The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Civil Rights Congress (CRC) have condemned the arrest and detention of two journalists by operatives of the State Security Service (SSS).
Messrs. Aliyu Saleh and Musa Muhammad Awwal, reporters with Al-Mizan, a weekly Hausa-language paper were on December 24, 2012 arrested at their homes in Rigasa in Kaduna State in a pre-dawn raid by about 40 armed security men. Their cell phones and unspecified amounts of money were seized from them. They were later taken to the SSS headquarters in Abuja where they were detained till January 1, 2013.
Mr. Ibrahim Musa, Editor-in-Chief of the paper went into hiding after he missed being arrested following a similar raid at his home later in the day. His home was searched and his laptop and an internet modem were taken away.
The Kaduna State Chapter of the NUJ, in a statement by its Chairman, Comrade Yusuf Idris, described the actions of the security agencies as clandestine, primitive and unwarranted. He said: “There are more civilised and acceptable standards of carrying out investigations. This method of attacking journalists and beating up their wives in their homes before they are taken away is unacceptable.”
The NUJ asked the security agencies to produce the two journalists unharmed and adopt acceptable standards of investigating alleged crimes. The Union reminded the agencies that the right and proper thing to do was to take the matter to court for subsequent action
Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, Chairman of the NHRC, in a public statement issued on December 29, 2012, said the SSS should arraign the journalists if investigations have disclosed their complicity in any crime or release them promptly adding that the “SSS and other security agencies in Nigeria are obligated to comply with the Constitution.”
Dr. Odinkalu said in the interim, the SSS should allow the journalists access to their families, medical attention or legal representatives.
Dr. Odinkalu stressed that under the Constitution, any detention beyond 48 hours must be authorized by a court. Citing Sections 35(4)-(5) of the Constitution he said any person arrested by security agencies should be arraigned no later than 48 hours and that such persons may be arraigned within “such longer period as in the circumstances that may be considered by the court to be reasonable.”
Dr. Odinkalu noted that the “constitution also requires humane treatment of detainees and suspects” and that the continued detention of the journalists without information on their whereabouts is unconstitutional.
Dr. Odinkalu said the detention of the journalists without information about the crimes they are suspected of, if any, is also not constitutional as is their continued detention without information on the conditions of their detention.
Also speaking on the arrest and detention of the two journalists, Mallam Shehu Sani, President of CRC, a Kaduna-based NGO, expressed concern over the continued detention of Musa Muhammed Awwal and Aliyu Saleh.
He accused President Jonathan’s Administration of gradually declaring war against journalists in Nigeria. He condemned the onslaught against the Al-Mizan newspaper as “an affront against our democratic values” and described it as “an ugly stain on the nation’s image and the credibility of the government.”
Mallam Sani said: “When a government has turned its war machinery to the media, it has lost its honour to govern and make claim to its democratic mandate.”
The human rights activist emphasised that “No democracy can thrive with an officially sanctioned hostility to the media,” saying that “Freedom of expression and of the media is an indispensable ingredient of a free society.”
Mallam Sani reminded the administration that the responsibility of security agents to fight terror should not “be done at the expense of our fundamental and democratic rights.”