Judge Orders Detention of Seven Journalists in Ogun State

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Justice N.I. Agbelu of the Ota High Court ordered the arrest and detention of seven journalists at the court premises on September 17, 2015 for “invading and filming” the court premises. He said their offence was that they invaded the court premises and started filming the premises without his permission.

The journalists are members of the Correspondents’ Chapel, Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Ogun State Council. The detained journalists were Daud Olatunji(Vanguard), Samuel Awoyinfa(The Punch), Ernest Nwokolo(The Nation), Abiodun Taiwo(Daily Times) , Sulaiman Fasasi(National Pilot), Wale Adelaja(TVC) and Johnson Akinpelu(Alaroye).

The reporters were asked by the Assistant Court Registrar (ACR) a woman, to provide a letter of authority from the Chief Judge or a senior judicial officer permitting them to enter the court premises. The reporters tried to persuade the registrar that as journalists they were in the court to carry out their constitutionally guaranteed duties and therefore needed no permission from anybody but the ACR remained adamant. Having failed at all attempts to resolve the issue amicably, the ACR dashed to the judge and came back later to inform the journalists that the judge had ordered their arrest. The journalists got to know later that the registrar had misinformed the judge that they were filming the entire court premises.

According to the NUJ statement, “they were at the court for a follow up on a murder case involving a suspected land speculator, Alhaji Mutairu Owoeye, only to be ordered arrested by the presiding judge for what he described as invasion of his court by the journalists.

The Ogun state council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, has condemned the detention of seven of its members by a Judge, N.I. Agbelu of the Ota High Court. The union expressed displeasure over the matter, stressing that it was impunity of the highest order and described it as unwarranted, the detention of the journalists, who were in the court simply to carry out their constitutional duties to the society.

In a statement issued on Wednesday and jointly signed by the State Chairman of the Council, Comrade Wole Sokunbi and the Secretary, Comrade Soji Amosu, the union called on the Nigeria Judicial Commission and other relevant authorities to address the tyranny and arbitrariness which are gradually creeping into the judicial system to forestall a situation where the highly revered institution would become an object of ridicule in the eyes of the public.

The reporters were detained inside the administrative wing of the court for three hours (11:45am to 2:44pm). While in detention, one of them who was having stomach upset, almost fainted. The incidence of male judicial staff been bitten by a poisonous snake on the court premises, forced the judge to release the journalists after reprimanding them.