Constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Mike Ozekhome, has faulted the police's continued detention of PREMIUM TIMES journalist Samuel Ogundipe, for refusing to name the sources of a story he wrote which was published by the newspaper.
In a statement made available to PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria condemned the arrest of Mr Ogundipe and the earlier detention of newspaper's Editor-in-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed.
The police had accused Mr Ogundipe of publishing a classified document of the police which detailed the role of the sacked SSS Director General, Lawal Daura, in the siege of the National Assembly, and which was addressed to the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo.
The police also mounted pressure on Mr Ogundipe to disclose his source, which the reporter has refused to do as accepted by global journalism ethics.
Mr Ozekhome noted that the action of the police undermined the relevant sections of the constitution and court judgments regarding the role of the press in information dissemination.
"In both Adikwu &Ors v Federal House of Representatives of the NASS & Ors (1982) 3 NCLR 394; and Tony Momoh vs Senate of the NASS &Ors (1981) 1 NCLR 105, the courts upheld and broadened the legal and constitutional vistas of the rights of journalists to freely publish stories, without being censured or being compelled to disclose the sources of their privileged information," Mr Ozekhome said.
"The courts reasoned, rightly in my humble view, that free media reports in any democratic society are matters of public interest and that free flow of information and protection of journalists' confidential relationship with their sources of information must be upheld as a necessary constitutional safeguard and guarantee of freedom of speech and expression, so as to prevent such sources from drying up.
"The Federal High Court in Maliam Ismaila v President (2009-10) CHR 166 was later to strike down many provisions contained in the Nigerian Press Council, on the grounds, inter alia, that they amounted to censorship of the press and could therefore be used by the government to censor freedom of expression provided in section 39 of the 1999 Constitution," he explained.
He noted that the police had made itself a tool of tyranny at the hands of the government, and abandoned its constitutional role of protecting the lives and property of the citizens.
"The Police has since abandoned its constitutional role under sections 214 and 215 of the Constitution and section 4 of the Police Act, of protecting and defending the Nigerian people, in an aberrative preference for being an instrument of government tyranny, oppression, repression and arbitrary subjugation of the very people it was set up to protect and defend in the first place," the senior lawyer said.
"The government has since taken us back to the inglorious locust days of Decree No 4 of 1984, under the same Muhammadu Buhari (then as military dictator). Under that Decree, publication of any material, even if true and correct, was a crime, once it 'embarrassed' the government.
"Messrs Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor were victims who were unceremoniously jailed under the draconian piece of legislation."
Mr Ozekhome observed that in recent times, there had been an "unwarranted harassment the Fourth Estate of the Realm (media)," which he described as the only entity recognised by section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, to hold government accountable and responsible to the Nigerian people.
"I whole-heartedly condemn, in most unequivocal terms, the latest onslaught, assault and detention carried out by an increasingly intolerant and desperate non performing government, in a Gestapo like manner, against the Premium Times veteran journalist, Samuel Ogundipe, including Misikilu Mojeed, the Editor-In-Chief of Premium Times," he said.
"This media house is a well-known pro-masses online publication. Their 'offence' is that this same media house that had exposed the ricocheting and never ending NYSC certificate forgery saga ('Adeosungate') of Kemi Adeosun, the Finance minister, is that it published a yet unrefuted skewed interim report by the Police, forwarded to acting President, Prof Yemi Osibanjo, on the well deserved sacking of Lawal Daura, over his ignoble role in laying siege on the NASS, the third arm of government.
"I had warned in 2016, when hooded and masked DSS and EFCC operatives infamously descended on judges in their homes in the wee hours of morning, broke down their doors and terrorised the judges and members of their families that Nigeria was steadily gravitating towards dictatorship, absolutism and fascism.
"I predicted then that the government's next port of call would be the legislature and then the Fourth Estate of the Realm. These predictions have since come to pass. Ironically, those who not only disagreed with me then, but even cowardly abused me, for this nostradamus-like astral peep into the future, are today emergency born-again 'crusaders' against this sustained anti-people norm of this government."
Mr Ozekhome then called on the government to "immediately" and "unconditionally" release the PREMIUM TIMES reporter and leave newspaper and other media houses alone, to carry out their social and constitutional responsibilities.
"Where it believes they have committed any offence known to law, they should be released and charged to court immediately. That is the path of honour dignity, ethics, morality, legalism and constitutionalism," he added.
"This government should stop mocking the people that elected it to office, with serial anti-people actions, chastisement, intimidation, harassment, embarrassment and utmost ridicule.
"The prevailing grinding hunger, deprivation, abject penury, insecurity, parlous economy and unspeakable acts of monumental corruption enthroned and nurtured by this government are already more than enough for beleaguered Nigerians to contend with.
"The government should not add salt unto injury by further depriving Nigerians of their inalienable rights freely given to them by God Almighty," Mr Ozekhome added.