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Probe journalist’s detention, media groups, CSOs demand

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Major media bodies and civil society organisations (CSO) have condemned the recent arrest and detention of the Editor of FirstNews newspaper, Mr Segun Olatunji, and demanded a thorough investigation into the incident.

The media bodies and CSOs that made the call include Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN); Nigerian Press Organisations (NPO); Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON); Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE); Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ); Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP); International Press Institute, Nigeria Chapter (IPI Nigeria); Media Rights Agenda (MRA); International Press Centre (IPC); and Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

In a joint statement yesterday, the organisations, by their Presidents, demanded a speedy, public, transparent and independent investigation into the act of barbarism displayed by military personnel as well as the brazen disregard for the Constitution and the government’s obligations under relevant domestic laws and international instruments.

They further demanded that all persons within and outside the military found to have been connected with the violation of the rights of the journalist and the constitution, including those who effected Mr Olatunji’s arrest, detention and torture, those who directly commanded them, and those who ordered or instigated the action, should be prosecuted before the appropriate court and punished to the full extent of the law.

They also demanded that persons who played key roles in the incident should be held to account.

The statement reads: “Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI), who commands the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), Major General Emmanuel Undiandeye, and reportedly ordered the operation that culminated in  Mr Olatunji’s abduction, torture, and detention, while the Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Musa, to whom the CDI reports, was also reportedly aware of the operation but joined the CDI to claim for days that the journalist was not in their custody. They need to be held accountable for their roles in the matter.

“Armed men wearing military uniforms and who introduced themselves as military personnel from the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Air Force and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), led by a military officer who also introduced himself as Colonel Lawal, invaded Mr. Olatunji’s home in a Lagos suburb on 15  March 2024, seized Olatunji’s mobile phone, handcuffed and bundled him in one of their vehicles and flown, blindfolded  to Abuja where he was kept in an underground cell for 14 days.

“Stripped to his boxers, legs manacled, hands in cuffs, kept incommunicado and not informed of his offence or the reason for his arrest nor of his rights as required by law, as guaranteed under the Constitution, Olatunji was only released on 29 March 2024.

“He was repeatedly interrogated about stories published by FirstNews in the absence of a legal practitioner of his choice because he was not given the opportunity to consult a lawyer. His mobile phone was also unlawfully searched in an effort by his abductors to ascertain the sources of the stories published by the news outlet.

“Given the above, we unequivocally condemn this Gestapo-like, unlawful and unconstitutional treatment of a journalist under a constitutional democracy simply for doing his job and, therefore, demand that the federal government conducts a speedy, public, transparent and independent investigation into the incident in order to identify all persons within and outside the military who were connected with the violation of Mr Olatunji’s rights.

“There should be full accountability for all those responsible. Therefore, all persons within and outside the military found to have been connected with the incident, including those who effected Mr Olatunji’s arrest, detention and torture, those who directly commanded them, and those who ordered or instigated the action, should be prosecuted before the appropriate court.

“In accordance with Section 35(6) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the federal government should pay Mr. Olatunji substantial compensation and issue a public apology to him for the unlawful and unconstitutional violation of his rights as well as the inhuman and degrading treatment to which he was subjected.

“The Federal Government should make an unequivocal public commitment to respect and defend the rights and freedoms of journalists and other media practitioners to carry out their professional duties in a safe and conducive environment in accordance with Sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and advise all law enforcement, security, intelligence, military and other agencies accordingly.

“Advised any member of the public, dissatisfied or feel the content in a news medium directly affects or involves him or her unfairly,  to approach the National Media Complaints Commission (NMCC), (The National Media Ombudsman) for redress, rather than engage in self-help.

“Should the Federal Government fail to respond positively to all these demands within 14 days from today, the undersigned media associations and professional bodies as well as civil society organisations will pursue all available mechanisms at the national, regional and international levels to ensure compliance with our demands”.

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