Northern Nigerian Breaking News

From Segun Olatunji to Dadiyata: How Nigerian authorities continue to gag press freedom 

On Thursday morning, the editor of FirstNews Online Newspaper, Segun Olatunji, regained his freedom after spending 12 days in military custody. Gunmen in military uniform had invaded Olatunji’s residence at Iyana Odo, Abule Egba area of Lagos State, on March 15, 2024, and whisked him away.

While the journalist’s family did not receive any communication from the military, the management of the media platform linked the incident to stories published by FirstNews. 

The first report is titled, ‘Revealed: Defence Chief Running Office Like a family business – Public Interest Lawyers.’ The second report, titled, “EXCLUSIVE: How contractor company stole N100bn, laundered funds for top govt officials – Investigation,’ was later pulled down by the medium.

Until the latest revelation, the editor’s whereabouts or his abductors were unknown. Olatunji’s experience adds to the dozens of press attacks that Nigeria, Africa’s largest country, witnesses annually.

Over four years after Abubakar Idris, who is better known as Dadiyata, a social media critic, popular for his frequent criticism of the Nigerian government and his policies, was abducted in Kaduna State, he is yet to be found.

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Dadiyata has been missing since August 1, 2019, when unidentified men whisked him away from his residence in Barnawa neighborhood of Kaduna State. They took him away in his BMW car.

READ ALSO: JUST IN: After 12 days in captivity, military releases detained newspaper editor

Suspected to have been arrested by agents of the dreadful State Security Service (SSS), his wife, Haneefa, sued the Nigeria’s secret in Kaduna command, the Commissioner of Police, and the state government, seeking the “unconditional release” of her husband and payment of the sum of ₦50 million in damages. But both the SSS and Police denied arresting Dadiyata, causing the family members to continue to live in palpable fear. 

While Dadiyata’s mother lost her life as a result of depression that followed the abduction of his son, his father, Danjuma Yaro recently told Amnesty International that he feels bitterness, constant worry, and sadness about his missing child. His brother, Usman Idris also said the family is suffering as a result of the absence of their breadwinner.

Like Dadiyata, many known critics of the Nigerian government on social media  have experienced harassment, arrest, and threats to their lives. In fact, some months before Dadiyata’s case, the officers of the Nigerian police in Kaduna arrested Steven Kefason, a journalist and critic of the government. They subsequently detained him for 162 days over a Facebook post. Though he was not tortured while in detention, Kefason said life in the prison was “brutish”.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: Why Nigerian military released terrorism suspects to Borno govt 

Arrested in 2020, Babatunde Olusola, an orphan and final year student of  Chemical Engineering of Ladoke Akintola University (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, Oyo State, was held in detention for 81 days at Police Force Criminal Investigation Department in Abuja after he was arrested for creating a parody Twitter account ex-president Goodluck Jonathan to criticise the government.

Similarly, in May 2021, Sunday Egena Odeh, a state house correspondent of People’s Daily, an Abuja-based newspaper, was arrested by officers of the Nigeria Police Force on the orders of the Benue state government for criticising ex-governor Samuel Ortom, on Facebook over the way he handled a communal conflict in the state. It took the joint efforts of media rights groups before he regained his freedom on the same day.

In November 2022, a final-year student of Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa State, Aminu Muhammad, was apprehended for criticising former Nigeria’s first lady, Aisha Buhari on Twitter. The 23-year-old Aminu, from Bauchi State, was taken away around 12 noon by operatives of the Department of State Service (DSS).

He criticised the first lady during a time when students were idle at home as a result of months-long industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Though arraigned in court, Aisha Buhari withdrew the case against Aminu Muhammad a month later. 

Also, a journalist who works for a Katsina-based Hausa language television station, Tambari Hausa TV, Rukayya Aliyu – Jibia alleged that her life was in danger after an altercation with the police in May 2023. She said she was arrested for criticising the police public parade of four girls allegedly arrested for prostitution on her personal Tiktok account. In another incident that occurred in July 2023, a popular broadcast journalist, Chinonso Uba, otherwise known as Nonso Nkwa, was whisked away by police officers after he finished anchoring his morning programme on Ozisa FM, a radio station in Owerri, Imo State.

The journalist who initially resisted arrest, expressing fears that he might be killed by the officers, is known to be critical of the administration of Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State.

Even recently, a businessman and social critic of the Nigerian government, Mahdi Shehu, was arrested and detained by the police in Abuja for calling on President Bola Tinubu to probe former President Muhammadu Buhari and some of his top officials.

His arrest came 24 hours after through his verified X (formerly twitter) handle, accused some of Buhari government top officials of sponsoring a campaign of calumny against the special investigator appointed by President Tinubu to investigate the tenure of Godwin Emefiele, ex-governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. He was, however, released after ten days in the custody of the police. 

While Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that  guarantees the right to freedom of expression says “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impact ideas and information without interference,” the government of Nigeria has on several occasions launches campaign to suppress this right through the various attempts to regulate social media.

In 2019, Nigerian authorities introduced an anti-social media bill at the National Assembly. The proposed legislation officially called the “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill” would allow the government to cut off internet access or block specific social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter at its own discretion. “The law enforcement department may direct the NCC [Nigerian Communications Commission] to order the Internet access service provider to disable access by users in Nigeria to the online location and the NCC must give the Internet access service provider access blocking order,” it says. 

Although the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in 2023, urged the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, and the Speaker, Tajudeen Abbas, to reject the social media regulation bill, noting that the passage of the bill would unduly restrict the rights to freedom of expression and privacy, the Femi Gbajabiamila, chief of staff to President Bola Tinubu, insists that social media must be regulated. 

Already, the controversial Cybercrime Act which was passed into law in 2015, has many provisions that violate the constitutional provision of the right to freedom of expression and popular journalists that have been illegally detained by the law include Luka Binniyat, Jones Abiri, and Agba Jalingo. Section 24 of the cybercrime law violates the rights to freedom of expression, information and other rights of human rights defenders, activists, bloggers, journalists, broadcasters and social media users through the repressive use, interpretation and by agents of the government. 

READ ALSO: World Press Freedom Day: I’ve protected rights of journalists for eight years- Buhari

Interestingly, the ECOWAS Court of Justice in March 2022, ordered the Nigerian government to amend the controversial section which is widely viewed as authorities’ weapon for muzzling citizens’ rights to freedom of expression. The court held that the provision is not in conformity with Articles 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Security agents and state officials must put an end to arbitrary arrests of social media critics and release those held in detention for holding power accountable.


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