…Says the Country’s Rating on World Press Freedom Index Abysmal The Coalition for Whistleblowers and Press Freedom (CWPPF) has condemned the recurrent attacks on Nigerian journalists which have been on the rise in recent years. A statement endorsed by 15 members of the Coalition, says it also regrets that despite the country’s abysmal rating
…Says the Country’s Rating on World Press Freedom Index Abysmal
The Coalition for Whistleblowers and Press Freedom (CWPPF) has condemned the recurrent attacks on Nigerian journalists which have been on the rise in recent years. A statement endorsed by 15 members of the Coalition, says it also regrets that despite the country’s abysmal rating on the World Press Freedom Index which has moved from 122 in 2017 to 119 in 2018; “the state of press freedom continues to worsen.”
It says, “Chapter 5 section 39 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution has been neglected and ignored more than it has been implemented which is underscored by the re-arrest of Jones Abiri, the editor Weekly Source who has once again been forcibly taken by DSS operatives at Ayabowei Plaza in Yenagoa, Bayelsa state.”
Mr Abiri was said to have been taken by the men who stormed the plaza on Saturday in a white Hilux and black SUV while he was discussing with his colleagues at the secretariat of the Bayelsa publisher’s office.
According to eyewitnesses quoted by a NAN report, Abiri was in company of some colleagues at his office at Azikoro junction of Yenagoa when the armed men arrived at the scene in a white Hilux Van and black Prado Jeep and forcibly dragged and pushed their victim into one of the vehicles and drove off.
Austin Bodo, a journalist who witnessed the incident, said “we were sitting outside his office when a black Prado jeep and white Hilux drove into the premises in commando style.”
“As they packed, two men carrying the type of guns used by DSS operatives jumped out of one of the cars and said Abiri was under arrest and immediately started dragging him and forced him into one of the cars and drove off.”
Another witness, Mr. Bankole Abdulazeez, said “we were discussing national issues when the cars drove in.”
“Two armed men came out of the cars and without identifying themselves, they said you are under arrest and started dragging him.”
“They threatened to shoot anybody that tries to stop them.”
“I heard him shouting ‘what have I done again? What have I done again?’ Before they finally dragged him into one of the cars and drove off,” he said.
When contacted, a DSS Official, who preferred anonymity, said: “I only heard of it from a journalist friend; I don’t think it is our men from here.”
In 2016, the DSS had arrested Abiri, alleging that he was a militant and was detained for two years without trial until he was eventually granted bail by an Abuja court after he was charged to court following public outcry. Abiri gained freedom two years later following intense advocacy and campaign by domestic and international civil society organisations. He later sued the DSS and received damages for N10 million in the case, which has neither been appealed nor executed
This attack, the Coalition says, is “another attempt to incapacitate the press from performing its constitutionally guaranteed function and demand that Jones Abiri be released with immediate effect.”
It recalls that “Nigeria is a signatory to Article 19 and other United Nations resolutions to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, ensure accountability, bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against journalists and media workers, and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies.”
The re-arrest of Abiri and other cases of harassment and arrests of journalists fly in the face of the claim made by Mr Shehu Garba, senior special assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, who declared that cases of harassments of Nigerian journalists has ended since the start of the President Muhammadu Buhari led administration in May 2015.
“In the history of Nigeria from independence to now, I will classify this period as the best for media and press freedom and media in Nigeria. As we speak now the last 3 years has not witnessed the repression of media, it has not witnessed the closure of media houses, it has not witnessed arrest or detention of journalists on account of their duty; this is a period that has seen or witnessed the tragedy of journalists being killed, authorised by the government in other places, I think this is the best moment for the media in Nigeria,” he revealed in a 15 minute shocking documentary titled “Journalisms’ Silent Battle” that examined the state of press freedom in Nigeria.
In this period being described by the Mr Shehu, the Coalition say, several journalists have been maliciously and illegally arrested including Mr Samuel Ogundipe, Mr Jones Abiri, Mr Taiye Edeni, Mr Kunle Sanni, Ms Evelyn Okakwu to mention only a few. The military also laid siege to the offices of The Daily Trust in Abuja and Lagos, arresting some staff and carting away its computers.
Both during the Osun Governorship rerun election in September 2018, and the recently held general elections 2019, there were several cases of attacks of journalists by soldiers and armed thugs, including physically preventing them from carrying out their professional duties.
“The Press Attack Tracker, a civic technology tool that tracks and collated attacks on the press on the country, recorded over 30 cases of harassment and attacks on Nigerian journalists and two deaths during the just concluded 2019 general elections alone,” it says.
CWPPF further says, it “will not relent until section 39 of the amended 1999 Nigerian constitution is implemented.” “Every Nigerian Journalist held in custody must not be held without a fair hearing and CWPPF calls on federal and state authorities in Nigeria to disclose where Abiri is being detained and the reasons for his arrest, and urge that they ensure that his rights are not violated yet again and that due process is respected.”
Amongst prominent members of the CWPPF) which signed the statement include the Nigerian Union of Journalist (NUJ), International Press Center (IPC), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Paradigm Initiative, African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR). Others include Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ), Daily Trust Newspaper, Sahara Reporters, Premium Times, Order Paper NG, Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), The Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation, Civic Media Lab and the Premium Times Center for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)
However, Mr Abiri the Bayelsa-based magazine publisher was released on Monday afternoon from the secret police’s detention facility in Abuja, his lawyer said, according to a report by Premium Times.
“He has just been released around 2:00 p.m.,” lawyer Samuel Ogala told Premium Times, adding that terms of the release would be disclosed later.
The SSS initially denied knowledge of the arrest, but those who were with him insisted the agency was responsible.
No official statement had been issued to clarify the arrest, which comes months after the journalist was released from an prolonged detention.
It was also gathered according to a report by the Nigerian tribune that he may be charged for treasonable felony..
According to the paper, the fresh charges against him are being instituted by the Federal Ministry of Justice at High Court rather than the Abuja Magistrate court where Abiri was earlier tried.
A statement from one of his lawyers who pleaded not to be quoted said the case before the embattled journalist is a fresh case.
“It is a separate case this time. Then he was charged at a magistrate court sitting in Abuja. Now he is going to be charged at a High Court in Yenagoa.”
According to him, the allegations against Mr Abiri this time around is based on evidence of confession contained in a video he allegedly made while in detention.
“A lawyer who watched the video told me this and the lawyer works in the Federal Ministry of Justice.”
“Yes, this time they are using his confessional statement which is a video against him. Jones Abiri is going to be charged for terrorism.”
“The charges have been drafted by the Federal Ministry of Justice under the pseudonym name General Akoutebe. A video was recorded where he made a confessional statement and called several names.,” the Tribune report said.