Authorities in Government have attempted to silence opposition views in the online media through arbitrary interpretation and abuse of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition and Prevention) Act, 2015, particularly section 24 of the Act which addresses offensive and annoying statements on the internet otherwise known as cyber stalking, and several journalists, bloggers and individuals have been arrested in this regard.

Stories, articles and expressions published online have been deemed offensive, insulting or annoying with actionable consequences under the said section even when the stories are factual. At the same time, some stories published through traditional media outlets (print and electronic) that were never sanctioned by the government have been attacked by the same government upon being rebroadcast or republished through online platforms. The government considers these repost offensive and libellous because of the rising influence of online platforms in Nigeria as major sources of information dissemination.

Clearly, the government have used the accusation of cyberstalking to harass and press charges against online and traditional journalists for expressing views that are considered unfavourable to the government as some examples will illustrate.

Abubakar Sidiq Usman was arrested by armed operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for criticising the commission. He was detained for over 36 hours and denied access to his lawyer.

Musa Babale Azare was arrested in Abuja by police from Bauchi State for criticising the policies and actions of the state government on social media platforms.

Seun Oloketuyi, a respected media practitioner was arraigned before a Federal High Court for publishing a story about the secret affairs of a Bank Chief Executive.

Chris Nwandu, the president of the Guild of Professional Bloggers of Nigeria, was arrested and remanded in prison for 13 days after he expressed his personal opinion on the charges against Seun Oloketuyi.

Emmanuel Ojo, a blogger, was forced into political exile following threats to his life after he published a story about money laundering involving the first lady of Ogun State.

Desmond Ike Chima, a blogger, was arrested and spent the next six months in prison for publishing an article considered “damaging” about the managing director of a bank. The charges were later dropped.

Soldiers, mobile policemen and State Security Service agents stormed a hotel in Edo State and arrested 10 reporters from the independent news website Watchdog Media News.

Omoyele Sowore, a then reporter for online news outlet Sahara Reporters, but now a prominent Activist Politician was harassed by police in Lagos on the basis of a complaint about a report published on its website.

Two bloggers, Kemi Olunoyo and Samuel Walson, were imprisoned for one week before being granted bail for publishing an article about an elite pastor in Rivers State.

While it will be wrong to submit that all the persons mentioned above are journalists for the purpose of this meeting, it is important for journalists to appreciate the reality that the media now operates in a very hostile legal framework which places demands on increased diligence and compliance with stringent ethics of journalism and also that they have the increasing need to appreciate the scope of the Cybercrime Act and be familiarized with actions that amount to offences under the act and how best to navigate same to avoid adverse situations in the course of their work.

Pelumi Olajengbesi Esq. is a Legal Practitioner and Managing Partner at Law Corridor.

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