Detained Premium Times Reporter Arraigned in Secret Trial

Detained Premium Times Reporter Arraigned in Secret Trial

The Nigerian Police at a secret court appearance have accused a detained journalist of criminal trespass and stealing police documents, his news organisation said Thursday. Samuel Ogundipe, a journalist with the independent online newspaper Premium Times, has been in custody since his arrest on Tuesday after reporting on the Inspector General of Police (IGP) report

The Nigerian Police at a secret court appearance have accused a detained journalist of criminal trespass and stealing police documents, his news organisation said Thursday.

Samuel Ogundipe, a journalist with the independent online newspaper Premium Times, has been in custody since his arrest on Tuesday after reporting on the Inspector General of Police (IGP) report on the siege to the parliament last week by masked officials of Department of State Security Service (DSS).

Premium Times said Ogundipe was brought before a magistrate’s court in Kubwa, Abuja on Wednesday without the knowledge of his lawyers.

“They brought me to a magistrate court in Kubwa where they arraigned me. The magistrate said they should detain me for five days,” Ogundipe was quoted as telling his editor on the phone.

“They accused me of criminal trespass. They said I stole secret documents. The magistrate does not know the details, because they did not include in the charge that I am a journalist. I was not allowed to contact my lawyers,” he said.

“They also did not allow me to call anyone until the magistrate ordered them to let me make one call,” he added.

Police Spokesman, Moshood Jimoh confirmed the arraignment to AFP. Ogundipe will be remanded in custody until August 20 for another hearing, he said. Two other colleagues arrested with Ogundipe on Tuesday were released after questioning.

Premium Times said Ogundipe was being held for publishing a report sent to Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo by the IGP, Ibrahim Idris, on events that took place at the National Assembly on August 7.

Masked armed operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) blocked access to the Senate and House of Representatives, preventing lawmakers, workers, journalists and other visitors from entering.

The Nigerian Union of Journalists, local and international rights bodies have called for Ogundipe’s immediate release. Journalists are frequently threatened in Nigeria, a country that was under military rule for decades before becoming a democracy almost 20 years ago.

Jones Abiri, another Nigerian journalist, was detained for two years without trial over allegations he was linked to militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta.
After a public outcry, he was finally arraigned in an Abuja court last week. Abiri, the publisher of Weekly Source magazine, is due to appear in an Abuja court on Friday, August 17 for a hearing.

The Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Media Rights Agenda (MRA), the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) and the Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to the Senate President, Mr Yusuf Olaniyonu have demanded the immediate release of Premium Times Security Reporter, Samuel Ogundipe, detained by the Police for carrying out his constitutional duty.

A statement signed by GOCOP’s Publicity Secretary, Olumide Iyanda, condemned the arrest by the Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad and harassment of the online newspaper’s Editor-In-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, and Education Reporter, Azeezat Adedigba, both of who have been released.

The Guild noted with dismay that the Police action was carried out on the day Acting President Yemi Osinbajo ordered the restructuring of the dreaded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, notorious for several human rights abuses.

While Mojeed and Adedigba have been released after harrowing interrogations, Ogundipe was still in detention with no contact with his family or employers.

GOCOP considers the circumstances of the journalist’s arrest as a damning indictment of the President Muhammadu Buhari Government, which has been accused by several groups and individuals of gross abuse of citizens’ rights.

It advised the Nigerian Government to apprise its security agents on the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, which confers Journalism Confidentiality Privileges on the media.

GOCOP demanded the release of Ogundipe and other journalists held by the Police and other government agencies without further delay.

Also the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) joined other prominent individuals and groups in condemning the arrest and detention of Ogundipe. In a statement, CPJ urged the Nigerian Police to immediately release the detained journalist, stressing that Ogundipe is not a criminal

Angela Quintal, CPJ Africa Programme Coordinator, speaking from Johannesburg, South Africa, said: “CPJ is gravely concerned about reports that Premium Times journalist Samuel Ogundipe was detained by Nigerian Police yesterday for his reporting.”

“Samuel Ogundipe must be released immediately without any condition and be allowed to report without fear of reprisal.

“Journalists are ethically bound not to disclose their confidential sources and the fact that police reportedly arrested him because he refused to name his source is outrageous. Samuel Ogundipe is a journalist who is protecting his sources, and not a criminal. He must be freed now.”

Similarly the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has called for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Ogundipe.

In a statement issued 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.

.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 characterised 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 criminalisation 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.

Speaking in the same vein, the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) has condemned in strong term, the incessant harassment of journalists and media houses by government agencies under Buhari-led administration.

The party, in a statement by its Publicity Secretary, Akinloye Oyeniyi, said: “The arrest of Samuel Ogundipe of Premium Times by the Nigeria Police is unwarranted and unacceptable in any democracy.”

The statement further emphasised the Code of Ethics for Nigerian Journalists code-named Ilorin Declaration 1998, Code 4 Sub (i) which covers all journalists.

According to the Code of Ethics, “A journalist should observe the universally accepted principle of confidentiality and should not disclose the source of information obtained in confidence.”

The party, therefore, call for immediate and unconditional release of the reporter languishing in the Police cell.

Similarly, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the Senate President, Mr Yusuph Olaniyonu, has described the continued illegal detention of Ogundipe as an affront on the fourth estate of the realm and an assault on freedom of the press, freedom of speech and due process.

In a statement released on Thursday, Olaniyonu, a former Editor with THISDAY Newspaper, reiterated that freedom of speech and due process must be adhered to in Ogundipe’s case, stating that journalists must be free to practice their profession without fear of intimidation by security forces.

“As a journalist and media professional, I find it preposterous that Mr. Ogundipe has been held without recourse to due process for more than 48 hours,” Olaniyonu said. “This is a democracy and even when it hurts, journalists must be free to write their truthful stories and protect their sources without the fear of being picked up and tried secretly.”

“It is a settled issue in our jurisprudence that a journalist cannot be compelled to disclose the source of his or her information. In cases like Tony Momoh versus Senate, Ray Ekpu Vs IGP and many others, our courts have decided that the journalist cannot be compelled to reveal the source of his story.

“I want the world to know that my colleagues and I, in this profession, will continue to stand alongside Samuel Ogundipe. We will continue to speak up for him and demand his immediate and unconditional release. We will also continue to demand that due process must be followed and freedom of speech and that of the press must be protected,” Olaniyonu said.


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