International rights group, Amnesty International, has demanded the immediate release of PREMIUM TIMES reporter, Samuel Ogundipe, who was detained by police on Tuesday.
Mr Ogundipe was arrested and held by the police anti-robbery squad for refusing to disclose the source of a story published on PREMIUM TIMES.
The story contained a report by the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to the acting President Yemi Osinbajo on the siege on the National Assembly by the State Security Service.
Mr Ogundipe has been held by for about 24 hours without trial.
“The Nigerian police must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Samuel Ogundipe, who has been in unlawful police detention since yesterday,” the Amnesty said in its statement. ”
“Reports that police detained Samuel Ogundipe with the intention of forcing him to reveal his sources are extremely disturbing and illustrate the level of harassment and intimidation that Nigerian journalists face. The duty of journalists is not to please the authorities – it is to share information in the interest of the public, and forcing journalists to reveal their sources is illegal,” it added.
The group described the situation as a furtherance of government’s clampdown on PREMIUM TIMES and warned the police to focus on maintaining law and order in line with their constitutional responsibility.
In a similar development, the Media Rights Agenda demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Ogundipe, describing his arrest as an abuse of the constitution.
The statement signed by the association’s programme director, Ayode Longe, warned the government to desist from intimidation of the press in the months ahead of the 2019 general election.
“We are dismayed by this increasing resort by the Buhari Administration to tactics of intimidation and harassment of media practitioners in breach of the provisions of the Constitution and other laws. We are seriously concerned that such acts appear to be on the upswing as the 2019 elections draw nearer and urge the Government to retrace its steps in order not to permanently damage public confidence in democratic governance.”
“Mr. Ogundipe was reportedly invited by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police to its headquarters in Abuja on August 14, 2018 and arrested when he honoured the invitation. He was then transferred to the IGP Monitoring Unit at Force Headquarters, where he is currently being detained. The Police are reported to have frozen the reporter’s personal bank account without any warrant from any court, just like his arrest and detention.
“If you have any actionable case against Mr. Ogundipe or any other journalist, you should follow the due process of the Law; you should go to court and obtain a warrant if you have any evidence of criminal conduct by the journalist that necessitates his arrest and detention and the freezing of his bank account, rather than arresting and clamping him into detention in a manner reminiscent of the dictatorial practices that characterized the first coming of President Muhammadu Buhari as a military Head of State.”
“Democratic governance presupposes respect for the rule of law”, Mr. Longe stressed: “it is disheartening that the Police went outside their mandate to freeze Mr. Ogundipe’s bank account in order to financially suffocate him and force information from him, contrary to the laws of the land. We find this action to be unjustifiable and unbecoming of any democratic institution.”
In its reaction, the Akin Fadeyi Foundation (AFF), conveners of the inter-sectoral campaign against corruption in Nigeria – CORRUPTION NOT IN MY COUNTRY – said they are “alarmed and outraged over the arrest and detention of Mr. Samuel Ogundipe on the orders of the Nigeria Police.”
“This rising attack is not just appalling, it signals a disturbing and gory descent back into the abyss of the better forgotten and horrifying days of Decree 4, where the muzzling of press freedom characterised the regime of former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari.
“It is a sad irony indeed that the same General Buhari, a beneficiary of freedom of expression under democracy through which he became a civilian president has returned to running a repressive government through a security apparatus that is becoming increasingly rascally,” the group said in a statement by its Executive Director, Akin Fadeyi.
It said the detention of Mr Ogundipe is “regrettable, reckless, unlawful and makes a huge mockery of a government that has just announced a planned policy reform of the same police institution.”
“It is equally laughable that a supposed law enforcement institution which is expected to be informed and versed in the doctrinal tenets of the media profession regarding confidentiality is demanding and pressurizing Samuel Ogundipe, a reporter to divulge the source of information over a story published by the newspaper, and several newspapers on a correspondence between the Inspector General of Police and the Vice President. We expected the police to know better, pick a learning from Samuel’s bold exposure and therefore, fine tune its internal processes for better outputs in subsequent outings.
“May we nudge the ears of this government that the continued detention of Samuel Ogundipe and other uncompromising pen-pushers indicate that the planned reform of SARS is sheer political campaign gimmick to hoodwink the Nigerian electorates into returning this government to power in 2019.”
Also, one of Nigeria’s political parties, Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) condemned Mr Ogundipe’s detention.
“The harassment, arrest and illegal detention of Premium Times journalists and editors by men of the Nigerian police over a story they did concerning the invasion of the National Assembly by the DSS constitutes an assault on free press and stands condemned in the eyes of all Nigerians who cherish the ideals of liberty,” the party said in a statement by its interim national chairman, Abiodun Bamigboye, and its National Secretary, Chinedu Bosah.
The party also condemned the arrest and detention of a journalist and Publisher of Weekly Source Magazine, Jones Abiri, for over two years “in clear violation of his democratic rights.”
“The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) hereby joins Nigerians to condemn the assault and demand the immediate and unconditional release of Premium Times journalist, Samuel Ogundipe and the Publisher of Weekly Source Magazine, Jones Abiri,” the party said.
The opposition party then made five demands in its statement. It called for an “Immediate and unconditional release of Samuel Ogundipe and Jones Abiri, public apology to Premium Times and appropriate compensation to Samuel Ogundipe, Jones Abiri, Musikilu Mojeed and Azeezat Adedigba for their illegal arrest, harassment and detention, recognition of the right of the media and media practitioners to perform their duties without intimidation and harassment, disbandment of SARS and a reform of the police to efficiently fight crimes and prevent violations of democratic rights, improvement in the pay and working conditions of rank and file police men and women as well as recognition of their rights to join a union.”
In its reaction, the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, demanded Mr Ogundipe’s immediate release.
“We are also adding our voice to the immediate release of detained @PremiumTimesng Reporter, Samuel Ogundipe by the @PoliceNG now. It’s not a crime to be active in one’s line of duties,” the journalism training institute wrote on its Twitter page.