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Group flays arrest of journalist by Niger government

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Concerned Nigerians, a pro-democracy group, has condemned the harassment of Mohammed Usman, a journalist, by Niger State Government over a published report on his blog and social media. Usman was arrested and detained on Friday night.

In a statement yesterday made available to The Guardian, the group asserted that the harassment and arrest of journalists, which seemed to be trending in the country, suggested that state governments were trying to silence critical voices by waging a silent war against journalists on trumped-up charges.

Office of the Chief of Staff (CoS) to the Governor of Niger State had, in a petition to the police, alleged that Usman posted official secret on his social media platform.

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In the petition signed by his personal assistant, the CoS further asked the police to investigate Usman’s source of such classified document. The statement added, “It is trite law that journalists are not under any obligation to disclose their sources of information. The Supreme Court in Tony Momoh vs the Senate and several other cases re-emphasised this.

“It is important to re-emphasise this important ingredient of democracy by quoting Section 22 of our constitution thus, ‘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. The media remains the most credible watchdog of our democracy and all citizens must resist attempts to gag it.’”

Convener of the group, Deji Adeyanju, condemned the incessant harassment and unlawful arrest of journalists and dissenting voices in Nigeria. “These acts are a violation of the public’s right to know.”

Adeyanju’s statement underlined the “essential watchdog role” of the press in democratic societies, as he reminded Niger government and Nigerian authorities that reporters must be afforded the highest degree of protection to perform their civic duty freely.

His words, “Usman is one of the best, ethical and professional journalists in Nigeria. His harassment and arrest is undemocratic and affront on press freedom.

“We are concerned that the authorities will write a petition to the police, calling for the investigation of a journalist’s source of carrying out his duty as an independent journalist.”

“The authorities at all levels must know that press freedom is one of the building blocks of every democratic society. Without it, we are not the same country. Nigerians, regardless of their political beliefs, have the right to do their jobs without being hounded.”

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