Nigeria: NUJ, Falana, Whistleblower Coalition, Others Call for Release of Premium Times Journalist

Nigeria Police Force Headquarters, Abuja

The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has called for the immediate and unconditional release of PREMIUM TIMES reporter, Samuel Ogundipe, who was detained on Tuesday by the Nigerian Police over a report.

The police, through the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), arrested and detained Mr Ogundipe asking him to disclose his source for a story.

Apart from Mr Ogundipe, this newspaper's Editor-in-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, and its education correspondent, Azeezat Adedigba, were also briefly detained and manhandled by the police at the SARS headquarters in Abuja.

The story authored by Mr Ogundipe, also published by other media, revealed a letter written by the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on last week's siege to the National Assembly by security officials.

"We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Samuel Ogundipe and an end to all forms of impunity against the media," the NUJ said in a statement by its National President, Abdulwaheed Odusile, Tuesday Night.

"The NUJ is horrified by the constant harassment and molestation of journalists by the police and other agents of the State and requests that such should abate forthwith.

"It should be noted that confidentiality of sources is necessary for good journalism to flourish and journalists should not be coerced into revealing such sources."

In its reaction, the Coalition for Whistleblower Protection and Press Freedom called on the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to order the immediate release of Mr Ogundipe, a security correspondent with PREMIUM TIMES.

"The Coalition would want to stress that the law is clear on the illegality of the Police Force and other institutions of government to demand source disclosure from a journalist.

"Critical reporting is a statutory duty for journalists who on account of Section 22 of the 1999 constitution are enjoined to hold government accountable."

The coalition said it was aware of the "The Freedom of Information Act, 2011 a federal law which protects confidentiality of sources and the Court of Appeal decision in Tony Momoh vs National Assembly which criminalises the demand of journalists sources by the Police or any other institution of government."

"The Coalition stresses that as the Inspector General should respect the rule of law and the Constitution to uphold the mandate of the Police Force as an institution that fiercely fights for the protection of basic human rights of its citizens, whistleblowers and press freedom in Nigeria

"As a Coalition, we frown at any abuse of the law to jeopardize the safety of journalists in Nigeria. Too many journalists are imprisoned for the wrong reasons. Too many journalists are harassed for speaking out against certain government policies."

"The Coalition will not hesitate to take legal action against the Inspector General if Mr. Samuel Ogundipe is not released and allowed to join his colleagues and family."

In his reaction to the arrest, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, said PREMIUM TIMES should not fail to institute an action in court against the Nigerian Police Force, regardless of whether Mr Ogundipe is subsequently released or kept in prison through Tuesday night.

"Whether Samuel is released tonight or arraigned in court tomorrow by the police, PT should take advantage of this unlawful demand of the police to challenge criminal libel and other obnoxious anti press laws in the statute book.

"While declaring seditious publications illegal and unconstitutional in 1983 in Arthur Nwankwo v The State; the Court of Appeal held that any public officer who feels defamed or embarrassed by any publication should sue for libel and not use the machinery of the State to harass his political opponents. The court proceeded to urge Nigerians to resist any attempt to use any of the laws imported into the country by the erstwhile colonial rulers to repress us," Mr Falana said.

In a similar reaction, the Centre Coordinator, Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, Motunrayo Alaka, said the police or any security operatives have no right to demand the source of a story from a journalist.

"It's very wrong. The police have absolutely no right to demand the source of a reporter's story. If the reporter reveals his source, how will he get another story? This is an attack on the media and it is totally unacceptable. We are practicing a democracy and such a development goes against the principle of democracy. This is yet another media attack by this government and it is totally not acceptable," Mrs Alaka said.

In his reaction, the Chief Executive officer, Connected Development and founder of Follow the Money, Hamza Lawal, described the action of the security operatives as undemocratic and unfortunate.

"This is undemocratic, a deliberate attempt to undermine Nigeria's democracy. It is quite sad and unfortunate that Nigeria's highest law enforcement agency is being used for intimidating, rather than protecting the Nigerian people."

Mr Lawal called on Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to call the police to order.

"I also call on the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and other world leaders to help protect our fragile democracy.

"An attack on the Nigerian press is an attack on all Nigerians. This is totally unacceptable. We will not be intimidated, as we resolve to continue protecting Nigeria's democracy.

"This is a show of shame by the Nigerian Police Force. We demand professionalism from the police and other security agencies," Mr Lawal said.

Using the hashtag #FreesSameulOgundipe on twitter, Nigerians have continued to demand the unconditional release of Mr Ogundipe.

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