A group of journalists, writers and public figures – all of whom campaigned for the All Progressives Congress, APC and the former military dictator during the 2015 elections – has penned an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari over the harassment of journalists by security services.
They cited the two recent examples involving Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of SaharaReporters, who was detained last week, and Dapo Olunroyomi, the publisher of Premium Times, who was arrested and detained for hours on Thursday, January 19, 2017 by the police after a raid was carried out on the head office of his paper.
Both SaharaReporters and Premium Times are partisan and openly supported the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari during the 2015 campaigns and during his presidency. These papers have mostly turned a blind-eye to the human rights abuses and genocide of the Buhari regime and openly endorsed the violation of human rights of Nigerians by the brutal regime. At various times, they have served as mouthpieces for the Buhari regime and played a central role in the extra-judicial media trials of Nigerians under the Buhari dictatorship.
“We are particularly disturbed by the fact that a democratically elected government appears read to trample all over the media when it carries out its duties as stipulated in the constitution. This document is the same one that confers legitimacy and authority on you and the office you hold,” the letter, dated January 20, 2017 said.
Among those who signed the open letter are Kadaria Ahmed, Kayode Ogundamisi, Professor Pius Adesanmi, Sonala Olumhense, Peter Nkanga, Professor Okey Ndibe, Moses Ochonu, Farouk Kerogi, Lola Shoneyin, Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, and Okey Nwagunma.
They asked Buhari to instruct security services to desist from harassing journalists who were carrying out their duties and that in cases where the police believes a crime has been committed, they should “make arrests and charge suspects to court in a timely and transparent manner that will enable the public assess the legitimacy of the charges.”
The full letter is republished below:
Dear President Muhammadu Buhari,
We are writing to express our deep concern over what appears to be an increase in harassment by security services of journalists going about their work.
Dapo Olunroyomi, journalist and publisher of Premium Times was arrested and detained for hours yesterday following a raid on his office by plainclothes security personnel. Just last week, the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, was detained on a spurious allegation shortly after he arrived in Nigeria from the United States.
We view these arrests as well as several others including that of Abu Siddiqi and Ahmed Salkida, which have occurred since your election as Nigeria’s president, with grave concern.
A free press is central to democracy and its mandate as assigned in section 22 of the Nigerian constitution includes that of being watchdog on all aspects of governance while advancing democracy and promoting the building of a just and equitable society.
We are particularly disturbed by the fact that a democratically elected government appears ready to trample all over the media when it carries out its duties as stipulated in the constitution. This document is the same one that confers legitimacy and authority on you and the office you hold.
In this same constitution, which is so central and should guide all that we do, provisions exist for libel and slander; laws designed to hold the press to account if they fail in their responsibility of taking care and doing their job diligently. We expect the security services, who after all are the custodians of our laws, to lead by example by respecting these laws.
Instead, what we see is a disturbing trend that suggests not just an attempt to criminalise the important work that journalists in Nigeria do, but also a drive to frighten and cower and stop this critical constitutionally mandated work through the aggressive use of the state security apparatus. We view this as an abuse of office.
We the undersigned therefore call on you (President Muhammadu Buhari) to:
a. Give instructions to security services to cease and desist from harassing and arresting journalists for carrying out their constitutional role of gathering and reporting news and information.
b. Insist that in cases where the police believe a crime has been committed that they respect the law and the constitution and make arrests and charge suspects to court in a timely and transparent manner that will enable the public assess the legitimacy of the charges.
c. Publicly reaffirm your belief in the importance of press freedom and commit to protecting the constitutional role of the press and the rights of Nigerians to information.