Nigeria: Journalists released after week in detention for posts on WhatsApp

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) welcomes the release from detention of journalists Abdulrasheed Akogun and Dare Akogun, two Nigerian journalists harassed over their critical posts on a WhatsApp page.

The journalists, who are brothers, were granted bail by a magistrates’ court in Ilorin, Kwara State, on October 19, 2022, after six days in detention.

Dare Akogun, a journalist with the privately-owned Sobi 101.9FM, was arrested on October 13, 2022, alongside Abdulrasheed Akogun, who is also a journalist with the news website Fresh Insight, after the two made WhatsApp posts alleging corruption against an aide to the State governor. The arrest was on the orders of Rafiu Ajakaye, the Chief Press Secretary to the Kwara State Governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq.

In a petition dated October 6, 2022, the governor’s aide had claimed that the journalists had posted comments on a WhatsApp forum, Kwara Commission, accusing him of diverting N15 million (US$34,300) of public funds into influencing a recently held Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) election, in which Dare had participated as a contestant for the chairmanship position.

Ajakaye said the brothers made the comments on September 30, 2022, and described the claim as fake news. He accused them of “inciting disturbance, injurious falsehood and criminal defamation”.

Following Ajakaye’s petition, the police summoned the journalists on October 7, 2022, to meet with Steve Yabanet, the Deputy Commissioner of Police in the Criminal Investigation Department of the Kwara State Command of the Nigeria Police.

On October 13, 2022, when the journalists honoured the police invitation, they were asked to write a letter of apology to Ajakaye and retract their comments on WhatsApp. They, however, declined to issue any apology on the grounds that it would amount to admitting to the charges of injurious falsehood and criminal defamation. This refusal to comply with the police’s bidding led to their detention before being released on bail on October 19, 2022.

Dare tweeted after their release that he was ready to move past the incident, which he said made him a better person.

“For me, the journey is a lesson which was greatly appreciated, not only because I survived but because I came out a new and better person. The past is a grave, and it makes no sense to spend your life living in a grave,” he said.

The Head of News and Current Affairs at Sobi 101.9FM, Adebayo Abubakar, told an online newspaper, the International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), that the brothers had chosen to go to court rather than tender an apology to Ajakaye.

Ajakaye, responding to concerns that the journalists’ rights are being abused, said he trusted the police to be professional enough to know the boundaries of the law.

“I trust them [police] to keep the law in their relationship with every member of the public, including the accused and myself, who has had to deal with the trauma of being unfairly lied against on a public platform,” Ajakaye told ICIR.

However, reacting to their worker’s detention, the management of Sobi 101.9FM said the police’s action was a classic example of using state apparatus to intimidate journalists.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) welcomes Dare and Abdulrasheed’s release and strongly condemns their arbitrary detention in the first place. Arresting journalists like common criminals and arbitrarily detaining them over defamation is regressive for a democratic country where criminal libel has been repealed through judicial precedence.

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