Daniel Ojukwu Arrest Spotlights Challenges Of Nigeria’s Press Freedom 

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Daniel Ojukwu Arrest Spotlights Challenges Of Nigeria’s Press Freedom 

On May 1st, Nigerian journalist Daniel Ojukwu was arrested on allegations of violating the Cybercrime Act. The law upon which his arrest was hinged has been repealed by President Tinubu, adding a layer of complexity to Ojukwu’s case.

Following Ojukwu’s disappearance two days before the celebration of World Press Freedom Day; another pointer to challenges faced by journalists, the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) filed a missing person’s report, at police stations in the area where Ojukwu was headed to, and on Friday, a private detective hired by media company tracked his last phone location to an address in Isheri Olofin, Lagos where it was believed police abducted him.

He was held at the State Criminal Investigation Department in Panti, where authorities charged him under the 2015 Cybercrime Act. However, human rights lawyer Inibehe Effiong pointed out that the law, aimed at providing a comprehensive legal framework for addressing cybercrimes in Nigeria, had been repealed by the National Assembly. Effiong highlighted that an amended version of the act had been signed into law by President Tinubu earlier in the year.

Effiong’s remarks came in response to statements made by Police Public Relations Officer Olumuyiwa Adejobi, who sought to address public concerns following Ojukwu’s arrest, which had sparked widespread criticism of the state of press freedom in Nigeria.

Ojukwu was later transferred to and held in Abuja, for a story he did for the FIJ about the then Senior Special Assistant on Sustainable Development Goals to the president, Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire.

After being questioned by the police, Bukky Shonibare, the chairman of FIJ’s Board of Trustees, stated that the presidential aide purportedly transferred N147.1m to an account linked to Enseno Global Ventures, an Abuja-based restaurant, for the purported construction of a classroom.

Ojukwu’s arrest follows at least 25 journalists who have been prosecuted under the country’s Cybercrime Act since it was introduced in 2015, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. They include eight detained under President Bola Tinubu whose government, in power since May last year, touts itself as one encouraging press freedoms — a claim he repeated last week during World Press Freedom Day events.

On March 15, Segun Olatunji, an editor at First News was abducted from his residence in Lagos but was released after two weeks in custody of authorities who dehumanized and forced him to recant the story he wrote about the President’s Chief of Staff Femi Gbajabiamila’s plan to corner the $30bn, 66 houses that were traced to President Buhari’s relative, Tunde Sabiu. Another journalist, Kasarachi Aniagolu, with the Whistler Newspaper was arrested for covering the raid on Bureau De Change operators in the Wuse Zone 4 area of Abuja. Achadu Idibia, of Daybreak Newspapers, was arrested in Kaduna and questioned and detained for his report “Kaduna Hajj camp, a national shame, men, women sleep together in overcrowded hall – investigation.” which spotlighted the state of the Kaduna Hajj camp. Last year, blogger and multimedia content creator, Precious Eze, was taken from his home in the Gbagada area of Lagos by unknown persons. Eyewitnesses said the men identified themselves as security operatives. The list goes on and on.

The Cybercrime Act which most of the journalists are charged with at arrest was amended this year to remove some harsh provisions. However, the police still use it to “silence journalists and critics,” Amnesty International’s Nigeria office said. By law, a suspect is to be charged or released within 48 hours following arrest, a law the police have repeatedly flouted.

“It’s a symptom of a larger problem within Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies, and their relationship with politically exposed persons undermining democratic principles,” the coalition of civil society groups known as the Action Group on Protection of Civic Actors said in a statement. 

The wave of arrests and abductions of journalists is reminiscent of the military era, especially during the regime of Sani Abacha from 1993 to 1998. At the time, journalists often faced intimidation, arrests, and even abduction. Some were detained or killed while trying to promote democracy and hold the government accountable. This crackdown on independent journalism was not limited to Nigeria but also affected other countries in West Africa, leading to a significant decline in press freedom.

In February 1997, Nigerian security forces abducted Moshood Fayemiwo, a publisher, from Benin. He was tortured and kept in solitary confinement for months before being released. Several journalists were also convicted under a law called the Treason and Treasonable Offenses Decree No. 29 of 1993 for writing critical reports and stories.

Journalists like Paul Adams, Alex Ibru, and Hillary Anderson faced imprisonment or harassment. Some, like Baguda Kaltho, were even killed. Others, such as George Onah and Alphonsus Agborh, were imprisoned, and the expulsion of Hassan Anwar, illustrates the extent to which the government was willing to go to quash opposition voices and control the narrative. The history of press repression in Nigeria spotlights the longstanding challenges faced by journalists and media practitioners in the country.

Nigeria, ranked 112th out of 180 countries in the latest World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, is known for the tough environment for journalists who face frequent abductions, arrests, and prosecution, after reportage on systemic corruption but the president has a different position. Last December, Tinubu stated the administration’s commitment to upholding and fostering press freedom during a meeting with members of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), a statement he reiterated during this year’s press freedom celebration.

“You have held our feet to the fire, and we will continue to respect your opinions, whether we agree or not. One thing I must say is that I read every paper, various opinions, and columnists,” said Tinubu.

Daniel Ojukwu has since been released after days of pressure, however, we don’t have to wait for any other arrest to remind the president to live up to his words.  The legacy of press repression serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting and upholding press freedom in Nigeria, and the need for robust legal frameworks that safeguard journalists’ rights and ensure accountability for violations against them.