MFWA Condemns arrest of activist, demands dropping of cyberstalking charge

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) condemns the arrest of social media influencer Nnamdi Chude and demands that all cyberstalking charges against him be dropped immediately.

Chude, a frontline social media activist for the Labour Party, was arrested on April 19, 2023 and detained overnight, before being released on bail the following day.

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, admitted Nnamdi to bail in the sum of N10million after he pleaded not guilty to the charge.

The police arraigned Nnamdi before Justice Gladys Olotu, on a one-count charge of cyberstalking related to a Twitter post by the activist about Dr. Emeka Okafor, a prominent businessman in Anambra State. The charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/130/2023, had the  Inspector-General of Police as complainant and Nnamdi as the defendant.

The police alleged that Nnamdi, on March 13, knowingly and intentionally sent a message through a tweet from his Twitter handle “Chude” making claims;

“That you know to be false for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to the person of Dr Emeka Offor and thereby commit cyberstalking punishable under Section 24 (1)(b) of the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) ACT, 2015.”

Chude’s arrest on April 19 is the second in one month over the matter. On March 18, 2023, the police arrested and detained him for two weeks after he alleged on his Twitter handle that an Anambra businessman, Chief Emeka Offor, had been engaged by Nigeria’s ‘president-elect’ Bola Tinubu to beg Peter Obi to accept the outcome of the February 25 presidential election.

The judge, who admitted Nnamdi to a N10 million bail with a surety, directed that the surety must be deposed to an affidavit of means and adjourned the matter to May 17 for trial.

Much as the MFWA abhors the publication of vague allegations that could undermine the reputation of individuals and institutions, we strongly condemn Nigeria’s continued recourse to arrests and criminal prosecution of alleged cases of libel. Pre-trial detention and criminal prosecution have been abolished in almost all democratic jurisdictions in favour of civil remedies. We therefore, urge the Nigerian authorities to drop the charges against Nnamdi and take steps to amend its libel laws.

The MFWA reiterates its concern about the continued abuse of Section 24 of Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act to muscle critical publications online.  Consequently, we call on the government of Nigeria to comply with the March 25, 2022  ruling of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), court, ironically based in Abuja, ordering it to repeal or amend the provision of the act. The ECOWAS Court ruled in a suit brought by civil society group SERAP, that “it is contrary to the rule of law for the police to charge anyone with supposed ‘cyberstalking’.”

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