NUJ President, Mr. Muhammad Garba
•Newspaper management condemns bail conditions
By Ibrahim Shuaibu and Damilola Oyedele
Notwithstanding their release Tuesday night, the police came under fire for detaining four journalists from the Leadership Newspapers.
All the four journalists, detained at the Force Headquarters in connection with a story on a purported “presidential directive” on dealing with the opposition, were released after spending two days in custody.
Two of them however were given conditional release, as they would still have to report to the police on a daily basis, a situation which the newspaper management, in a statement Tuesday, described as unacceptable.
Those detained were the Director of Human Capital, Mrs. Chinyere Fred-Adebulugbe; the Managing Editor, Mr. Chuks Ohuegbe; the Group News Editor, Mr. Tony Amokeodo; and a Political Reporter, Mr. Chibuzor Ukaibe. The last two were given conditional release.
The newspaper had on April 3 published a story with the headline “Outrage Trails Presidential Directive on Tinubu, APC.” It followed up the next day with the publication of the full text of the “presidential directive” with the caption “Bromide of the Presidential Directive.”
Many organisations, including the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC), the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigerian (NPAN), the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) and the Media Rights Agenda (MRA), condemned the arrest and detention of the journalists.
NPAN, in a statement Tuesday, criticised the government for the arrest and detention of the four journalists.
It expressed worry that such acts of repression were being committed in a democracy, adding: “We are concerned and worried because we had thought that by now, the police and other similar organs of state would have weaned themselves of the carry-over of military mentality of intimidation, harassment and arrest of journalists.
“We had thought that at this stage of our democratic evolution, agents of the state would have imbibed and thoroughly schooled themselves in the time honoured principles of civility and recourse to the rule of law, which are core elements in any democracy,” it added.
The association urged the police to charge the journalists to court “if they (police) are convinced that the journalists breached any law,” stressing that the arrest was an affront to press law.
The NPC, in its reaction, said journalists, like other citizens, should be investigated and charged to court whenever they are considered suspects, pointing out that if journalists have breached their professional ethics, they should be reported to the council for investigation.
According to it, the arrest would create image problem to the police and the federal government.
Also, the MRA called on the federal government to check its rampaging law enforcement agents as it has nothing to gain but everything to lose by projecting to the international community and its citizens an image of a lawless government which muzzles the media.
The MRA said it was ironic that a government which is quite weak in virtually every other respect where it needs to be strong and decisive has chosen to show strength in entirely the wrong area – in clamping down on the media.
MRA’s Deputy Executive Director, Ms Jennifer Onyejekwe, said: “It is totally wrong for the police to hold the journalists hostage as a strategy for extracting their source of the information that was published.”
President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr. Muhammad Garba, called on security agents to be always guided by the fact that the nation is now under a democracy.
"Our security agents should start understanding the press freedom as it is obtained under democratic dispensation," Garba said.
Speaking on a Freedom Radio programme monitored in Kano Tuesday, Garba however cautioned journalists against being used by politicians, stressing that, “Our professional colleagues should understand that it is not good for them to be used by politicians at the expense of the ethics of the profession."
On its part, the NLC lamented the detention of the journalists and remarked that “the actions of the government are reminiscent of the dark days of military rule where journalists where hounded and detained arbitrarily.”
NLC Acting General Secretary, Chris Uyot, wondered why the government would go to such lengths after denying the existence or the authenticity of the document on which the report was based.
“There are ethics involved in their profession just like for lawyers and priests. To tell a journalist to disclose his/her source of information is unwarranted,” Uyot said.
Speaking with THISDAY in a telephone conversation, TUC President General, Peter Esele, condemned the detention of the journalists, adding that if the presidency feels aggrieved, there are legal frameworks through which it can seek redress.
The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) also flayed the arrest of the journalists, suggesting that the police acted on the orders from above.
In a statement in Abuja Tuesday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said the arrest, was a sign of things to come, warning that the Jonathan administration would increasingly seek to tamper with press freedom in order to remain in power.
A statement Tuesday by the management of the newspaper condemned the bail conditions given to Amokeodo and Ukaibe.
“We wish to restate that these conditions are obnoxious and unacceptable in any democratic society.
“Our journalists do not work for the police and have no business reporting to the police headquarters while earning their pay at LEADERSHIP.
“We have it on very good authority that President Jonathan will not be satisfied until the journalists have disclosed their sources and turned in the source document.
“It is ridiculous that Jonathan’s government should be obsessed with having a document, which its handlers said was fictitious in the first place.
“We have no intention of indulging their vexatious desires and insist on our constitutional responsibility to hold the government accountable to the people and the inviolacy of the freedom of information law.
“The police have no right to arrest and illegally detain our journalists – or any other journalist – as they have done; we shall not let this violation go unchallenged.
“Because we do not intend to obstruct police investigations in any way, we advise the presumed agents of the law to take our staff members to court whenever they find anything incriminating against them. As journalists, they have done their job of reporting the news; they have not been paid to assist security agents in their own investigations,” the statement said.