CSOs Write IGP, Urge Him to Discontinue All Charges Filed under Repealed Section 24 of the Cybercrimes Act

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Mr. Kayode Egbetokun, Inspector-General of Police

A coalition of 22 Nigerian media and civil society groups working alongside international allies representing the Action Group on the Protection of Civic Actors has called on the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Kayode Egbetokun, to ensure that police operations align with the rule of law and uphold the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution.

Emphasizing the critical role of a free press in sustaining Nigeria’s democracy, which the coalition described as “very fragile,” the group asked the IGP “to instruct the members of the Nigerian Police Force to discontinue every charge filed under the repealed provision of Section 24 of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition) Act, 2015.”

The group noted that the provisions of section 24 of the Cybercrimes Act were “lethally implemented against journalists,” and that it was reported in several instances that the Nigeria Police charged journalists with this provision while these journalists were performing their professional duties of news reporting, especially where such news offended politicians or powerful people in the society. It cited 10 instances, both recent and in the past, where the Police arrested, detained and/or charged journalists to court under the said section.

The coalition described the provision as “undemocratic’ and having negative effect on the criminal justice system and the constitutionally protected freedom of the press following the indiscriminate and arbitrary use of this section by the police to hound journalists.

Section 24 of the Cybercrimes Act, enacted in 2015, according to the coalition, criminalized sending messages deemed grossly offensive or causing annoyance via computer systems, with severe penalties pointing out that its misuse led to multiple arrests of journalists for their professional work, particularly when it involved powerful individuals or entities.

The group reminded the police boss that ECOWAS Court’s rulings in 2018 and 2019 deemed the provision unconstitutional, resulting in its repeal. It noted that despite this, the Nigerian Police Force has continued to use the repealed law to suppress journalists.

The Action Group on the Protection of Civic Actors therefore requested the IGP to order a mass enlightenment of the members of the Force to understand that at the moment the Police lack the power to arrest, detain and prosecute Nigerian citizens for the so-called offences of ‘cyberstalking’, ”insult’, ‘causing annoyance’, ‘sending offensive messages’, and ‘criminal intimidation’ previously described under Section 24 of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition) Act, 2015.