Journalists Harassed, Detained over reports on powerful persons

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) condemns the recent detentions and harassment of journalists in Nigeria, and urges the Nigerian authorities to respect press freedom.

On May 28, 2024, the Nigerian Police Force National Cybercrime Centre (NPF-NCC) questioned for over nine hours reporter with the nonprofit ICIR news agency, Nurudeen Akewushola, and ICIR Executive Director Dayo Aiyetan.

In a statement released on the same day, ICIR raised concerns over the continuous detention Aiyetan and Akewushola who were unreachable since 12pm when they arrived at the cybercrime centre in Abuja. The organisation suggested that it was likely a sinister move by the police to detain both Aiyetan and Akewushola.

The police summoned Akewushola and Aiyetan for questioning in connection with investigations into “cyberstalking and defamation of character” allegations. The investigation stemmed from a February 2024 report by Akewushola alleging illegal land sales by former Nigeria inspector generals of police, Solomon Ehigiator Arase and Ibrahim Kpotum Idris.

Corpran International Limited, a land developer mentioned in the report, filed a criminal complaint against ICIR, accusing Akewushola of seeking a bribe, a claim he denies. Arase demanded a retraction and compensation of one billion naira ($714,647 USD) and filed a civil suit for defamation.

They were released on condition that they return for further questioning on June 11, and Akewushola had to provide surety.

In a separate incident on May 14, 2024, Mubarak Mabai, a reporter for Trust TV, was invited to the Hisbah offices in Katsina and detained. Mabai had sought to follow up on reports that a wedding guest was shot dead by Hisbah officials enforcing a DJ ban. However, when the journalist honoured the invitation to the Hisbah office for the interview with Nafiu Muazu Akilu, a spokesperson for the religious police unit, he was detained. His mobile phone was confiscated, and he was threatened. Mabai was released after about two hours of detention.

“Upon my arrival at the Hisbah office, I couldn’t find the PRO. Unknown to me, it was a setup. Despite explaining that I was a journalist there for an interview, they insisted that they had orders to detain me and confiscated my phone. I was thereafter herded into a cell. I was later brought before the Commandant in his office where he threatened to deal with me for fighting with religion and God,” the journalist tweetted.

Hisbah officials detained Mabai in a cell on alleged orders from above without explanation and accused him of trying to tarnish the Hisbah’s reputation. His cameraman was allowed to leave but was told not to inform anyone about the detention.

These acts of intimidation against media professionals are unacceptable and contrary to the principles of democracy and rule of law. Journalist are not just rumour peddlers, but a part of the media discharging their constitutional duty to promote transparency and accountability. It is, therefore, anachronistic for journalists to be harassed with criminal prosecution for defamation in a democracy, assuming without admitting that they got some details wrong in reporting on public interest issues. The MFWA demands an end to the criminal prosecutions and allowance for  the journalists to perform their duties without fear of reprisal.

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