Unlawful detention of journalists

For some time, the disturbing trend of arrest and detention of journalists by security agencies has continued unchecked. In what has become a sporadic clampdown on dissent, many journalists have been targeted and criminalised, for their critical role of demanding accountability and informing the public.

 

 

 

 

 

Contrary to the nation's constitution which bequeaths a noble task to the press as the fourth estate of the realm and a watchdog of the society, attempts by law enforcement agencies to muzzle and censor media professionals continue ruthlessly with incidents of harassment, intimidation, long periods of detention and raiding of media houses making headlines at regular intervals.

While Nigerian authorities deny any wrongdoing and insist that those arrested have cases to answer, questions over their long periods of detention and shocking vilification by their traducers remain unanswered, painting a sordid picture of gross human rights violation and abuse of power. As if Nigerian laws are intended to silence the truth, security agencies display open disgust to facts represented as criticism of the present administration, whether constructive or not.

On August 22, 2019, the publisher of Cross River Watch, a Newspaper based in Cross River State, Agba Jalingo, was whisked away from his Lagos residence by the police and moved to Calabar by road. His offence was that he published an article about Governor Ben Ayade on the whereabouts of N500 million released for the state’s microfinance bank.

After several days of detention, the police preferred a four-count charge of treasonable felony, terrorism, cultism, and disturbance of public peace against him. The charges were filed at the Federal High Court in Calabar, Cross River State. Jalingo was also liked with the revolutionnow movement of the detained publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore. Authorities alleged he was plotting to undermine the government and “undemocratically” force Governor Ayade out of office through violent means.

Although Agba has sued the police over his arrest and detention, which he maintain were illegal and a breach of his fundamental human rights, and is asking the court to order the police to pay him N150 million, the injury on his personality and the media industry remains.

Similarly, the publisher of Saharareporters and presidential candidate of the African Action Congress in the February 2019 election, Sowere, has remained in detention since he was arrested in the wee hours of August 3, 2019, contrary to voices of reason like Femi Falana, SAN. He was accused by the police of trying to force a regime change in the country through violent means.

During the same month, a video editor and cameraman with Sahara Reporters, Victor Ogungbero, was arrested by officials of the Nigeria Police force and taken to the state criminal investigative department in Panti, yaba, Lagos.

The fume against the media started earlier in the year. In January 2019, offices of the Daily Trust Newspaper were raided by security forces and sealed off and two journalists arrested over a cover story that ran the military fight against the Boko Haram insurgents.

Nigeria’s public officials and security agencies must realise that within the 20 years of the country’s democratic rule, it has witnessed defying challenges in health, agriculture, security and educational sectors etc., issues the country’s laws mandate every administration to address. Failure to address them is an open invitation to media scrutiny as the Nigerian journalist is not shy of performing his constitutional obligation of holding public officials accountable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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