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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Nigerian journalist kidnapped by police, another journalist at risk

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A journalist with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), Daniel Ojukwu, has been abducted by the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) of the Inspector General of Police, the platform reported on Friday.

He is currently being held incommunicado at the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Panti in Lagos on the orders of the Inspector General of Police.

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“Our lawyers haven’t been able to speak with him,” FIJ founder, Fisayo Soyombo, told PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday. “We’re hopeful it will happen today.”

Another journalist with WikkiTimes, Yawale Adamu, is being threatened by a political aide to the member of the House of Representatives representing the Jama’are Itas Federal Constituency in the National Assembly over a story he did accusing the lawmaker of a politicised distribution of aid from the North East Development Commission (NEDC).

The aide, Mustapha Abdurrahman, accused the platform of tarnishing the image of his principal, Rabilu Kashuri. He threatened the reporter, in a telephone conversation, stating that the State Security Service (SSS) had been contacted as he vowed to take ‘action’ against the reporter.

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Mr Ojukwu’s abduction and Mr Adamu’s threat became public on Friday as the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) was being celebrated across the globe. The day is set aside to remind governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and emphasise the importance of a free press.

The police are yet to respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ questions as to why Mr Ojukwu is being detained.

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Mr Ojukwu’s abduction

Mr Ojukwu went missing on Wednesday with his phone numbers switched off and whereabouts unknown to colleagues, family and friends. On Thursday, FIJ made a missing person report at police stations in the area where he was headed.

“However, on Friday, a private detective hired by FIJ tracked the last active location of his phones to an address in Isheri Olofin, a location FIJ now believes was where the police originally picked him up,” the platform reported.

The police are accusing him of violating the Cybercrime Act 2015, relatives who got wind of his abduction and visited the Panti police station were told. The Cybercrime Act is a law used by the Nigerian government to persecute journalists and media houses.

In March, the Nigeria Police Force National Cybercrime Centre (NPF-NCCC) invited and grilled the chairperson of FIJ’s Board of Trustees, Bukky Shonibare, in Abuja during which they mentioned a story authored by Mr Ojukwu. The story revealed that the senior special assistant to former President Muhammad Buhari on sustainable development goals (SSAP-SDGs), Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, paid N147 million to a restaurant for the construction of classrooms in Lagos.

Except for Ms Shonibare, the police never invited Mr Ojukwu or any other FIJ staff member, Mr Soyombo said. Meanwhile, Ms Shonibare honoured the police invitation when she was invited.

PREMIUM TIMES, on Saturday, contacted both the Police Public Relations Officer, Force Headquarters, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, and the Lagos State Police Command spokesperson, Benjamin Hundeyin, for their comments.

Responding in a text message, Mr Adejobi said he would “find out from the Commander IRT.”

But in his reply, Mr Hundeyin said Mr Ojukwu “was arrested by the NPF National Cybercrime Centre (NCC) and not the Lagos State Police Command.”

Adamu’s ordeal

On Tuesday, WikkiTimes published an investigation accusing Mr Kashuri, the lawmaker representing Jama’are Itas Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives, of distributing aid from the NEDC to his political party loyalists.

Days after the report was published, the reporter received phone calls from one of Mr Kashuri’s aides, accusing the reporter of being used by political rivals to undermine his principal and tarnish his reputation.

In one of the phone conversations, the aide boasted that they had information on everyone who works for WikkiTimes and that the SSS had been contacted to take action against the reporter.

“I have provided the SSS with the contact details of the individual who assisted your reporting in the constituency; they intend to track him down. The person who guided you and facilitated interviews throughout the constituency, I assure you, will face consequences; no one will shield him. We cannot stand by while our reputation is damaged; I swear by Allah, you will face repercussions for your actions,” WikkiTimes quoted the political aide as saying in one of the phone conversations.

READ ALSO: World Press Freedom Day: FG restates commitment to protect rights of journalists

When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the lawmaker’s aide, Mr Abdulrahman, he declined to comment on the issue over the phone and requested our reporter to meet him at the National Assembly on Monday.

State of press freedom in Nigeria

Nigeria remains one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, according to the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) who ranked Nigeria 123 of 180 countries in its global press freedom report for 2023.

The report noted that Nigerian journalists are regularly monitored, attacked and arbitrarily arrested, and “crimes committed against journalists continue to go unpunished, even when the perpetrators are known or apprehended.”

Earlier on Friday, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors, in commemoration of the World Press Freedom Day, asked Nigerian authorities to stop using “repressive and anti-media law such as the Cybercrime Act and some code of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC)” to target, intimidate and harass journalists and media houses.

Qosim Suleiman is a reporter at Newslodgein partnership with Report for the World, which matches local newsrooms with talented emerging journalists to report on under-covered issues around the globe

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