A U.S.-based lawyer, Emmanuel Ogebe, has written to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo demanding the release of PREMIUM TIMES journalist Samuel Ogundipe.
Mr Ogundipe has been detained by the Nigerian police since Tuesday for refusing to disclose his source for a story.
The police also secretly arraigned him at a magistrate court, denying him access to legal representation.
The police accuse Mr Ogubdipe of stealing police document used for the story.
The story revealed a report written to Mr Osinbajo by the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, indicting ex-director general of the State Security Service for the siege on the National Assembly by security operatives.
In his letter to Mr Osinbajo, Mr Ogebe decried the “unjustified arrest and violations of the constitutional rights of Premium Times journalist Samuel Ogundipe.”
Read the full letter below.
Acting President Osinbajo SAN
Aso Rock Presidential Villa
RELEASE DETAINED JOURNALIST OGUNDIPE AND INVESTIGATE LEAKS IN PRESIDENCY/NPF
I wish to commend your speedy intervention to halt the descent into anarchy and anomie orchestrated by the lawless and brutish actions of the former DG of the DSS.
However today I write with concern over the unjustified arrest and violations of the constitutional rights of Premium Times journalist Samuel Ogundipe. Our preliminary inquires and analysis of the situation evinces the following:
1. CHAIN OF CAUSATION Samuel Ogundipe was arrested with regard to the publication of a police report to your office detailing the findings of their investigation pursuant to a petition instituted by you over last week’s besiegement of the NASS. Accordingly the proximate cause of the arrest of Samuel Ogundipe arose from your office which was ground zero in the chain of causation. In this light your office is a primary stake holder in the issue.
2. CHAIN OF CUSTODY the police report originated from the office of the Inspector General of Police and terminated in the office of the Acting President. By virtue of this chain of custody, both the office of the IGP and the office of the AgP were variously in custody of the report and are therefore both susceptible and subject to investigation for the leakage complained of. Accordingly your office is a logical locus of interest to any inquiry into the leak.
3. PROPER COMPLAINANT As the authority requesting the report and as the end recipient thereof, your office should determine whether it is injured by the leakage thereof. Your office is the primary consumer or end user of the information and if you feel aggrieved by the public disclosure thereof, you should be the complainant and not the police IG who transmitted the report.
4. LAWFUL POSSESSION If the report was provided to the reporter by a party in the office of the AgP, it is incumbent for your office to affirm that the reporter had lawful possession of same and relieve him of further prosecution and detention. Your excellency is no doubt aware that our professional ethics of the bar forbids us from attributing to an innocent person an offense for which we are defending a client when we are aware that said client did in fact perpetrate same. Your office should clarify if indeed it provided the report to the media.
5. NON CLASSIFIED MATERIAL A review of the report in question indicates that it was neither marked “TOP SECRET” or “Confidential” as is customary for memos deemed to warrant such restrictions. Accordingly an innocent possessor of such a document could not reasonably be expected to assume that it is classified.
6. DE MINIMIS The prosecution of a journalist for publishing a harmless document is a highly immaterial issue in the face of a criminal justice system that needs to address serious offenses of terrorism, genocide, crass corruption amongst others. The de minimis rule holds that minimal infractions of this nature (for the sake of argument not admission) be dispensed with as a nuisance to the administration of justice.
7. NATIONAL SECURITY The report did not reveal anything of import to national security. Indeed the content of the report was so quantitively and qualitatively modest that an average blogger who watched the besiegement videos online would have been able to write a comparable or better report.
8. NO DAMAGE The leakage of the report did not cause any damage to the government. Indeed on the contrary it generated goodwill as the public was given a sense that the government was taking the besiegement saga seriously.
9. PUBLIC INTEREST It must be recognized that the disclosure was in the public interest. Indeed your office issued a press statement saying there would be an investigation and actors in the besiegement saga would be held to account. It is therefore absurd that the only person known to be in custody is a journalist who reported on the progress of the investigation and not the individuals who perpetrated an assault on the legislative arm of Government. We are all witnesses to how the delayed attention to your own investigation of the corruption allegations of your then SGF led to his remaining in office longer than necessary. Indeed the non publication thereof has allowed him walk free till date without prosecution for misappropriated IDP funds.
10. PERSONS OF INTEREST It should be made clear that the IGP should investigate his office and the AgP yours as Mr Ogundipe is not an officer of either office. Even the US White House which has suffered much leakage has looked into its staff and not arrested the journalists who gained information from the leakers.
11. GRIEVANCE MECHANISM Premium Times has shown itself to have a mechanism for addressing grievances. Mr Ogundipe had once been suspended for a mistaken identity report affecting the wife of the president which was apologized for. PT recently fired another journalist over incorrect attribution of a quote from a Herdsman spokesperson on the recent Plateau massacre. Therefore the rush to press charges was needless in an organization that is amenable to ethical review.
12. SARS REFORM It is ironic that as the AgP requested reforms of the SARS which is a notorious rights’violator of innocent citizens, it has simultaneously meted the same rights violations on Mr Ogundipe. We note that you had announced SARS reforms several months ago and “reannounced” reforms again this week. In what appears to be another direct disregard to a presidential order, it appears that the reforms do not go beyond superficial media announcements. Indeed it is shocking that the police is purportedly accusing Mr Ogundipe of “trespass” and “theft” of a police document. No self-respecting police force would claim that its headquarters were trespassed on by a solitary journalist or that a document was stolen from the inner sanctum of no less than an IGP himself. Little wonder the NPF ranks abysmally low in global ratings.
Your excellency I urge you to act swiftly to reverse this travesty before your current stint ends this weekend. Much of the unconscionable human rights abuses, disregard for court orders which as a distinguished lawyer you would never have sanctioned etc have occurred when you were not in a position of total responsibility. However the arrest of Mr Ogundipe happened on your watch and indirectly on your account. It is best addressed by you before you divest authority this weekend.
Your excellency is reminded that the 2 year long incarceration without trial of journalist Abiri Jones has now made the current Buhari administration’s record of attacks on the media worse than the prior dictatorial regime of General Buhari. That regime only lasted 20 months while Jones’s detention has exceeded that time frame making your current administration’s record worse for journalists by this indicator even without the existence of the ignominious Decree 4. The prosecution of journalist Luka Binniyat, the desecration of NUJ Abia state by the army and the detention of reporters of Elombah online media are just a few of the other blemishes on your administration.
Your excellency will acknowledge that the foUrth estate of the realm is needed all the more urgently in Nigeria to curb the abuses and excesses of authoritarian and corrupt state actors who lack democratic pedigree and culture.
We therefore call on you to order the Attorney General to entire a nolle prosequi in the farce trial to which Mr Ogundipe has been subjected and order his immediate release by the Inspector General of Police.
Your excellency, you are acting President but you are still a Minister in the temple of justice and must be held to a higher standard.
Cc: SA MEDIA OVP
International Press Institute
Committee to Protect Journalists