By Okechukwu Nwanguma
A REPORT ON THE INCREASING USE OF THE POLICE AND OTHER SECURITY AGENCIES BY STATE GOVERNORS AND OTHER PUBLIC OFFICIALS IN THE SOUTHEAST TO HARASS AND INTIMIDATE JOURNALISTS AND ACTIVISTS AND TO STIFLE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND THE MEDIA.
By the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC)
Attacks on media practitioners, activists, and other civic actors, are on the rise in Nigeria with recent reports of an increasing spate of repressive attacks in South-East Nigeria.
In the last month alone, no less than 6 journalists and other civic actors in Imo and Enugu States of the South-East have faced police harassment, arrest, indefinite detention, and threats of imprisonment as tactics of intimidation by the police, acting at the behest of state governors and other aggrieved public officials.
We recall that in March 2023, the Nigeria Police Force arrested a Twitter user and social media influencer identified as Mr. Chude Franklin Nnamdi for posting about alleged ballot box snatching during the governorship and State Assembly elections in Anambra State on Saturday, March 18, 2023.
Chude Franklin was arrested in Onitsha, Anambra State after he tweeted that the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) had taken the state back to the ballot box snatching era and that the elections witnessed ugly incidents in many parts of the state.
The Nigeria Police confirmed that Mr. Chude Franklin Nnamdi with Twitter handle ‘ @chude__’ was arrested in Onitsha, Anambra State on the 18th of March, 2023, and he was being investigated by the Nigeria Police Force National Cyber Crime Centre (NPF-NCCC) Abuja, for cyberstalking, pursuant to a complaint received via a petition, about his activities on social media which contravenes the provision of Section 24 of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act, 2015 and other criminal laws.
The police subsequently arraigned Chude Nnamdi before the Federal High Court on Thursday, April 30, 2023, on a charge of cyberstalking a business mogul, Emeka Offor. He was granted bail by the Court.
Police arrests and threats to arrest journalists and other civic actors based on dubious criminal accusations of cyberstalking, defamation and terrorism are increasingly used as repressive tactics to silence and prevent them from carrying out their civic and constitutional duties.
In recent times, there has been an increase in the number of cases of police harassment and arrest of media practitioners and civic actors in the South-East.
Police harassment of Enugu journalists and activists at the instigation of Dr. Monday Nwite Igwe, the embattled Medical Director of Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu.
There were reports that the School of Mental Health Nursing, Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital Enugu was unlawfully closed down by its Medical Director, Dr. Monday Nwite Igwe. There were also reports of corruption in the management of the institution.
A Coalition of Civil Society Organisation in Enugu wrote petitions to the Federal Ministry of Health seeking the interventions of the authorities of the ministry to address the plight of the over 700 students of the School.
Despite a directive by the Permanent Secretary, the Federal Ministry of Health to the Director to reopen the institution, the school remains closed to date, prompting further reports by the media.
Some journalists in Enugu reported the unlawful closure of the School by Dr. Monday Nwite Igwe, as well as the allegations of corruption and nepotism in the management of the institution.
Dr. Monday Nwitte Igwe resorted to using the instrumentality of a unit of the Police at the Force Headquarters, Abuja to harass and intimidate the journalists and the chairman of the Civil society coalition.
Because the Director of the school was unable to get the cooperation of the Police in Enugu, he bypassed the Enugu State Police Command and went all the way to Abuja to procure the services of the Police at the Inspector-General of Police’s Monitoring Unit who claim they are acting on the directives of the Inspector General of Police.
Some of the journalists who reported the unlawful closure of the School by Dr. Monday Nwite Igwe, and the alleged corruption at the institution have received Police Invitations from the IGP’s Monitoring Unit, Force Headquarters, at the behest of Dr. Monday Nwite Igwe.
RULAAC sighted one of the Police Invitation letters dated 4th of August entitled: ‘Re: Criminal Conspiracy, Cyberstalking, Injurious Falsehood, Conduct Likely to Cause Breach of Public Peace and Criminal Defamation with Intent to Incite’ and signed by A.A. Elleman DCP, Head IGP Monitoring Unit, The Nigeria Police Force Headquarters, Abuja requesting the media organization to release its reporter based in Enugu, Clinton Umeh to travel all the way from Enugu to interview the DCP through CSP Usman Garba on Monday 14/08/23 at 10.00.hours.
Other journalists similarly invited to interview the DCP at the IGP’s Monitoring Unit Abuja are:
- Ignatius Okpara of The African Examiner
- Petrus OBI former reporter of The Sun,.
Former National Vice President NUJ, South East
- Clinton C. Umeh, of Journalists 101
4, And Comrade Igboke Onyebuchi, of the Coalition of Civil Society Organisation who signed the petitions to Federal government authorities to look into the plight of the over 700 students of the School of Mental Health Nursing, Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital Enugu.
*Abuse of Police Investigation Procedure*
On Tuesday, January 3, 2023, the Inspector-General of Police IGP Usman Baba, warned against transfer or taking over of cases from Commands/Formations by Force Headquarters-based outfits without the approval of a written petition to him, which will serve as authority for any such action. He said that officers who collude with lawyers of indicted persons to frustrate investigation processes will be punished.
According to a statement by Olumuyiwa Adejobi, spokesperson of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), the IGP made the pronouncement in response to complaints about “indiscriminate petitions” requesting the transfer of case files from one unit to another.
The NPF said such petitions lead to duplication of investigations and negatively affect criminal justice delivery.
He added that, as a result, the IGP has ordered a review of investigative processes in the force.
However, Police officers, as in the extant case, continue to disregard the warning by the Inspector-General of Police prohibiting the transfer or taking over of cases from Commands/Formations by Force Headquarters-based outfits without approval of a written petition to him, which will serve as authority for any such action.
The IGP stated that the directive was part of efforts to strengthen the criminal justice system and standardise investigation processes in the police force.
According to the statement titled: “Criminal Justice System: IGP standardizes police investigation process – Directs against Duplication, Parallel Investigations” and signed by the Force PRO, the IGP also directed that all police investigative processes should be streamlined to prevent duplication of investigation via indiscriminate petitions and transfer of cases initiated by individuals and groups who have been indicted in initial investigations as a way to frustrate diligent investigation process and truncate criminal justice delivery.
The Force PRO, Adejobi, revealed that the IGP gave the directives while reviewing and dealing with files/cases in response to complaints on indiscriminate transfers of cases from Zonal/State Commands and other investigative units of the Force by operatives of the Force Criminal Investigations Department, Force Intelligence Bureau, and other Force Headquarters-based investigation outfits under the guise of re-investigation at the prompting of indicted parties.
He stressed that the situation has often given rise to parallel investigations by multiple units leading to conflicting arrests of parties, and different outcomes even when such matters have been conclusively investigated and charged to court.”
“The Inspector-General of Police, therefore, warned that transfer or taking over of cases from Commands/Formations to FHQ-based outfits must only be carried out upon approval of a written petition to the IGP which will serve as authority for any such action.
“The IGP equally appeals to members of the public to be on the same page with the Police leadership in its bid to sanitize the process and strengthen our criminal justice system.
“He has similarly warned that officers found culpable of colluding with lawyers of, or indicted parties to abuse police investigative process will be sanctioned accordingly.
*Call for Legal Protection for the Media and other Civic Actors*
A human rights group in _Enugu Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network_ (CRRAN) was compelled to write to the Inspector General of Police seeking protection of the law for the Enugu journalists. The Executive Director, Olu Omotayo Esq., in the letter submitted that ‘the Right to freedom of the press is a constitutionally guaranteed right under the Nigerian Constitution. If anybody or a group of persons feels that a journalist has made a libellous publication against them, they could apply to the Court for redress. Our Society is a civilized one regulated by law, so there is no need for any group of persons to take the law into their hands or in any other way, resort to the ‘Rule of the Jungle’.
The human rights group expressed particular concern that ‘the person involved (in the Enugu case) is a civil servant in the employ of the Federal Civil Service of the Federation. So if a journalist writes on the anomalies in an institution why should that warrant calling for the head of such a journalist?
‘We condemn, in totality, the attempt to infringe on the freedom of the press in Enugu in particular and the Southeast in general.’
‘We call on the Federal government and the Police to ensure that this act of lawlessness exhibited by Dr. Monday Nwite Igwe and his cohorts should stop henceforth because it is not good for our developing democracy. Journalists in the state and everywhere in Nigeria should be accorded the freedom to carry out their legitimate and lawful duties.
He called on the Police to be impartial in discharging their duties and to uphold the Rule of Law at all times.
One of the testimonies heard at the Public Hearing for Victims of Insecurity and Human Rights Violations at Awka in July was about the harassment and intimidation of Mr. Michael Okechukwu Ilediagu, the publisher of News Center, and other journalists in the state, orchestrated by the Governor’s aides. The Public Hearing was organized by the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) in partnership with the Action Group on Free Civic Space (AGFCS) to provide an opportunity for victims of insecurity, crime and human rights violations in the South-East to ventilate their experiences and to provide evidence to seek legal redress.
Mr. Ilediagu testified that he was being subjected to intimidation by operatives of the Police Anti-kidnapping Squad in the State, who invaded his home and arrested him over his reporting on developments in the State, with no evidence that he had committed any offence. Officials of the Enugu State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) as well as other journalists and civil society actors in the State confirmed that the journalist and publisher continue to face threats and harassment from State Government officials.
Media Rights Agenda (MRA), on Monday, July 31, 2023, issued a statement calling on Governor Peter Ndubuisi Mbah of Enugu State to immediately discontinue the harassment and intimidation of journalists in the State, saying the ongoing attacks on the media by his government in violation of the Constitution amounts to a breach of the oath he took on becoming Governor just two months ago, particularly his pledge to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.”
MRA further advised Governor Mbah, in the light of the fact that he is new to his office, that the media do not exist to sing his praises but to perform a constitutionally mandated function of upholding the responsibility and accountability of his government to the people. Accordingly, the unwarranted attacks by his government on journalists engaged in the lawful pursuit of their professional duties will not go unchallenged.”
MRA called on the Governor to put a stop to the ongoing harassment and intimidation of Mr. Michael Okechukwu Ilediagu, the publisher of News Center, and other journalists in the state, orchestrated by the Governor’s aides and warned: “If the situation persists, we will be compelled to activate all constitutional means and international mechanisms available to us to challenge this ongoing illegality which constitutes a clear abuse of office and abuse of power.”
MRA further called on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Olukayode Egbetokun, to order an investigation into the abuse of police powers by Police authorities in Enugu State at the behest of the Governor’s Office for the purpose of harassing and intimidating journalists in the State with the objective of preventing them from performing their constitutional functions.
MRA stressed that journalism is not a crime to warrant the use of police units to hound journalists, especially while criminals are roaming free, and further argued that the potential crime is in the abuse of police powers to advance the personal and political interests of government officials.
MRA therefore called on Governor Mbah and his aides to abide by the rule of law and allow journalists and media organizations in the State to carry out their professional duties free of any harassment, intimidation or other attacks and threats
For the second time in one week, a coalition of over 49 civil society organisations spread across Nigeria on August 10, 2023 called on the Inspector General of Police to order the immediate release of Mr. Theodore Chinonso Uba, aka Nonso Nkwa, from indefinite and unlawful detention.
Nonso Nkwa has been in unlawful police detention for over two weeks after he was abducted in a commando style in Owerri, Imo State, on 27 July, 2023 by gunmen who turned out to be police officers, and has remained in police detention since then, without bail or charge.
The CSOs, in the statement, reminded the Acting Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended stipulates that anyone arrested for any offense shall not be detained beyond 24 hours or at the most 48 hours, depending on the proximity to the court.
“It is even more embarrassing that Nonso Nkwa’s arrest and continued unlawful detention by the Nigeria Police is said to be at the behest and pleasure of the governor of Imo State, Mr. Hope Uzodinma who is alleged to have accused Nonso Nkwa of defamation.
“The continued detention of Nonso Nkwa beyond the legally permissible duration without being charged is unconstitutional, reckless and irresponsible. It is a gross violation of his fundamental rights to liberty, freedom of movement, human dignity and fair hearing. It violates the principles of due process and the rule of law.
“The action of the Police is reckless and discreditable and portrays the police as an institution that is willing to lend itself as a tool of oppression and for settling personal or political scores.
“We call on the Acting Inspector General of Police, IGP Kayode Egbetokun, to redeem the Nigeria police from this disgraceful depth it has sunk into. He should order the immediate release of Nonso Nkwa, order an impartial investigation into the act of illegality and subversion of the Constitution and the rule of law – which the actions of the Police represent- and bring all those responsible to account. He should make a public pronouncement that the Nigeria Police will no longer be available to, or used by, any politician or other public officials as a tool of oppression and repression or for settling scores.”
RULAAC is gravely concerned that state governments and public officials are hiding under the cover of laws and statutes and false narratives to target and hound independent media, activists and critical voices, and stifling civic freedoms. We are even more concerned that the police who are established and employed to serve and protect the people and to serve as the guardians of civil liberties have become willing tools in the hands of oppressive public officials to harass and intimidate civic actors and advance authoritarian and repressive tactics.
These incidents highlighted above validate the findings in a research report by the Action Group on Free Civic Space (AGFCS) entitled ‘ _Shrinking Civic Space in the Name of Security_ ‘. The report, the third in a series on Security Playbook, published in February 2022 documents, as the Executive Director of Spaces for Change, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri put it, ”how the Nigerian state has used its security and counterterrorism architecture to stifle civil society, discourage active civic participation, and chill civic space’.
It describes ‘how extensively the state has used securitization to limit civil society and disenable the environment for active civic participation in Nigeria’.
It demonstrates ‘how state actors are overreaching their regulatory and law enforcement powers to crush civil liberties’.
Indeed, hiding under the ruse of law enforcement and false narratives, police and other security agencies are increasingly cracking down on journalists whose reports are critical of government policies or actions or are considered unfavourable to government officials. As can be seen from the documented cases, the Cybercrime law is one of the several laws the police frequently hide behind to crack down on journalists and activists.
Section 24 (1) of the Cyber Crime (Prohibition, Prevention) Act 2015 states, “Any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other materials through a computer system or network that is grossly offensive, pornographic or of an indecent, obscene or mincing character or causes any such message, matter to be sent or he knows to be false, to cause annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill-will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent “ is guilty of an offence upon conviction carries a greater penalty of N7m or imprisonment for a term, not more than three years or both.
Section 24 Subsection 1 of the Cybercrime Act broadly defines cyberstalking, and aggrieved persons have deployed this clause to call for the arrest of journalists and persons who released information about them even if the information is true.
The lack of a clear definition of these acts in the laws creates the opportunity for the misuse of the Act and blurs the line between freedom of expression and defamation.
It was in a bid to cure this problem that the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) filed an action before the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court seeking the nullification of Section 24 of Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act for being vague, arbitrary and unlawful.
The ECOWAS Court gave a ruling asserting that Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act is contrary to the rule of law; therefore, the Nigeria Police cannot charge anyone with cyberstalking based on the provision of Section 24.
- RULAAC calls on the Inspector General of Police to make a public pronouncement that the Nigeria Police is a police force of democracy committed to protecting human rights and operating in accordance with the highest democratic policing values and standards.
- The IGP should direct that police officers must at all times comply strictly with the directive standardizing police investigation processes which prohibits arbitrary transfer of cases from state Commands or Formations to the Force Headquarters without prior approval by the IGP
- The IGP should order the release of all persons arrested and still being detained beyond the legally permissible duration, particularly Mr. Theodore Chinonso Uba, aka Nonso Nkwa, and to halt further harassment of journalists including the Enugu journalists who are being invited to the Force Headquarters instead of allowing the Enugu State Police Command or the Force Criminal Investigation Department Annex, Enugu to investigate if there are credible allegations of any offences they may have committed.
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