Media Bodies, CSOs Demand Investigation into Segun Olatunji’s Detention and Prosecution of Perpetrators

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Nigerian media organisations, media associations and professional bodies, as well as civil society organisations have expressed deep concern and strong condemnation of the unlawful arrest, detention, brutalisation and torture of Mr. Segun Olatunji, Editor of FirstNews newspapers, by military personnel in response to stories published by his media outlet.

The groups through a joint statement demanded 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.

The joint statement was signed by Mal. Kabiru A. Yusuf, President, Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN)/President, Nigerian Press Organisations (NPO); Dr. Yemisi Bamgbose, Executive Secretary, Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON); Mr. Eze Anaba, President, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE); Comrade Chris Isiguzo (MFR), National President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).

Others are Ms. Maureen Chigbo, President, Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP); Mr. Musikilu Mojeed; President, International Press Institute, Nigeria Chapter (IPI Nigeria);
Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA); Mr. Lanre Arogundade,
Executive Director, International Press Centre (IPC); and Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, Director
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

Furthermore, they 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.

They also demanded that the Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI), who commands the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), Major General Emmanuel Undiandeye, who was reported to have ordered the operation that culminated in Mr. Olatunji’s abduction, torture, and detention, as well as the Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Musa, to whom the CDI reports, and was reportedly aware of the operation but joined the CDI to claim for days that the journalist was not in their custody, should be held accountable for their roles in the matter.

According to the statement, armed men wearing military uniforms and who introduced themselves as military personnel from the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Air Force and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), led by a military officer who introduced himself as Colonel Lawal, invaded Mr. Olatunji’s home in a Lagos suburb on March 15, 2024, seized Olatunji’s mobile phone, handcuffed and bundled him in one of their vehicles and flown, blindfolded to Abuja where he was kept in an underground cell for 14 days.

The statement added that Mr. Olatunji was stripped to his boxers, legs manacled, hands in cuffs, kept incommunicado and not informed of his offence or the reason for his arrest nor of his rights as required by law, as guaranteed under the Constitution, and was only released on March 29, 2024.

The groups noted Mr. Olatunji was repeatedly interrogated about stories published by FirstNews in the absence of a legal practitioner of his choice as he was not allowed to consult a lawyer. His mobile phone was also unlawfully searched by his abductors to ascertain the sources of the stories published by the news outlet.

Given the above, the groups unequivocally condemn this gestapo-like, unlawful and unconstitutional treatment of a journalist under a constitutional democracy simply for doing his job and therefore demand that:
• The Federal Government conducts a speedy, public, transparent and independent investigation into the incident in order to identify all persons within and outside the military who were connected with the violation of Mr. Olatunji’s rights;
• There should be full accountability for all those responsible. Therefore, all persons within and outside the military who are found to have been connected with the incident, 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;
• In accordance with Section 35(6) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the Federal Government should pay Mr. Olatunji substantial compensation and issue a public apology to him for the unlawful and unconstitutional violation of his rights as well as the inhuman and degrading treatment to which he was subjected; and
• The Federal Government should make an unequivocal public commitment to respect and defend the rights and freedoms of journalists and other media practitioners to carry out their professional duties in a safe and conducive environment in accordance with Sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and advise all law enforcement, security, intelligence, military and other agencies accordingly.
• Advised any member of the public, dissatisfied or feels the content in a news medium directly affects or involves him or her unfairly, to approach the National Media Complaints Commission (NMCC) (The National Media Ombudsman) for redress, rather than engage in self-help

The groups gave the Federal Government a 14-day ultimatum to respond to all their demands failure of which they said would be to explore all available mechanisms at the national, regional, and international levels to ensure compliance with their demands.