Nigerian authorities should immediately drop all charges against journalists Adisa-Jaji Azeez, Salihu Ayatullahi, Salihu Shola Taofeek and Abdulrahman Taye Damilola, and allow them to work without fear of arrest, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Friday.
On Tuesday, police officers arrested CEO Azeez and Editor-in-Chief Ayatullahi of private news website The Informant247 over reports published on November 10 and February 1 on corruption at the Kwara State Polytechnic. Ayatullahi and Taofeek, the outlet’s editor, told CPJ by phone.
Azeez and Ayatullahi were arrested after responding to a request from the police headquarters in Ilorin, capital of Kwara state in western Nigeria, for questioning, following a complaint by the rector of Abdul Jimoh Mohammed Polytechnic about the media’s accusation that he was involved. in fraud, those sources said.
The journalists’ lawyer, AJ Edun, told CPJ that he filed a fundamental rights complaint that same day to protect against their prolonged detention. He remains before the court, he said.
A court on Wednesday released the journalists on bail, despite a police request to hold them for another 21 days, and they are due back in court on February 13, Ayatullahi and Edun said.
On February 7, police charged Azeez, Ayatullahi, Taofeek and reporter Damilola with conspiracy under section 27(1)(b), and cyber harassment under section 24(1)(b) of the Cyber Crimes Act. of Nigeria, and defamation under section 393 of the penal code, according to a copy of the charge sheet, reviewed by CPJ, which described Taofeek and Damilola as “at large.”
Taofeek told CPJ that he and Damilola had gone into hiding for fear of arrest.
If convicted, the journalists face jail terms of up to seven years for conspiracy, three years with a fine of 7 million naira (US$4,966) for cyberbullying and two years with an unspecified fine for defamation.
“Nigerian authorities should immediately drop all charges against journalists Adisa-Jaji Azeez, Salihu Ayatullahi, Salihu Shola Taofeek and Abdulrahman Taye Damilola, and stop criminalizing the press,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program director in New York. “The reckless detention of Nigerian journalists is totally unacceptable and underscores the need for reforms to the country’s laws to defend, not violate, press freedom.”
On February 3, a statement by the Kwara State Polytechnic rejected The Informant247’s information as “false” and asked it to “desist from dragging the name of the institution into the mud, if not, the institution will not hesitate to take action.”
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Ayatullahi told CPJ that he and Azeez spent the night of February 6 in a small, dark cell with more than 20 inmates, who had to sleep on top of each other and use a bucket as a urinal.
Mohammed confirmed to CPJ by phone that he had filed a police complaint, but declined to comment further and referred CPJ’s questions to the police.
Calls and text messages from CPJ seeking comment to Kwara State police spokesperson Ejire-Adeyemi Adetoun were not returned.