Nigerians, AI caution against gagging media ahead of 2019 polls
• Demand release of detained journalists
Eminent Nigerians, including Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, have cautioned governments at all levels and their agencies against actions or decisions capable of impeding effective performance of the media.
According to them, paying lip service to the principle of press freedom through continuous clamp down on media organizations or the practitioners who serve as watchdogs of the society, is dangerous to the development of any democratic nation as it threatens achievement of free, peaceful and credible election in 2019. Fayose and Atiku gave the advice in their reactions to the arrest and detention of a reporter with Premium Times, Mr. Samuel Ogundipe, yesterday by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Others that condemned the action include the International Press Centre (IPC) and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ).
The online newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, and the education correspondent, Azeezat Adedigba, were also briefly detained by the security operatives at the police headquarters in Abuja. Fayose, using his twitter handle, @GovAyoFayose, condemned the action of the police.
“The arrest and detention of Ogundipe must be condemned by all lovers of freedom of speech and of the press. I join other well-meaning Nigerians to call for his immediate release.” Atiku, through his twitter handle, @atiku, said: “The arrest and detention of Ogundipe for his refusal to disclose his source to a story raises serious concerns about the preservation of the confidentiality of sources. I call for the protection of press freedom as guaranteed by our constitution.”
The IPC described the arrest of Ogundipe as a clear assault on press freedom and a threat to the safety of the detained journalist and his colleagues.In a statement, the Director, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, said: “This heavy-handed treatment of a journalist against whom no case of violation of the law has been made is an embarrassment to Nigeria and advertises the country as disdainful of its own laws and democratic practice.
“It should be embarrassing to the Nigeria Police to so brazenly clamp down on a law-abiding citizen and journalist with an apparent sinister view to inhibiting the practice of his profession in line with its ethics and within the latitude guaranteed by the laws of Nigeria and international conventions.”In a statement, the National President of NUJ, Abdulwaheed Odusile, lamented the frequent harassment of journalists by security agencies.
“The NUJ is horrified by the constant harassment and molestation of journalists by the police and other agents of the state and requests that such should abate forthwith.“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 Ogundipe and an end to all forms of impunity against the media.”Similarly, as another journalist, Mr. Abiri Jones, who was arrested two years ago by security operatives, is to be charged to court today, Amnesty International (AI) has urged the Federal Government to release him immediately.
Jones, the publisher of the Weekly Source, a newspaper based in Bayelsa State, was arrested in 2016 and kept in detention of Department of State Services (DSS) till date. In a petition issued in Akure, Ondo State by the Amnesty Nigeria Campaigner, Esther Ikubaje, she urged the citizens to rise against victimization of journalists and bid to gag the media.
“Jones is finally going to court today Thursday 16th August so we need to act now and put pressure on the people in power who can stop him from being locked up any longer.“Two years ago, he was at work when his office was raided and he got arrested. He’s been in prison ever since with no trial, and isolated from his lawyer and family, including his 80-year-old mother, wife and five children,” she said.
Ikubaje, who lamented that in Nigeria, journalists, bloggers and activists are being harassed and arrested, warned that “if we allow the courts to imprison innocent people on trumped up charges, this alarming trend will continue.”She said Nigerians must demand that the attorney general and minister of justice drop all charges against Jones and release him from prison.“Let us raise our voices and show Nigeria that this must stop. Help us release Abiri Jones and protect free speech for everyone,” she said.