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Global Rights Condemns Escalating Attacks on Media by Nigerian Security Personnel

By Ruth Tene Natsa, Abuja

“The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.”

(Section 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria)

Global Rights, Executive Director Abiodun Baiyewu has, in the strongest possible terms condemned, the recent spate of attacks on members of the press by law enforcement and security agents.

The Group calls for a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding Mr Segun Olatunji’s ordeal, calling that Officers indicted in his arbitrary arrest and torture should be dismissed and made to account for their abuse of power. The Group also demands that an official apology from the Nigerian military’s top brass to Mr Olatunji as well as steps to compensate him for the ordeal he unlawfully suffered at the hands of its personnel be made by the military top brass.

The Global Rights further calls for an immediate cessation of the campaign of harassment and intimidation by the Nigerian Police Force targeting the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) and Mr Fisayo Shoyombo and demands the immediate release of all journalists and members of the press who are being unlawfully detained by Nigerian law enforcement and security agencies, an amendment to the Cybercrimes Act 2015, stating the Act contains many provisions that could be easily subject to arbitrary interpretations, making it the perfect tool to be unfairly wielded to target the media as well as a policy directive emanating from the highest echelon of the Tinubu administration instructing government officials to desist from harassing, intimidating, and arresting members of the press for spurious and undemocratic reasons.

In a statement signed by the ED, it stated “We consider it pertinent to sound the alarm on these incidents while informing the powers that be that human rights actors and civic space defenders are taking stock of President Tinubu’s administration’s approach towards protecting media rights, recalling that one such attack took place on the 15th of March 2024, when Mr Segun Olatunji, an editor with the FirstNews Newspaper, was unlawfully taken from his home in Lagos by a mob of 10 officers of the Nigerian military”.

“Mr Olatunji was not informed of the reason for his arrest before his abduction. He was eventually released after a sustained media campaign spanning nearly 2 weeks without being charged with any crime.”

Mr. Olatunji, in narrating his ordeal, the statement recalled affirmed that he was handcuffed, and leg chained for 3 days. The only window he was offered into why he was arrested and subsequently tortured was when he was asked about a critical story his newspaper had published about the unprofessional manner in which the Defence Chief was running his agency.

“Another egregious encounter that further symbolizes the posture of the administration on the press is the consistent harassment of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ). The FIJ is a reputable media organization, well known for publishing exposés on government corruption and bad governance”.

The statement added that just recently, Ms. Bukky Shonibare, its Board of Trustees Chair was invited by the Nigeria Police Force National Cybercrime Centre (NPF-NCCC) ostensibly to “answer questions about cybercrime” and clarify matters about a case the police was investigating. Ms Shonibare honoured the police’s invitation, accompanied by her lawyer. At the police station, she was consistently grilled about the kinds of stories the FIJ publishes.

In one of many displays of a lack of understanding of journalistic ethics and the role of the media, the police asked why stories were not first cleared with law enforcement before being published.

Though Ms. Shonibare was released the same day after a prolonged and aggressive interrogation, she was mandated to report back to the police and to “produce” the Executive Director of the FIJ, Mr. Fisayo Soyombo. It is important to contextualize the police’s infatuation with securing Mr. Soyombo. He recently published a very detailed investigative report exposing corruption at the highest levels of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS)

“The actions we have described are most unbecoming in a country that claims to practice democracy. The arrest, detention, intimidation, and harassment of journalists simply because they publish stories that run counter to the narratives of the government is unabashedly undemocratic.

Worse still, it is also unconstitutional ‘Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria unambiguously charges the press with the responsibility of holding the government accountable to the people.’noting that the drafters of the Constitution appreciated the fact that Nigeria’s hard-earned democracy could be undermined if the press was stifled by autocratic civilian rulers’

These fears are understandable and are anchored on the knowledge that Nigeria’s history is replete with instances in which powerful individuals in government have gone to great lengths to silence members of the press who have criticized them.

The instances of the atrocious assassinations of Mr. Dele Giwa and Chief Alex Ibru, which remain unsolved to date, are examples from the military era. Since the nation’s return to civilian rule, Nigerian government officials have continued the trend of shutting down dissenting opinions and journalists who seek to hold them accountable.

She again recalled that recently, state agents disappeared journalists like Mr. Agba Jalingo and Mr. Jones Abiri for extended periods. Idris Abubakar, popularly known as Dadiyata disappeared from his home in Kaduna over 4 years ago. The Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) revealed a concerning trend of 53 incidents of attacks on journalists in 2022.

Quoting the Shege, a Global Rights’ scorecard report grading the impact of the Buhari administration on Nigeria’s civic space, Baiyewu said we detailed a plethora of incidents in which the instrumentality of the Nigerian State was targeted at journalists and the media by the Buhari administration.

“It is apparent that officials in this government fundamentally misunderstand the role of the media in a democracy and are intent on towing the path of the previous administration in constricting the civic space.”

“The function of the press is not to rubber stamp or applaud every governmental action or policy, no matter how well-intentioned they might seem. This is why it would be inconsistent with the well-established rules of journalistic ethics and standards for journalists to submit their stories to law enforcement agents for clearance or approval before publishing. The Fourth Estate must scrutinize the policies and actions of the government, holding the powerful to account while simultaneously informing the citizenry”

The proper response of a responsible government to negative stories about it and its officials should be to investigate whether the stories are true while taking positive steps to address them. It is very concerning that the Tinubu administration’s response has been to harass and intimidate the reporter who exposed the corruption in the Nigerian Customs Service rather than focusing on it.

Consequently, we call on the Tinubu administration to retrace its steps. There is a lot of time for it to avoid the pitfalls that befell the Buhari administration in engendering the civic space. The opportunity is rife for this administration to begin to position itself as a champion of the protection of the rights of the Nigerian people. Key among those rights is the right to freedom of the press.

On our part, Global Rights remains committed to advocating for the protection of human rights, and we lend our voice in support of the Nigerian press and mass media.

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