The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is disappointed in the Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria, over its refusal to grant bail to journalist Chinonso Uba, who has been in detention since July 27, 2023.
Chinonso Uba, also known as Nnonsonkwa, a worker with Ozisa FM in Owerri, Imo State, was arraigned on August 17, 2023 before a Federal High Court in Abuja on a two-count charge, over a Facebook publication that was allegedly defamatory of the State Governor, Hope Uzodinma. Uba denied the charges and the judge denied him bail, ordering that he be returned to police custody until September.
Per charge sheet No: FHC/ABJ/CR/367/2023 for the case, ‘The Inspector General of Police vrs Chinonso Uba’ the journalist is charged under Nigeria’s Cyber Crime Law, 2015.
The charges read: “Count One: That you CHINONSO UBA ‘m’ of on or about the 24th day of June 2023 within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court intentionally sent a message by means of computer and social media networks such as Facebook etc, made a video accusing Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State and Asari Dokubo of killing 100 of Imo youth and also burning houses in Imo State, with the intention of instigating Imo State people and Igbo Tribe worldwide against the Governor knowing the said information to be false and with intent to cause annoyance inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to him and thereby committed an offence contrary and punishable under Section 24 (1) (B) Cyber Crime Prohibition Act.
“Count two: That you Chinonso Uba ‘m’ on or about the 24th day of June 2023 within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, knowingly and intentionally made and transmitted a video via your Facebook social media handle and or any communication through a computer system or network with the intention to bully, threaten or harass the Governor of Imo State Hope Uzodinma, that he and Asari Dokubo killed 100 of Imo Youth and also burned their houses with the intention of instigating the youth against him and such communication places him in fear of death, violence or bodily harm to him and members of his family and thereby committed an offence contrary to 24 (2) (A) and punishable under Section 24 (2) (C) of the Cyber Crime Prohibition Act.”
Chinonso Uba was arrested on July 27, 2023 by the police after he finished anchoring his morning programme on Ozisa FM, a radio station owned by the Catholic Diocese in Owerri, the state capital. He had barely gotten out of the premises of Assumpta Cathedral which houses the radio station when the police crossed his car. The security agents forced him out of his car into theirs and drove him away.
The arrest followed a June 26, 2023 petition by Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State to the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Kayode Egbetokun. The Governor had claimed in his petition that Chinonso Ubah had published a seditious material about him.
Meanwhile, a group of human rights lawyers have expressed concern about the detention of Uba and called on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to intervene to secure the journalist’s freedom
“This is unfortunate; we cannot continue like this as a country. Nobody should be allowed to use the police to violate someone’s rights. If he has committed an offence which is bailable, grant him an administrative bail,” lamented Maxwell Okpara, spokesman for the group during a media encounter.
The MFWA deplores the continued detention of Chinoso Uba for an alleged defamatory publication, and urges the authorities to release the journalist immediately. This case brings to the fore, once more, how the police can easily manipulate the cybercrime law to harass, arrest and detain journalists and citizens at the request of powerful people who claim to have been defamed.
Criminal libel is retrogressive and abusive and Nigeria as a democracy must take steps to abolish criminal prosecution of press and speech offenses in line with international standards.