Nigeria threatens CNN with sanctions and imprisonment in ‘shameful’ attack

The government of Nigeria has threatened CNN with sanctions and imprisonment if it did not correct a critical article it published last week, but provided no evidence to support its charges.

In a letter to the network dated Wednesday, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s communications director Osasu Obayiuwana wrote that his communications director “informed CNN’s editor-in-chief Jeff Zucker that your unethical conduct was expected from one of your most dangerous enemies on behalf of Nigeria.”

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The New York-based network responded on Thursday, calling on the Nigerian government to retract and apologize for what it called a “gross distortion of the truth” in its “disgraceful” story.

“Nigeria cannot and should not censor or intimidate CNN to appease a despotic regime bent on destabilizing the peace and stability of West Africa,” said CNN international president Vinnie Malhotra in a statement.

CNN reported Friday that its story about a “secret, 50-mile toll road” in Nigeria’s Lagos and Abuja state “has set off a public-relations firestorm.” The network said it learned through “well-placed sources” that about 150 people had died during a January 2018 flood that caused the road to be blocked by floodwaters.

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“It’s extremely important to underscore that Nigeria already has one of the highest road tolls in the world and CNN’s report incorrectly suggests that tolls were used to cover up the number of deaths,” wrote CNN London bureau chief Nathalie Poujoulat. “This simply did not happen and CNN is extremely distressed that the government could not offer even one shred of evidence to support its claim of a ‘cover-up.’”

In its letter, Obayiuwana didn’t provide evidence to support the charges against CNN, a spokesman for the president’s office said in an email. Nor did the letter specify the penalties CNN would face, the spokesman said. He declined to comment further.

Several CNN reporters were in Lagos for the six-day annual Women Deliver conference, which is scheduled to start Thursday, according to the network.

“The entire story is based on sketchy, anonymous sources. Two are former toll road officials who refuse to speak on the record about the issue,” Poujoulat wrote in her statement. “Moreover, the headline and any other quote in the story constitute a falsehood and describe an accident where no one died.”

CNN also emphasized that a recent BBC investigation found in 2015 that the tolls on that road were linked to an illegal pipeline industry.

“The cable-cam footage and eyewitness account on which the article is based were never collected and are in no way part of a cover-up,” Poujoulat wrote.

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