Police operatives have arrested a professional webmaster, Adebowale Adekoya, over an investigative news story published last year.
The story was published on NewsDigest, an Abuja-based online medium.
According to PR Nigeria, Mr Adekoya was arrested in Ikorodu, Lagos last Friday while going home and thereafter whisked away to Ilorin Kwara State.
This reporter carried out the investigation titled ‘Inside Kwara factory where Indian hemp smoking is ‘legalized.”
The story was published over a year ago on May 19, 2018.
The report showed that at Hillcrest Agro-Alied Industry, one of the companies owned by a former Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sarah Alade, smoking of cigarettes and Indian hemp was tolerated within its vicinity.
The report showed that workers saddled with the responsibility of loading and off-loading processed and unprocessed grains in trucks smoked Indian hemp at will without being sanctioned.
Before the story was published, the company refused to respond to enquiries. Calls and text messages sent to the firm’s telephone hotline were not responded to.
Over a year after the story was published, Hillcrest wrote a petition to the police alleging that the story was injurious to it.
Rather than seek clarification from the reporter or approach the publisher of NewsDigest, the police identified the person, Mr Adekoya, who registered the website.
“He was the one that was in-charge of the NewsDigest IT structure as at the time the story was published and that was the basis why he was arrested,” Mr Adekoya’s lawyer, Yunus Abdulsalam, told PREMIUM TIMES.
“The platform affected is a reputable media house that can be reached. They should either go for the publisher or the reporter,” he said.
Mr Abdulsalam said that although plans are underway to secure his release, Mr Adekoya is yet to be freed by the police.
“I have informed some lawyers in Ilorin and they are working on his bail,” he said on Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, the Kwara police spokesperson, Peter Okasanmi, expressed surprise when PREMIUM TIMES notified him about the detention of Mr Adekoya.
Mr Okasanmi who confirmed the receipt of a petition from the company noted that Mr Adekoya ought to have been released since Monday morning.
“The issue was brought to my notice yesterday and I was briefed that the parties involved will be contacted today and he will be released this morning,” he said on Monday evening.
He promised to get back to this correspondent after he has confirmed that Mr Adekoya is still in police custody.
The police spokesperson was yet to get back on Tuesday morning, while Mr Adekoya remained in detention.
Gidado Yushau, Editor of NewsDigest, expressed shock over the arrest of his online newspaper’s webmaster, describing the police’s action as ‘unbridled illegality.’
Mr Gidado said the police have no justification to arrest and detain Mr Adekoya over a story which he was not the author.
He said NewsDigest stands by its story and would always uphold the tenets and basic ethics of news reportage.
“We totally condemn the unjustifiable action of the law enforcement officers for arresting Adekoya who was doing his legitimate work of managing our online site and dozens of other media platforms.
“Besides, he was neither the owner of the website nor the author of the investigative report. Therefore, we are calling on the police to unconditionally release him,” he added.
The arrest of Mr Adekoya joins a growing list of clampdown by state agents on journalists and media workers for doing their job.
Agba Jalingo, a journalist in Cross River State, is still being detained and tried for writing stories critical of the Cross River government.
In Akwa Ibom, a journalist, Mary Ekere, who reports for a local newspaper in Uyo, was arrested by the state environmental task force on September 16 for taking photos of the task force officials raiding a shop.
She was thrown into the Uyo prison that same day without appearing before a judge, an incident lawyers who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said was “strange” in the nation’s justice system.
Although she was later released the next day, she was forced to delete the photos by the magistrate, Margaret Ekpedoho.