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Segun Olatunji: Arrest, punish abductors

In what appeared to be a return to the dark era, where citizens were gagged and freedom of speech was suppressed, Nigerians recently woke to…

In what appeared to be a return to the dark era, where citizens were gagged and freedom of speech was suppressed, Nigerians recently woke to news of the disappearance of the Editor of FirstNews, Mr Segun Olatunji. It was later gathered that armed men stormed his home and whisked him away to an unknown destination.

Although there was no official statement as to the offence of the journalist, it was learnt that he had published an ‘uncomplimentary’ report about a government official.

According to his wife, who witnessed the incident, armed men stormed their home a few minutes after 6 pm of the said date in Iyana Odo, Abule Egba area of Lagos, on March 15. She added that on arrival, the abductors confiscated her husband’s telephone before shoving him into a van. She said she asked the abductors what her husband’s offence was and where they were taking him to, but no explanation was given to her.

It was also learnt that days after the incident, the Publisher of FirstNews, Mr Daniel Iworiso-Markson, as well as the editor’s colleagues and family members, were unable to reach him.

It took the leadership of the International Press Institute (IPI), the Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) to draw the attention of members of the public to the disappearance of the journalist. According to statements issued, they confronted the presidency, the Nigeria Police Force (Lagos and Abuja), the Nigerian Army, the Defence Intelligence Agency, the Ministry of Interior, the Defence Headquarters, the Office of the National Security Adviser, the Ministry of Information and National Orientation, and the State Security Services (SSS), all to no avail.

In the course of their search, the IPI later said it was able to determine that the journalist was taken, detained and tortured by the Defence Intelligence Agency in Abuja, allegedly on the orders of the Chief of Defense Intelligence (CDI), Major General Emmanuel Undiandeye.

The Nigerian National Committee of the International Press Institute (IPI Nigeria) in its statement called on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to direct the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Christopher Musa, to produce Segun Olatunji.

The NUJ and NGE also joined in the call by urging the government and relevant parties to ensure his release. It took 14 days for Mr Olatunji to regain his freedom.

After the release, a coalition of media associations and Civil Society Organisations gave the federal government 14-days ultimatum to prosecute those behind the incident.

The statement, which was signed by the President, Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) / President, Nigerian Press Organisations (NPO), Mal. Kabiru A. Yusuf; Executive Secretary, Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), Dr Yemisi Bamgbose; President, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Eze Anaba; National President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), among others, said the matter  must not be swept under the carpet.

The statement read in part: “We hereby demand a speedy, public, transparent and independent investigation into this act of barbarism displayed by military personnel as well as the brazen disregard for the constitution and the government’s obligations under relevant domestic laws and international instruments.”

It demanded that all persons within and outside the military who are found to have been connected with the unacceptable violation of the rights of the journalist and the constitution, including those who effected Mr Olatunji’s arrest, detention and torture, “those who directly commanded them, and those who ordered or instigated the action, should be prosecuted before the appropriate court and punished to the full extent of the law.”

First of all, we commend the IPI, NGE and NUJ for staying on the matter and mounting pressure on relevant persons, until the editor was released. However, it must not stop there; we urge the organisations to remain on the issue until all those involved are arrested and prosecuted.  Like the statement by the coalition of media organisations, the matter must be duly investigated and all those found guilty should face the law.  

Nigeria is an organised society and it does not make sense that someone should be picked and locked up because an official feels his feathers have been ruffled.  There are rules guiding the society which must be adhered to.

We condemn in very strong terms the abduction and detention. It is very unfortunate that we are witnessing such a situation in the 20th century in Nigeria and about 25 years after the return of democracy. Indeed, the constitution is very clear on how to seek redress in the case of libel or defamation. It must also be stated clearly that the position and duties of a journalist are recognised by the constitution and any attempt to stifle a reporter or prevent a member of the fourth estate of the realm from performing those duties amounts to violation of the law.

No one should attempt to gag journalists. This does not portray Nigeria in good light and all efforts must be made to ensure that it does not happen again.

Furthermore, we call on media practitioners not to be deterred by this incident, but should continue to hold the government to account, because it is for the good of the country. Going forward, the government must be deliberate in ensuring protection for journalists.