Ayodele Samuel, the publisher of Taraba Truth and Facts Newspaper and Chief Executive Officer of Rock FM 92.3 Jalingo, was on December 12 released after spending two weeks in prison.
The journalist’s ordeal came on November 27 after he was arrested by police operatives allegedly on the orders of Darius Ishaku, the governor of Taraba State in north-east Nigeria.
The governor was said to be angry at Samuel for exposing and publishing reports on his alleged plans to sell the Taraba Liaison Office and the state-owned Mambilla Beverages Company in a report titled, ‘Taraba for Sale.’
Samuel had an inkling of plans to arrest him, so he released a statement to this effect earlier in November.
“While it appears that the government is trying to unjustly repress me through the legal framework through a petition to the police to investigate some reports published by Taraba Truth and Facts Newspaper with regards to the privatisation of the Mambilla Beverages Company and the College of Nursing, Jalingo, its agents are also simultaneously trying to eliminate me, giving me no room to be vindicated,” the journalist said prior to his arrest.
“Rather than give their side of the story, they [state government officials] have chosen to specifically go after Taraba Truth and Facts and my individual self,” Samuel added.
But the journalist’s statement did nothing to deter the state government from using the police to arrest him on November 27. He was said to be secretly arraigned before a magistrates’ court without legal representation and was thereafter remanded in prison.
Samuel was arraigned on two counts of defamation and injurious falsehood filed against him by Ishaku through the office of the state’s attorney general.
Though he reportedly met his bail conditions, the journalist was forced to remain in solitary confinement, starved and without access to his lawyers, family and friends.
Bala Abu, the governor’s media aide, has not responded to enquiries by the Media Foundation for West Africa.
Justice, however, came through for Samuel when the Federal High Court in Jalingo, Taraba State capital, ordered his freedom from prison.
Lance Momodu, the acting Editor of Taraba Truth and Facts Newspaper, confirmed Samuel’s release to journalists in a statement.
According to him, the journalist is currently receiving medical care at a facility due to his deteriorated health condition and the trauma he was subjected to while in detention.
“We delight in announcing the release of Oloye Ayodele Samuel, the publisher of Taraba Truth and Facts Newspaper. Samuel was released Monday evening [December 12] following a judgement of a Federal High Court sitting in Jalingo, Taraba State,” Momodu said.
“Justice Usman Bala earlier ruled that the journalist, who is also the CEO of Rock FM, should be released immediately under the same bail conditions granted by the magistrates’ court where the case had begun.”
Despite Samuel’s unfortunate experience, the statement added that he “remains resolute and courageous to keep on carrying out his duty objectively for the furtherance of the state and the nation.”
This is not Samuel’s first distressing experience as a journalist. For some time now, he has been a victim of constant intimidation and harassment because of his reports highlighting corruption among government officials in Taraba State, where his newspaper and radio station are based.
On July 25, for instance, he faced an excruciating ordeal after honouring a police invitation at the [Nigeria Police] Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) in Abuja, the country’s capital.
His ordeal stemmed from a petition against him by Emmanuel Bwacha, a federal lawmaker and governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress political party in Taraba State.
“At that time, neither the petitioner nor the petition’s content was disclosed to me. But the police told me that it was related to my [journalism] practice in Taraba State. As a law-abiding citizen, I had nothing to fear, so I told the police officer who called me that I would make myself available. We agreed on a date for the meeting at the FCID and I was there. I honoured the police invitation,” Samuel said in an interview.
Going by his previous experiences, Samuel said he was accompanied to the FCID by a lawyer provided by the Media Rights Agenda, a press freedom advocacy group in Nigeria.
On getting to the FCID, at around 9.15 GMT, the journalist said he was informed that the petition was from Bwacha. Then he was taken to an assistant commissioner for police named YY Abubakar, who frowned at the lawyer’s presence.
Samuel said he was thereafter taken for interrogation, where he was availed of the details of the petition. He said the petitioner accused him of character defamation, cyberstalking and malicious publication, all of which were premised on some reports that his newspaper published.
The journalist said one of his “offences” was because of an article he published. He said the article was based on a report by an anti-corruption agency indicting Bwacha of corruption in the management of government funds.
Samuel was released days later after pressure from media rights groups as well as some public figures.
MFWA totally condemns the constant harassment of Samuel by officials of the Taraba State government. The journalist is only discharging his constitutional obligation to society, hence government officials have no reason to arrest, detain or subject him to any intimidation. It is time government officials refrained from treating journalists like Samuel as endangered species in Taraba State as well as in Nigeria generally.