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Nigeria Chief Orders Bribe Probe

April 19, 2002

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) _ President Olusegun Obasanjo has ordered an investigation into a published report that Nigerian government officials offered money to foreign journalists during a lecture on honest and accurate reporting.

In a brief statement released Thursday, Obasanjo’s chief spokesman Tunji Oseni said the president was ``enraged by the report (and) has directed that an investigation be carried out.″

``Anybody found liable by the investigation will be appropriately dealt with,″ the statement said.

In an April 15 story, Time magazine’s European edition reported that Nigerian Ministry of Information officials gave journalists a package containing a government reference book and a brown envelope ``stuffed with about $400″ following a ``lecture on honest and accurate reporting″ in February that included ``requests for less negative news.″

Information Minister Jerry Gana said the money offered to foreign journalists had been ``clearly stated″ as optional compensation intended to cover ``travel and incidental expenses″ from Lagos, where most foreign correspondents are based to the capital Abuja, where the meeting was held.

He denied the bribery allegations and dismissed the Time article as ``pure blackmail,″ local newspapers reported Thursday.

A spokeswoman for Time magazine in Europe declined to make any comment on the Nigerian investigation.

The Time story described regular payments from Nigerian news sources to often-poorly paid local journalists as challenges to a ``truly free press″ in Nigeria.

An Associated Press reporter and a photographer who were at the February briefing declined envelopes containing money, and several other foreign journalists reached by The AP said they also returned the money.

Obasanjo’s 1999 election ended 15 years of corrupt and often brutal military rule.

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