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First News Editor’s abduction: NPAN, NGE, NUJ demand probe, threaten lawsuit

A coalition of media stakeholders and Civil Society Organisations, including the Newspapers Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria; the Nigerian Union of Journalists; and the Nigerian Guild of Editors have demanded a probe into the abduction of FirstNews Editor, Segun Olatunji, by the military.

Olatunji was on March 15, 2024, abducted from his Lagos home located in the Abule Egba area by armed soldiers.

The journalist, who is a former Kaduna State correspondent of The PUNCH, was bundled into a van by the soldiers who whisked him away.

Almost two weeks after, the International Press Institute, Nigeria, traced the detained Editor to the custody of the Defence Intelligence Agency in Abuja, where he was being subjected to inhumane conditions, according to him after his release.

DIA is an agency under the command of Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Undiandeye, who reports to the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Christopher Musa.

According to Olatunji, who was released after sustained pressure from media stakeholders, said, “I was handcuffed and taken straight to the office of the National Air Defence Corps where we waited for three hours. I did not know that they were waiting for an aircraft to pick me up and take me to Abuja.

“I was blindfolded and moved to the aircraft, and we landed in Abuja shortly. I was leg-cuffed also. They removed my clothes and I was left with my boxers. I was taken to Cell 9.

“There, I was left with leg and handcuffs. And at a point, one of the officers came and tightened the right leg and the right hand, and I was there groaning in pain. They did not loosen it until about two or three days later.”

Following this, media industry stakeholders, including the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria, Guild of Corporate Online Publishers, International Press Institute, Nigeria Chapter, Media Rights Agenda, International Press Centre and a civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project, condemned Olatunji’s unlawful arrest, detention, brutalisation and torture in response to stories published by FirstNews.

In a joint statement signed by the leadership of the organisations, including NPAN President, Kabiru Yusuf; NGE President, Eze Anaba; and NUJ President, Chris Isiguzo, among others, they demanded a speedy, public, transparent and independent investigation “into this act of barbarism displayed by military personnel as well as the brazen disregard for the Constitution and the government’s obligations under relevant domestic laws and international instruments.”

The statement read, “We further demand that all persons within and outside the military who are found to have been connected with this unacceptable violation of the rights of the journalist and the Constitution, including those who effected Mr. Olatunji’s arrest, detention and torture, those who directly commanded them, and those who ordered or instigated the action, should be prosecuted before the appropriate court and punished to the full extent of the law.

“The Chief of Defence Intelligence, who commands the Defence Intelligence Agency, Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Undiandeye, reportedly ordered the operation that culminated in Mr Olatunji’s abduction, torture, and detention while the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Christopher Musa, to whom the CDI reports, was also reportedly aware of the operation but joined the CDI to claim for days that the journalist was not in their custody. They need to be held accountable for their roles in the matter.

“Armed men wearing military uniforms and who introduced themselves as military personnel from the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Air Force and the Defence Intelligence Agency, led by a military officer, who also introduced himself as Col. Lawal, invaded Mr. Olatunji’s home in a Lagos suburb on March 15, 2024, seized Olatunji’s mobile phone, handcuffed and bundled him in one of their vehicles and flown, blindfolded to Abuja where he was kept in an underground cell for 14 days.”

The media stakeholders and CSOs condemned the fact that Olatunji was stripped to his boxers, legs manacled, hands in cuffs, kept incommunicado and not informed of his offence or the reason for his arrest nor of his rights as required by law before he was released on March 29, 2024.

“He was repeatedly interrogated about stories published by FirstNews in the absence of a legal practitioner of his choice because he was not given the opportunity to consult a lawyer. His mobile phone was also unlawfully searched in an effort by his abductors to ascertain the sources of the stories published by the news outlet,” the statement added.

The media stakeholders and SERAP, therefore, demanded that the Federal Government conducted a speedy, public, transparent and independent investigation into the incident in order identify all persons within and outside the military who were connected with the violation of Olatunji’s rights.

According to them, “In accordance with Section 35(6) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the Federal Government should pay Mr. Olatunji substantial compensation and issue a public apology to him for the unlawful and unconstitutional violation of his rights as well as the inhuman and degrading treatment to which he was subjected;

“The Federal Government should make an unequivocal public commitment to respect and defend the rights and freedoms of journalists and other media practitioners to carry out their professional duties in a safe and conducive environment in accordance with Sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and advise all law enforcement, security, intelligence, military and other agencies accordingly.”

The stakeholders, therefore, “advised any member of the public, dissatisfied or feel the content in a news medium directly affects or involves him or her unfairly, to approach the National Media Complaints Commission (The National Media Ombudsman) for redress, rather than engage in self-help.”

They noted that should the Federal Government fail to respond positively to all their demands within 14 days from Sunday, the media stakeholders and civil society organisations would pursue all available mechanisms at the national, regional and international levels to ensure compliance with the demands.

The full statement reads as follows:

Media Bodies, CSOs Demand Investigation into Segun Olatunji’s Detention and Prosecution of Perpetrators

8 April 2024

The undersigned media organisations, media associations and professional bodies as well as civil society organisations wish to express our deep concern and strong condemnation regarding the recent unlawful arrest, detention, brutalisation and torture of Mr. Segun Olatunji, Editor of FirstNews newspapers, by military personnel in response to stories published by the media outlet.

We hereby demand a speedy, public, transparent and independent investigation into this act of barbarism displayed by military personnel as well as the brazen disregard for the Constitution and the Government’s obligations under relevant domestic laws and international instruments.

We further demand that all persons within and outside the military who are found to have been connected with this unacceptable violation of the rights of the journalist and the Constitution, including those who effected Mr. Olatunji’s arrest, detention and torture, those who directly commanded them, and those who ordered or instigated the action, should be prosecuted before the appropriate court and punished to the full extent of the Law. The Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI), who commands the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), Major General Emmanuel Undiandeye, reportedly ordered the operation that culminated in Mr Olatunji’s abduction, torture, and detention while the Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Musa, to whom the CDI reports, was also reportedly aware of the operation but joined the CDI to claim for days that the journalist was not in their custody. They need to be held accountable for their roles in the matter.

Armed men wearing military uniforms and who introduced themselves as military personnel from the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Air Force and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), led by a military officer who also introduced himself as Colonel Lawal, invaded Mr. Olatunji’s home in a Lagos suburb on March 15, 2024, seized Olatunji’s mobile phone, handcuffed and bundled him in one of their vehicles and flown , blindfolded to Abuja where he was kept in an underground cell for 14 days.

Stripped to his boxers , legs manacled hands in cuffs, kept incommunicado and not informed of his offence or the reason for his arrest nor of his rights as required by Law, as guaranteed under the Constitution, Olatunji was only released on March 29, 2024.

He was repeatedly interrogated about stories published by FirstNews in the absence of a legal practitioner of his choice because he was not given the opportunity to consult a lawyer. His mobile phone was also unlawfully searched in an effort by his abductors to ascertain the sources of the stories published by the news outlet.

Given the above, we unequivocally condemn this gestapo-like, unlawful and unconstitutional treatment of a journalist under a constitutional democracy simply for doing his job and therefore demand that:

  • The Federal Government conducts a speedy, public, transparent and independent investigation into the incident in order identify all persons within and outside the military who were connected with the violation of Mr. Olatunji’s rights;
  • There should be full accountability for all those responsible. Therefore, all persons within and outside the military who are found to have been connected with the incident, including those who effected Mr. Olatunji’s arrest, detention and torture, those who directly commanded them, and those who ordered or instigated the action, should be prosecuted before the appropriate court;
  • In accordance with Section 35(6) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the Federal Government should pay Mr. Olatunji substantial compensation and issue a public apology to him for the unlawful and unconstitutional violation of his rights as well as the inhuman and degrading treatment to which he was subjected; and
  • The Federal Government should make an unequivocal public commitment to respect and defend the rights and freedoms of journalists and other media practitioners to carry out their professional duties in a safe and conducive environment in accordance with Sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and advise all law enforcement, security, intelligence, military and other agencies accordingly.
  • Advised any member of the public, dissatisfied or feel the content in a news medium directly affects or involves him or her unfairly, to approach the National Media Complaints Commission (NMCC) (The National Media Ombudsman) for redress, rather than engage in self-help

Should the Federal Government fail to respond positively to all these demands within 14 days from today, the undersigned media associations and professional bodies as well as civil society organisations will pursue all available mechanisms at the national, regional and international levels to ensure compliance with our demands.

Mal. Kabiru A. Yusuf
President, Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) / President, Nigerian Press Organisations (NPO)

Dr. Yemisi Bamgbose
Executive Secretary, Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON)

Eze Anaba
President, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE)

Comrade Chris Isiguzo, MFR
National President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ)

Maureen Chigbo
President, Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP)

Musikilu Mojeed
President, International Press Institute, Nigeria Chapter (IPI Nigeria)

Edetaen Ojo
Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA)

Lanre Arogundade
Executive Director, International Press Centre (IPC)
Adetokunbo Mumuni

Director
Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP)

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