The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is deeply concerned about the fate of Obinna Don Norman, owner and editor-in-chief of The Realm News, who has been arrested and detained by police in Abia State, and calls for his immediate release.
Obinna was arrested on March 1, 2019 while he was participating in a live political programme at Flo FM, a local radio station based in Umahia, the capital of the southeastern State of Abia, Nigeria.
The journalist has since been held at the Afara Ibeku Prison in Umuahia, with a magistrate court refusing him bail on two occasions when he was brought before court. Obinna is alleged to have defamed and harassed Abia State Senator, Theodore Orji, on February 21, 2018.
Meanwhile, the charge sheets on the case neither details nor specify any articles related to the journalist’s alleged offenses against Mr. Orji. Instead, he is formally charged with cyber stalking under Nigeria’s 2015 cybercrime act and Abia State’s 2009 anti-terrorism and kidnapping laws.
“The charges are reprisal for Norman’s reporting and criticism of the Abia state government, and are an attempt to silence the press ahead of the gubernatorial election scheduled for March 9,” said Realm News editor, Rotimi Akinola.
Meanwhile, the journalist’s counsel, Uzosike Bam, has indicated he will approach the federal high court, adding that he is confident his client will be released.
“We had a very persuasive argument, however, the court refused to assume Jurisdiction. So the next thing now is to approach the federal high court – a court of higher jurisdiction, to get bail for him, as directed by the magistrate court,” said Counsel Uzosike Bam.
The MFWA condemns the arrest and the detention of Obinna Norman as an attempt to silence dissident voices. We are particularly concerned that the journalist was arrested while he was participating in a radio discussion, which shows gross disrespect to the audience of the radio programme, the host radio station and the media fraternity in general. We call on the authorities in Abia State to release the journalist and drop all the frivolous charges leveled against him.