fbpx

Journalist detained on ‘orders from above’ spends fourth day in detention

On May 1, on the bustling streets of Lagos, a chilling incident unfolded as a journalist with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, Daniel Ojukwu, vanished without a trace.

As his phone numbers remained unreachable and his location remained a mystery, concern and dread mounted among Ojukwu’s colleagues, family, and friends.

Fearing the worst, suspicions of Ojukwu’s abduction loomed large, casting a sombre shadow over those who knew him, and highlighting the grave dangers faced by journalists in their relentless pursuit of truth.

On Thursday, May 2, the FIJ made a missing person report at police stations in the area where Ojukwu was headed at the time he went missing.

However, on May 3, a private detective hired by the FIJ tracked the last active location of his phones to an address in Isheri Olofin, a location the organisation believed was where the police originally picked him up.

Ojukwu’s family later learnt that Daniel was being held at Panti, where authorities accused him of violating the 2015 Cybercrime Act.

A relative who visited him disclosed that the authorities declined to provide contact details of the Investigating Police Officer on jurisdictional grounds as the case was beyond Lagos.

“The arresting officers are part of the Inspector General of Police Monitoring Team. They said when they are done arresting the other people on their watch list in Lagos, they would transfer him and others to Abuja,” the relative told the FIJ.

It has been five days since the Intelligence Response Team of the Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, whisked Ojukwu away and detained him at the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, in Lagos.

Stakeholders demand Ojukwu’s release

On Saturday, a lawyer, Ridwan Oke, in a post, said he met Ojukwu at the SCID and lamented the nonchalance of the police to the fundamental rights of citizens, adding that the incarcerated journalist had some health conditions that needed attention.

He wrote, “We still run a police system that cares less about fundamental rights. He has been detained here (at the SCID) since Wednesday, May 1, 2024. Today (Saturday, May 4, 2024) is the fourth day.

“His mother only found out almost 48 hours later because they started looking at police stations and not because they allowed him to contact his people. Daniel was not allowed to call his lawyers, friends, or relatives to notify them of his arrest.”

The lawyer said the officers gave express instructions not to allow him to reach out to anyone.

“He was kept incommunicado. Police claim they have remand and search warrants but have never shown them to him. Daniel, up till this moment (Saturday), hasn’t been officially shown the petition against him nor has the police communicated who the complainant is to him,” he added.

Oke further disclosed that the unit involved in the abduction is said to be the NPF National Cybercrime Centre from Abuja.

“This means the offence being alleged is a bailable offence, he has not been offered bail and they haven’t presented him in court as enshrined in our laws. The officers here in Panti said they couldn’t help as it was not their case; no one is taking responsibility.

“Now, I have tried to reach (the Force Public Relations Officer) Ademuyiwa Adejobi but he’s not picking up or returning (his calls). No one has so far offered any meaningful explanation and a citizen is being detained unnecessarily for a bailable offence. If anything happens to him (Ojukwu), the Nigerian Police Force should be held accountable,” the lawyer added.

Also citing Ojukwu’s abduction, the Nigerian National Committee of the International Press Institute raised the alarm over the safety of journalists in the country.

In a statement jointly signed by the IPI Nigeria President, Musikilu Mojeed, and its Legal Adviser/Chair, Advocacy Committee, Tobi Soniyi, the organisation strongly condemned the abduction and called on the IGP to, with immediate effect, order Ojukwu’s release.

The statement read, “Some months ago, the Nigerian military abducted a journalist, Mr Segun Olatunji, in a Gestapo manner in Lagos and flew him to Abuja under humiliating conditions in apparent violation of his rights to dignity and expression.

“With the two incidents cited above, a pattern has emerged that points to the fact that the administration of President Bola Tinubu does not only condone repression of freedom of the press but also encourages it, in contradiction of promises made during the President’s inaugural speech that his administration would uphold fundamental human rights.”

The group reiterated that in a democratic setting, the proper step to take was to follow due process in seeking remedies against journalists.

“It amounts to an abuse of his powers and office for the Inspector General of Police to order the abduction of a journalist just because he is the overall head of the Nigeria Police Force,” it added.

The IPI Nigeria also called on President Bola Tinubu to sanction the IGP, having failed to lead by example, noting that “nobody is above the law”.

It added, “Daniel Ojukwu should be released immediately, or else the Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, will be included in IPI Nigeria’s book of infamy and branded an enemy of the media and journalists. His inclusion on the list carries serious consequences beyond the shores of Nigeria.”

Another journalist detained, tortured

Findings by Sunday PUNCH revealed that Ojukwu’s ordeal serves as a stark reminder of the risks faced by journalists dedicated to uncovering the truth across the country.

In a similar, albeit more sinister, pattern of attack on journalists, FirstNews’ editor, Segun Olatunji, was also abducted from his Lagos home on March 15 by the military and was taken to Abuja, where he was held incommunicado for 12 days until his release.

Shortly after his release, Olatunji gave a vivid account of his ordeal at a press conference organised by the International Press Institute, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, and the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Abuja.

Narrating his experience, he said, “They handcuffed me and put me into the vehicle. At first, I thought they were taking me to the Directorate of Military Intelligence in Apapa, but then we made a detour to the Air Force Base and straight to the office of the National Air Defence Corps where we waited for about three hours.

“I didn’t know we were waiting for a military aircraft to come pick me up. After a while, when the aircraft came, someone came to me and asked me to hand over my glasses and then put a blindfold on me.”

Speaking further, he said, “At one point, one of the officers came and tightened the cuffs on my right hand and leg. I was there groaning in pain, and it was that way for three days. When they released it all, the right side of my body felt numb. As I’m talking to you, I can still feel the numbness in my right hand and leg.”

Speaking with our correspondent in a chat, a human rights lawyer, Kabir Akingbolu, stressed that the work of journalists is very important and that the law needs to treat them more fairly.

“Journalists should not be mistreated by security agencies, they should have some immunity to move around without being harassed, intimidated, or molested. There should be a law that will criminalise the harassment of journalists, and it should be enforced,” Akingbolu said.

Also speaking with Sunday PUNCH, a lawyer, Chinedu Okoye, pointed out that Ojukwu’s abduction violated the law and he should be released.

“The constitution says any person who is arrested or detained must be informed in writing within 24 hours and in a language that they understand the facts and grounds for his arrest or detention. That is not what has happened here and it is a grave infringement of the journalist’s rights,” Okoye stated.

Our correspondent contacted the Force PPRO, Adejobi, for comments about Ojukwu’s abduction by the police, but he did not take his call and a text message sent to him had not been replied to as of the time of filing this report.

(Punch)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.