Nigeria threatens CNN over corruption in its anti-corruption campaign

Nigeria’s Minister of Power, Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola recently sent a legal warning to CNN about his claims on the corruption allegations against President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. But as the Guardian reports, Fashola offered no hard evidence that CNN was inaccurate in its recent reports on the toll gate, claiming Nigerians are withholding information.

Fashola tweeted last week that people are hiding valuable information because of the frequency with which the traffic police ambush vehicles carrying anti-corruption investigators, and accused CNN of inaccurately framing the problem. “Many of those put under surveillance are passing sensitive information on personal lives, including the name of victims, to notorious criminals who protect perpetrators of thievery,” he tweeted, adding: “[L]et CNN know that my government has intensified its efforts to curb thievery. If CNN ignores us, it means we’ve been truthful.”

Seyi Anjorin, CNN’s West Africa correspondent, tweeted in response, saying, “In May CNN received a grant from yours to establish a bureau in Lagos, which we are doing, given our company’s interests here. We stand by our story, which you have not disputed.”

In May we received a grant from yours to establish a bureau in Lagos, which we are doing, given our company’s interests here. We stand by our story, which you have not disputed. — Seyi Anjorin (@SeyiAnjorin) June 18, 2019

The Guardian reports, citing sources in Lagos, that a government official cited CNN for the death of a businessman in the Lagos toll gate last year. A vehicle carrying a team from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was detained, and three journalists covering the investigation were beaten and eventually released without charge.

Fashola claimed in his Twitter post that “CNN disregarded reported deaths to avoid explaining the death of a businessman” at the toll gate and claimed that a “Senate Committee last week also signed an agreement that almost $600m will be recovered from corrupt Nigerians hiding behind the guise of providing information on thievery.”

The newspaper reports that the toll gate has long been under investigation, with two government investigations in 2016 and 2017 declaring that it is a colossal waste of public funds. The EFCC filed a criminal case in a court of law against the owner of a firm that built the structure, but the case was later dropped. A warrant of arrest has not been issued against the businessman, according to the news outlet.

In January, Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode visited the headquarters of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) with the intention of reviewing the expansion of the toll gate. But it is unclear why he would do so after the president had publicly denied the existence of a toll gate.

Ambode told CNN that earlier this month his government will inaugurate an “transit management scheme” within the state and that “transit users will not be charged at toll gates.” The state government’s version of the operation differs markedly from CNN’s “M-Pesa mobile money system” version, said Guardian.

Fashola claimed that five vehicles carrying reporters were flagged down in April by a traffic police officer who claimed the vehicles had been chosen at random and refused to produce any information regarding the identity of the two female foreign journalists or the whereabouts of three of the male journalists. Five journalists are currently working on this story, but it’s unclear how they were selected, let alone why.

The arrest and beating of the female journalists — and they were later released unharmed — triggered outrage in Nigeria and around the world. CNN was criticized for “putting lives at risk to fact check the president.”

Seyi Anjorin of CNN told the Guardian that “throughout the year we have received numerous questions about this story, with a very high degree of frequency.”

Still, Nigerian lawmakers insist there is no toll gate and that the claim of a “massive over-collection” is “not true,” according to the newspaper.

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