground in July of 1993. "On August 15, state security operatives and police ransacked the magazine's offices and detained Igiebor, executive editor Kola Ilori, managing editor Onome Osifo-Whiskey, and senior associate editor Ayodele Akinkuoto for 12 days. Even with the senior editors in detention, the attacks on Tell continued. 'Two or three days after we were arrested... they came to our office during production... and assaulted our reporters--took them away and tortured them,' Ilori said. According to the executive editor, after a magistrate heard the case against the editors-and 'knew it was a phony holding charge'-they were supposed to be released on bail before Babangida handed over power on August 26 and left Abuja the next day. But they were detained an additional few days because 'they thought it would be safer to keep us in Abuja while the man (Babangida) is still there,' Ilori said.

Results of Incident: When the editors were finally released on August 27, Ernst Shonekan was Nigeria's president. The end of the Babangida regime was a welcome respite for Tell. All told, 500,000 copies of the magazine had been seized from printers, distributors, and vendors in the streets during the last four months of Babangida's rule, according to Ilori. In addition, Tell's Ilori pointed out that the magazine remained under surveillance by the security forces through Shonekan's short reign.

In fact, the magazine remained under surveillance after (General) Sani Abacha seized power and lifted the proscription decree, reinforcing how tenuous press freedom remains in Nigeria."

Source: Africa Report, "To Tell the Truth Is Risky Business in Nigeria," Jan/Feb. 1994, Pg. 10-11