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Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today called for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Samuel Ogundipe, a Premium Times newspaper reporter who was arrested yesterday and is being detained by the Nigerian Police at the Force headquarters in Abuja for refusing to disclose the source of his information for a news report.
In a statement issued today by its Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe, MRA said: “We are dismayed by this increasing resort by the Buhari Administration to tactics of intimidation and harassment of media practitioners in breach of the provisions of the Constitution and other laws. We are seriously concerned that such acts appear to be on the upswing as the 2019 elections draw nearer and urge the Government to retrace its steps in order not to permanently damage public confidence in democratic governance.”
Mr. Ogundipe was reportedly invited by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police to its headquarters in Abuja on August 14, 2018 and arrested when he honoured the invitation. He was then transferred to the IGP Monitoring Unit at Force Headquarters, where he is currently being detained.
The Police are reported to have frozen the reporter’s personal bank account without any warrant from any court, just like his arrest and detention.
The Editor-in-Chief of the online newspaper, Mr. Musikilu Mojeed, and its education correspondent, Ms Azeezat Adedigba, were reported to have been initially arrested, manhandled and briefly detained by the police before being released.
While Ms Adedigba was released after about three hours of detention, Mr. Mojeed and Mr. Ogundipe were driven from the SARS headquarters to the IGP Monitoring Unit at Force Headquarters where the police forced Mr. Ogundipe to write a statement.
Mr. Longe advised the Police: “If you have any actionable case against Mr. Ogundipe or any other journalist, you should follow the due process of the Law; you should go to court and obtain a warrant if you have any evidence of criminal conduct by the journalist that necessitates his arrest and detention and the freezing of his bank account, rather than arresting and clamping him into detention in a manner reminiscent of the dictatorial practices that characterized the first coming of President Muhammadu Buhari as a military Head of State.”
According to him, if Nigeria wants to be taken seriously by the international community, then it must abide by the established norms and standards under international law, which abhors the criminalization of journalistic activities or the right of citizens to freely express themselves.
Saying that “democratic governance presupposes respect for the rule of law”, Mr. Longe stressed: “it is disheartening that the Police went outside their mandate to freeze Mr. Ogundipe’s bank account in order to financially suffocate him and force information from him, contrary to the laws of the land. We find this action to be unjustifiable and unbecoming of any democratic institution.”
Mr. Longe called on the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, to preoccupy himself with the task of reforming the Force and, in particular, overhauling SARS which has become the symbol of government brutality against its own people in Nigeria.