The Coalition for Whistleblower Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF) has condemned the growing trend of attacks on journalists and media houses which have published investigative reports about corruption allegedly perpetrated by government officials, saying “It is a dangerous trend that threatens the vibrancy of the country’s media and its democracy.”
In a statement issued on December 13, 2021 the Coalition condemned the arrest and detention of Mr. Fisayo Soyombo, the Founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) by the Monitoring Unit of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Police Force Headquarters in Abuja.
Fisayo was detained over an investigative report, which exposed corruption in the management of over N1 billion appropriated for building transit camps for police officers across the country. He was released on bail after over six hours in police detention while investigations into alleged charges of “criminal defamation and cyber stalking” against him have been postponed to mid – January, when he might be re-invited for questioning.
The allegations of criminal defamation and cyber stalking were made by Joseph Egbunike, an Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) who was fingered in FIJ’s report as the arrowhead of the alleged misappropriation of over N1 billion for police transit camp projects in Benue, Bauchi, Plateau, Katsina and Kano State, when he was Commissioner of Police in charge of Budget and Finance.
CWPPF said: “It is, indeed, shocking that the Nigeria Police, the institution called to account in the investigative report, and its leadership, would be more interested in defending an officer fingered in a corruption allegation instead of investigating the allegations against him. In arresting and claiming to be investigating a case of criminal defamation and cyber stalking against Soyombo, the Police wants to play the ignoble role of being a judge in its own case.”
The Coalition added: “It is equally shocking that the Government of President Muhammadu Buhari, which came to power ostensibly to rid the country of corruption, is condoning such abuse of state power and resources by those accused of corruption to victimize media practitioners who are performing their constitutional duty of upholding the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people. It is particularly astounding that the police authorities have chosen to abuse their powers by using strong arm tactics against the media when the police officer alleged to be complicit in a monumental act of corruption has offered no exculpatory evidence or explanation in rebuttal of the allegations made against him.”
CWPPF noted that sadly, Fisayo’s is not an isolated case saying for over four months now, another public official, Dr. Rufus Egbegba, the Director General of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) attempted to use institutions of the state to intimidate and harass the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) and its journalists for a report on contract inflation at the agency. The Coaliti0on said Dr. Egbegba used the Police Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID), Department of State Security (DSS), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (Office of the Federal Director of Public Prosecution,) to threaten, intimidate and harass ICIR reporter, Niyi Oyedeji and its Editor, Ajibola Amzat, just for doing their work.
Citing another instance, the Coalition said Lukas Binniyat was arrested by the Kaduna State Command Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for the publication of a story about the massacre of innocent citizens in southern Kaduna. Mr. Samuel Aruwan, the commissioner of Home Affairs and Internal Security, had reported to the police claiming a part of the report indicts him leading to the arrest of the journalist.
CWPPF said: “These recurring arrests and harassment of Nigerian journalists by state actors is an indicator of the unwillingness of the government to accept and appreciate the role of media in a democracy.”
The Coalition said it sees “the work of the news media, particularly investigative journalists, who expose corruption by state institutions and officials, as complementary to the Federal Government’s publicly stated policy of noble fighting against corruption.”
Saying in exposing corruption in government, the media is playing its constitutional role of holding the government and public office holders to account on behalf of the people, CWPPF noted that for this reason, the Federal Government should see the news media as partners and not adversaries, through support and protection to effectively play its accountability role.
It pointed out that allowing government officials accused of corruption to use state power and resources as shields from scrutiny, amounts to undermining the government’s credibility and supposed anti-corruption war.
CWPPF therefore called on the Federal Government “to take measures to put an end to these attacks on the critical media and protect journalists from corrupt government officials who have been exposed by journalists through their investigative reporting.”
It warned that if allowed to continue, this trend of public officials attacking journalists for their critical reporting, will embolden others and would soon pose a really grave danger to journalism practice and freedom of the press in Nigeria, which are very critical pillars in building and sustaining democracy in any society. In fact, this trend, if not immediately checked, will pose a very serious risk to Nigeria’s fledgling democracy.
The CWPPF is comprised of the following organisations: Premium Times, OrderPaper Advocacy Initiative, The Cable, Daily Trust Newspapers, International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), and Civic Media Lab.
Other organisations in the Coalition are Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), International Press Centre (IPC), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Paradigm Initiative, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and HEDA Resources Centre.