On February 25, 2023, Mr. Haruna Mohammed Salisu, the publisher of WikkiTimes, an online media outfit, was arrested and detained at the Police Criminal Investigation Department in Bauchi for alleged disturbance of public peace and attempt to blackmail the Bauchi State Governor, Mr. Bala Mohammed. He was subsequently charged to court and remanded in custody.
Haruna was arrested in Duguri, the hometown of the governor while interviewing and recording some aggrieved women who were protesting their inability to get employment after they had submitted their resumes at different quarters, saying they would not participate in the presidential election. He was taken to the Police Criminal Investigation Department where he was detained before his arraignment.
The publisher was arraigned before Ahmed Musa, Chief Magistrate in charge of Court three in Bauchi on February 28. The Chief Magistrate ordered him to be remanded at the Correctional Centre in Bauchi and adjourned the matter to March 1 for hearing and to rule on bail,
The Commissioner of Police, who was the complainant, accused Haruna of hiring some women to incite disturbance of public peace by instigating them to make utterances that would prejudice the peace and well-being of the intended voters at the polling unit in Duguri ward of Alkaleri Local Council and to blackmail the incumbent governor in his ward contrary to section 114 of the Penal Code.
Haruna denied all the charges when they were read to him.
His Counsel, S.G Idrees sought his bail, but a counsel from the Ministry of Justice, Haruna Mohammed, informed the court that the Ministry of Justice would like to take over the case from the Police and continue with the case as contained in the 1999 Constitution.
The court granted him bail on the following conditions: Haruna is release on Bail on the following conditions: a bail bond of 500,000.00; two sureties, one of who must be a Civil Servant not below the rank of Director and the second surety must be his District Head.
He was granted bail on March 2 after he met the bail conditions.
Narrating his experience, Mr. Salisu said he originally planned to cover the elections in the northern part of the state but for ease of movement, he had to join the Bauchi correspondents’ chapel of journalists to cover Bauchi South, including Alkaleri local government, which is the hometown of the governor.
He noted that although he had covered several elections in Nigeria, and he was aware of the dangers that came with covering political events, especially with the limited freedom of the press in Nigeria, nothing could have prepared him for the incident that occurred.
Mr. Salisu said on arriving at the venue of the elections, he joined other journalists to interview Mr. Mohammed in his hometown in Duguri where he cast his vote. Then as they moved around to observe and interview voters, they came across a group of women who were murmuring and complaining. He became curious and approached them to find out the cause of their agitation. Seeing his press badge, one of the women called out, “Muna da korafi” which means “We have a complaint to make.” He then asked what their complaint was, and they crowded around him taking turns to express their grievances.
He stated that many of the younger women among the protesters complained that despite graduating from colleges for years and submitting their resumes to individuals close to the governor who hailed from their community, they had been unable to secure employment. Others said the governor never kept his promise of better lives for them after four years of being in office, and as a result, they had decided not to vote.
He added that as soon as the interview ended, a group of the governor’s supporters attacked him and tried to grab his phone which he used for the video recording. They accused him of attempting to embarrass the governor by filming protesters in his hometown. He tried to convince them that he had no intention of undermining the governor. He went his way believing that the issue had been resolved, but unknown to him, the governor’s security aides had already been alerted about his interviews with the protesters.
According to Mr. Salisu, one of the security aides with the governor came to him and forcefully took his phone, ordering him to unlock it so he could have access to the footage. He then dragged him towards the governor and warned him that he would have to explain why he was attempting to shame the governor in his hometown.
Despite his explanation that he was merely trying to understand what the anger of the women was, the officer refused to listen. He took his phone into the room where the governor was, and he was questioned by other security personnel. While the interrogation was going on, the governor’s supporters (thugs) returned and began to assault him before the police whisked him away.
Haruna said: “While all this was happening, I couldn’t help but question my offence. I had committed no crime but simply carried out my duty as a journalist by documenting the events of the day and giving a voice to citizens with the right to complaints. But Governor Bala Mohammed instead saw me as a threat to his power and government.”
“The governor, I was informed, believed that I was hired by the opposition party to undermine him, the same opposition that has accused WikkiTimes, my media organization, of being used by Governor Bala Mohammed’s government to attack them. Despite these accusations from both sides, neither the opposition nor the government has been able to provide any evidence to support their claims.” He stated.
He was later escorted to a nearby station by the police where he was held in custody for several hours before being transferred to Bauchi Police Command. He was detained for three days and remanded in the Bauchi prison for another two days.
He said his experience in detention was a reminder of how vulnerable journalists are in Nigeria, adding, the experience traumatised him, and separated him from loved ones including his mother who fell ill and wept endlessly for days.
He cited Governor’s Bala Mohammed continued attack on his critics as a representation of anti-democracy which is characterised by an unparalleled level of intolerance for opposing voices. Haruna disclosed that over the last three years, the governor has ordered the arrest of his critics, who talk about his poor performance in office as well as the detention of people who criticise him on social media. He also threatened to ex-communicate a Daily Trust reporter who asked a critical question during a public event.
Haruna pointed out that those that have been arrested and detained on the governor’s orders were denied their right to a fair trial and held in custody for extended periods without being charged.
Such actions according to him, are gross violations of the Nigerian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and expression.
“When citizens are afraid to express their opinions freely due to the threat of arrest and detention, democracy suffers. It is disheartening to see a former journalist like Governor Mohammed serially gag the press.” He said.
The publisher stated that since the incident, Governor Bala Mohammed has launched a smear campaign against WikkiTimes and its journalism, relying on the falsehood sold to him by his footlings, claiming that he sponsored the women who protested against him.
The police investigation into the matter found no evidence to support the governor’s claims that Mr. Salisu had sponsored the protests. The video footage he took also did not show any evidence of him paying the women to protest against the governor, nor was any of his aides able to produce any video of him hiring the women to protest.