Tuesday, April 9, 2013: Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today condemned Monday’s detention without charge of four media workers with the Leadership newspaper by the Nigeria Police in Abuja over stories published by the newspaper last week.
MRA called on the Federal Government to put a leash on its rampaging law enforcement agents as it has nothing to gain but everything to lose by projecting to the international community and its citizens an image of a lawless government which muzzles the media.
The media workers detained by the Police, according to a statement by the Group Managing Director of the Leadership Newspaper Group, Mr. Azubuike Ishiekwene, are Mrs. Chinyere Fred-Adebulugbe, the Director of Human Capital; Mr. Chuks Ohuegbe, the Managing Editor; Mr. Tony Amokeodo, the Group News Editor; and Mr. Chibuzor Ukaibe, a Political Reporter.
Their detention is the culmination of a series of acts of harassment and intimidation launched by the Police against the newspaper following its publication on April 3 a story titled “Outrage Trail Presidential Directive on Tinubu, APC” and the full text of the presidential directive in bromide on April 4, with the caption “Bromide of the Presidential Directive.”
Mr. Ishiekwene had earlier issued a statement on April 7, in which he reported that the police had besieged the offices of the Leadership newspapers group since the publications and also announced that the newspaper had received a letter from the Police inviting three of its reporters to report to the Police next day, April 8.
In the letter dated April 7, 2013 with reference number CR:3000/X/FHQ/ABJ/VOL. 49/34 and titled “Investigation Activities: Police Invitation”, the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge of the ‘D’ Department of the Nigeria Police told the Chairman of Leadership newspapers that the attention of three reporters, namely Mr. Amokeodo, Mr. Ukaibe and Ms Taiwo Ogunmola-Omilani, was required to “interview the Deputy Inspector General of Police ‘D’ department (FCID) on Monday, 08th April, 2013 at 1000hrs.”
Mr. Amokeodo and Mr. Ukaibe, accompanied by some senior officials of the newspaper, honoured the invitation on April 8, but the third reporter, Ms Ogunmola-Omilani, could not honour the invitation because she based in Lagos and could not make it to Abuja early enough to join her colleagues.
According to Mr. Ishiekwene’s statement, Mrs. Fred-Adegbulugbe, who is also a former Sunday Editor for Leadership newspaper and who led the journalists, said: “After the journalists finished writing statements, DIG Peter Gana suddenly excused himself on a call from IGP Mohammed Abubakar. We were later told that we would not be allowed to leave except if we produced the source of the story. It was clear that this was not the call of the police. It is from President Goodluck Jonathan.”
MRA said it was ironic that a government which is quite weak in virtually every other respect where it needs to be strong and decisive has chosen to show strength in entirely the wrong area – in clamping down on the media.
Saying that it was clear from the circumstances that the media workers are not being held for the commission of any crime but in an effort to force them to reveal their source, MRA called on the Police to charge them to court if it had any case against them and if not, to release them immediately.
MRA’s Deputy Executive Director, Ms Jennifer Onyejekwe, said: “It is totally wrong for the Police to hold the journalists hostage as a strategy for extracting their source for the information that was published”
Ms Onyejekwe argued that journalists depend on their sources in order to inform the public and that their ability to do so would be compromised if they are forced to reveal confidential sources. Besides, she said, the independence of journalists will be compromised if their sources and professional materials are made available to the police.
She noted that journalists have a duty to protect confidential sources as part of the framework for the protection of whistleblowers; defending the public’s right to know; and ensuring access to information, stressing that it is in any event, part of the professional standards and ethics of the journalism profession for journalists to protect their sources of information
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