On July 22, armed policemen clamped down on the headquarters of online newspaper, Peoples Gazette, in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, arresting the outlet’s assistant managing editor, John Adenekan, two journalists and two administrative personnel.
The journalists arrested were Ameedat Adeyemi and Samuel Ogbu while the administrative personnel arrested were Grace Oke and Justina Tayani.
According to an account by the newspaper, five policemen took part in the raid and arrests in an operation which lasted for 30 minutes at the outlet’s headquarters at Utako District in Abuja. The episode reportedly happened when the staff members were preparing for an editorial meeting.
Adenekan was the first person taken away by the police officers at about 12:35 pm. The officers allegedly later returned to the office to arrest four other staff members.
Adeyemi, Tayani and Ogbu were summarily released. But the police did not free Adenekan and Oke until 5 pm, after bowing to pressure from Nigerians and civil rights groups, according to the newspaper’s account.
The police officers reportedly demanded to see the newspaper’s managing editor Samuel Ogundipe and a reporter Adefemola Akintade. They reportedly told Adenekan that their operation was over a story published by the outlet on June 23.
The story titled – ‘ICPC recovers multibillion-naira cash, Rolex watches stockpiled in ex-army chief Buratai’s Abuja property’ – detailed how an anti-graft agency, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), raided a property belonging to Nigeria’s former chief of army staff, Tukur Buratai, and recovered cash and luxury items.
Both Ogundipe and Akintade, the journalist who broke the story, were unavailable during the operation, prompting the officers to arrest Adenekan and other staff members in their stead. The officers said they acted on a petition by Buratai.
The raid and arrests were greeted by nationwide outrage and condemnation, bringing to the memory of many Nigerians the dark era of military dictatorship when journalists were brutally harassed and media houses clamped upon.
Japheth Omojuwa, columnist and political commentator, said: “The idea of police arresting journalists without stating the reason(s) for their arrests should have been gone with the military era. The Nigerian system ditched military rule but has largely refused to do away with its norms and ways. A big shame.”
In a tweet condemning the police’s action, civil rights organisation, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), condemned the arrests, threatening to take legal action if the editor and others were not released.
Another non-profit, Gavel, tweeted: “Invading @GazetteNGR newspaper’s head office to arrest an editor & other staff members is yet another attempt to gag journalism in the country.”
Ogundipe, Peoples Gazette managing editor, recalled that the newspaper has faced several attacks aimed at intimidating its journalists since its inception in September 2020, including the restriction of access to its website in January 2021 and the invasion of the same head office in January 2022 by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
“[President] Muhammadu Buhari may cry about what and what shouldn’t be his legacy, but this unwarranted onslaught on our journalists today, one of many we have suffered since we launched PG [Peoples Gazette] in September 2020, will forever live in infamy for his despotic regime,” Ogundipe said.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) reported the two previous attacks mentioned by the Editor. On January 26, 2021, the authorities blocked access to the news website on the four major mobile internet providers in Nigeria, namely MTN, Glo, Airtel, and 9mobile. Consequently, the site could be assessed only via Wi-Fi, foreign mobile internet providers, and a virtual private network. To circumvent the blocking, the Peoples Gazette was relaunched as GazetteNGR.
“We launched Peoples Gazette on September 25, 2020. But because of the blocking, we lost all our digital footprints on Google between September and January. Our site ranked between 228 and 234 on Alexa ranking prior to our site’s blocking,” the news outlet’s managing editor, Samuel Ogundipe, told MFWA back then.
A year after blocking access to the Peoples Gazette, the authorities struck again. Four officers of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) stormed the head office of the news website in Abuja on January 10, 2022. They demanded the sources of a confidential memo which was the basis of a report published by the online media. They also requested to see the Managing Editor, Samuel Ogundipe, as well as Hillary Essien, the alleged writer of the security-related stories published in December 2021.
The latest raid on the offices of the Peoples Gazette is the second in seven months and establishes a pattern of harassment and intimidation of the newspaper and its staff.
The MFWA condemns the raid on the Peoples Gazette office and the arrest of its editor, journalists and other staff. The police’s action is a direct attack on press freedom which is guaranteed by Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution and other regional and international conventions. The authorities should act swiftly to reverse this ugly trend and allow the Peoples Gazette to work without any more harassment.