Human RightsNews

Police Say No Need To Protest Over Illegal Detention Of Nigerian Journalist

Protesters in Abuja reminded the police that the continuous silencing of journalists and civic actors holding power accountable undermines the provisions of Nigeria’s constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press.

Nigerian police authorities have told journalists not to bother to protest the illegal detention of Daniel Ojukwu, a journalist with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ). 

Ben Igwe, the FCT Police Commissioner, said this during a protest by journalists and civil society actors at the Nigeria Police headquarters in Abuja on Thursday, May 9. 

Carrying placards and chanting, “Free Daniel Ojukwu now”, the protesters condemned Ojukwu’s continued detention since May 1 on an obscure account that he breached Nigeria’s cybercrime law. Among the demonstrators were Omoyele Sowore, a human rights activist, and Bukky Shonibare, a gender rights advocate and FIJ’s board chairperson.

For nine straight days now, Ojukwu has been detained for exposing the procurement fraud orchestrated by an aide to former President Muhammadu Buhari. He had reported that the former presidential aide, Orelope-Adefulire, transferred ₦147.1 million to a restaurant to construct classrooms and a skill acquisition centre — a project which raised several questions.

Ben Igwe told journalists at the protest not to worry over the illegal detention of their colleague and assured them he would intervene on the matter as soon as they left the protest ground. A similar assurance was given by Nigeria’s information minister on May 5. Still, Ojukwu remains under custody and has not been arraigned in court.

The FCT Police Commissioner admitted that every Nigerian citizen is entitled to their fundamental human rights but failed to justify his secret arrest and illegal detention by the police. 

“What we are saying is that the Force is looking into the matter,” he claimed. “There’s no need for the protest at all. Don’t worry, it is being taken care of. So, there’s no need for the protest.”

Another police chief, Vungmoh Kwaimo, cautioned the protesting journalists to remain peaceful to avoid the protest being hijacked by unknown violent persons.

“I have heard you and I have heard all your demands. This will be communicated to the appropriate authorities,” he said briefly.

In a press statement signed by several media think tanks and civic organisations, the protesters expressed their concerns over Nigeria’s “shrinking civic space”. 

Shonibare read the statement, saying they are disturbed by “the growing cases of attacks on press freedom, and the flagrant abuse of due process and the rule of law by the Nigeria Police under the Inspector General of Police, IGP Kayode Adeolu Egbetokun”.

They reminded the police that the continuous silencing of journalists and civic actors holding power accountable undermines the provisions of Nigeria’s constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press.

“The mischievous interpretation and hyper-application of laws, especially the Cybercrimes Act of 2015, which has now been amended, and the abuse of power and public institutions are all draconian tactics deployed to further shrink Nigeria’s fragile civic space,” the statement read. 

“These tactics have no place in a democracy, where accountability and transparency in governance are essential.”

The statement noted that Ojukwu’s fundamental human rights have been blatantly violated as the Police has filed no formal charges while he remains in their custody. It also stated that Ojukwu’s unlawful arrest and detention contravene sections of the 1999 constitution, which protect his rights to respect for the dignity of his person, personal liberty, and freedom of movement.

“Mr Daniel Ojukwu, if accused of a crime, should be promptly charged and given a fair trial under Nigerian law, which presumes innocence until proven guilty. As such, his continued detention is equivalent to an extrajudicial trial and punishment,” the protesting organisations stated.

Ojukwu is now detained in Abuja after he was secretly picked up by the police in Lagos. 

Sowore said he has tried to secure the journalist’s release, but those in charge found more obscure reasons to detain him.

“They brought him out of the cell with a promise to release him if we provided a single surety,” Sowore posted on X/Twitter a day before the protest. “Yesterday the @Policeng went on wild goose chase visiting the home and offices of the single surety, a high-ranking official of the @UnionNuj. Upon completion of the ‘verification’, they refused flatly to release him to the official.”

Ojukwu, a graduate of mass communications, covers social justice, focusing his reporting on the high-handedness of the police against civilians and documenting the procurement activities of people in and out of Nigeria’s power corridors.

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Ibrahim Adeyemi

Deputy Investigations Editor at HumAngle. Ibrahim covers conflict and humanitarian crises with a special interest in terrorism financing. While his works have tackled the routine of criminality and injustice on many occasions, they have also earned him both local and international journalism accolades, including the One World Media Award, the Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism, the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award, the Wole Soyinka Awards for Investigative Reporting, and recently the Kwame Karikari Fact-checking Award for African journalists.

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