Nigerians Knock Police Over Detention Of Journalist

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“The NUJ condemns in the strongest terms the arrest and detention of Premium Times reporter, Samuel Ogundipe, by the police and his detention at the facility of the SARS in Abuja.”

• NUJ, lawyers, activists, others demand reporter’s immediate release

Job Osazuwa

From journalists, activists, lawyers and other concerned Nigerians, it has been a barrage of condemnations for the Nigerian Police over the detention of a journalist, Samuel Ogundipe.

The police force has, since August 13, kept the Premium Times reporter in its custody over the publication of a story in the online newspaper.

Nigerians have been unanimous in their calls for the police to immediately release the detained journalist, who covers the security beat for the online news medium. Ogundipe was arrested over a story he wrote on the sack of the former director-general of the Department of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura.

The police is asking Ogundipe to disclose how he obtained the letter used for the story, but the journalist has refused to name his source, in accordance with the principles of journalism. Indeed, asking a journalist to reveal his source, many have argued, is akin to asking the police to divulge details of an on-going investigation.

The protection of sources, also referred to as the confidentiality of sources, is a right accorded to journalists under the laws of many countries, including Nigeria, as well as under international law. It prohibits authorities, including the courts, from compelling a journalist to reveal the identity of an anonymous source for a story. The right is based on the recognition that, without a strong guarantee of anonymity, many would be deterred from coming forward and sharing information of public interest with journalists.

But Ogundipe is being held at the facility of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Abuja for refusing to divulge his source.

According to a journalist with the Premium Times, Festus Owete, before Ogundipe’s arrest, the medium’s education reporter, Azeezat Adedigba, was first kept by the police for almost four hours.

He said Ogundipe, the target of the police, was immediately picked up when he showed up at the police station. It was gathered that the medium’s editor-in-chief, Musikilu Mojeed, was also briefly detained at the SARS headquarters and allegedly manhandled by the police.

He lamented that Ogundipe’s arrest was the second time in two years that the organisation’s journalists were being harassed by the police. He recalled how, in January 2017, his publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi, and the judiciary reporter, Evelyn Okakwu, were detained over a story on the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai.

Harsh reactions have continued to trail Ogundipe’s arrest. Many have described the development as an infringement on the freedom of the press, as enshrined in Nigeria’s Constitution.

The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has condemned in strong terms the journalist’s arrest and asked the police to release the detainee without further delay.

In a statement, NUJ president, Abdulwaheed Odusile, said he was horrified by the constant harassment and molestation of journalists by the police and other agents of the state, and requested that such acts should stop forthwith.

“The NUJ condemns in the strongest terms the arrest and detention of Premium Times reporter, Samuel Ogundipe, by the police and his detention at the facility of the SARS in Abuja. He was arrested for reporting on the report sent to the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbanjo, by the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, on the sacked and detained DG of DSS, Malam Lawal Daura.

“It should be noted that confidentiality of sources is necessary for good journalism to flourish and journalists should not be coerced into revealing such sources.

“We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Samuel Ogundipe and an end to all forms of impunity against the media,” Odusile said.

Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, has joined other voices calling for the release of the detained journalist. He described his detention as unlawful.

However, Falana, in a statement issued on Tuesday, called on Premium Times to institute an action in court against the Nigeria Police Force, regardless of whether Ogundipe is subsequently released or kept in prison.

The statement read: “Whether Ogundipe is released tonight or arraigned in court tomorrow by the police, Premium Times should take advantage of this unlawful demand of the police to challenge criminal libel and other obnoxious anti-press laws in the statute book.

“While declaring seditious publications illegal and unconstitutional in 1983 in Arthur Nwankwo vs The State, the Court of Appeal held that any public officer who feels defamed or embarrassed by any publication should sue for libel and not use the machinery of the state to harass his political opponents. The court proceeded to urge Nigerians to resist any attempt to use any of the laws imported into the country by the erstwhile colonial rulers to repress us,” Falana said.

Similarly, the senator representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani, on Wednesday, reacted to the detention of Ogundipe through his official Twitter page. He called for the journalist’s release, stressing that the press was the fortress and the bastion of democracy.

On his part, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, while reacting to the arrest of Ogundipe on his Twitter page, expressed concern over the police’s action and called for the protection of press freedom.

In the same vein, the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) has joined other civil society groups to condemn the Nigeria Police over the arrest of the journalist.

In a press statement, the coordinator of research and documentation, Mr. Okechukwu Ndiribe, speaking on behalf of the executive chairman of CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran, described the development as a reminder of the dark days of military dictatorship, when press freedom was trampled upon with the imposition of the draconian Decree 4 on Nigeria.

“We had expected that the top echelon of Nigeria Police should have acted with a greater sense of responsibility on a day Osinbajo ordered that its notorious unit, SARS, should be overhauled to reflect the present administration’s commitment to the rule of law and respect for the fundamental human rights of Nigerians, which ought to be guaranteed under a democratic system of government.

“However, we are shocked that the same SARS decided to descend on the media in a brazen manner, thereby throwing caution to the winds. We actually consider this attitude of the police as an affront on the Acting President.

“The police have no right to ask a journalist to disclose the source of any information he obtains in the course of doing his job. We call for the immediate release of Ogundipe or his arraignment in court, if he has committed any offence known to the law.”

Meanwhile, the police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, through a live television programme, said he was not aware of the details of the journalist’s arrest.

He, however, said no Nigerian was beyond being arrested by the police when an investigation was being carried out.

“What I can say is that any Nigerian, whether a journalist or any member of the public, can be invited by an investigating officer to come around so that he or she can clear themselves of any allegations against them.”

The convener of #OurMumuDonDo Movement, Charles Oputa, also expressed disapproval of the onslaught on press freedom in Nigeria by the police.

A statement he jointly signed with other civil society groups, Concerned Nigerians, Coalition in Defence
of Nigerian Democracy and Mad Connect, represented by Deji Adeyanju, Ariyo-Dare Atoye and Moses Paul, respectively, accused Idris of flouting the law that protects journalists from unlawful arrest.

“This arrest is an open affront on Chapter 5, Section. 39 (1) of 1999 Constitution, as amended, which guarantees the freedom of expression of Nigerian citizens and the freedom of the press in Nigeria,” he said.

They vowed to mobilise Nigerians to the headquarters of the police force in Abuja on August 16 if, by the end of Wednesday, Ogundipe was not released unconditionally.

In March, there was wild condemnation by Nigerians when the Abuja bureau chief of The Independent newspaper, Tony Ezimako, was detained by the DSS.

Ezimako was reportedly arrested by the DSS over an investigative report he published on how the Federal Government paid money to Boko Haram to secure the release of some of the abducted Chibok girls. The DSS also insisted that the journalist must divulge his source of information, a request he turned down.