By Chika Otuchikere and Abiodun Oluwarotimi
Leadership, Thursday, April 9, 2013
The Goodluck Jonathan administration yesterday came down hard on the media: it arrested and detained some senior journalists working for LEADERSHIP, in a move seen as coming from an “oga at the top”.
The four journalists — Mrs Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe, former editor of the LEADERSHIP Sunday, now executive director, human capital; Mr Chuks Ohuegbe, managing editor; Mr. Tony Amokeodo, group news editor; and Mr Chibuzor Ukaibe, political reporter — were summoned to the Force Headquarters following a story this newspaper published on a “presidential directive” to attack key opposition political parties’ leaders.
LEADERSHIP learnt that, after the senior editors had written their statements as demanded by the police, they were told that they would not be released until they disclosed the source of the said story. The presidency has been having sleepless nights over the story which unravelled an alleged presidential directive targeting the opposition as well as a plan to increase the pump price of fuel.
Prior to the arrest and detention of the four journalists, officers from the Force Headquarters had been visiting the newspaper’s corporate office and demanding for the reporters of the story. They gave the impression that they only wanted to find out the source of the story, a directive, they averred, came from the presidency.
As at 7pm, the four detainees who were arrested around 10am were yet to be released on bail, even when police spokesperson CSO Frank Mba promised that they would be allowed to go.
Around 7.45pm two of the detainees, Fred-Adegbulugbe and Ohuegbe, were released while Amokeodo and Ukaibe were driven out of the Force Headquarter to an unknown destination. Every attempt made to speak with the duo failed as the police had seized their handsets.
However, sources told LEADERSHIP that Mr. Amokeodo and Ukaibe were taken to the police tracking unit, an underground detention centre at the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) in Area 10 of the FCT.
Mba, who insisted that the journalists would be released, said he had contacted members of the police investigative team and that they had assured him that the detainees would be released last night.
He however did not state categorically when they would be let off the hook eventually, when it was obvious that it was getting late for investigative activities.
Meanwhile, the management of LEADERSHIP, in a statement last night, demanded the immediate release of the journalists, insisting that if they had run foul of the law they should be taken to court.
A part of the statement signed by LEADERSHIP Group’s managing director Mr Azubuike Ishiekwene at 7.30pm reads: “Four journalists with LEADERSHIP Newspapers have been detained at the Force Headquarters, Abuja, on the orders of President Goodluck Jonathan.
“The journalists — Mrs Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe, Mr Tony Amokeodo, Mr Chibuzor Ukaibe, and Mr Chuks Ohuegbe — had reported at the Force Headquarters on Monday morning to honour an invitation by the police.
“The director, human capital, and former LEADERSHIP Sunday editor, Mrs. Fred-Adegbulugbe, 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 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.
“We told them that it would be unethical to disclose our source and asked them to charge us to court, if they wanted. They said they wanted to have the document. We said the bromide had been published and wondered why they were making such a fuss, since they said the document was a work of fiction.
“They have made it clear that we would not be released except we gave them the document. We couldn’t get out. I was escorted to use the toilet after begging.
“This is a calculated and brazen affront on press freedom; we are bereft that a supposedly elected government will come this low.
“We demand the unconditional and immediate release of our journalists – Mrs. Chinyere Fred-Adebulugbe (director, human capital), Chuks Ohuegbe (managing editor), Tony Amokeodo (group news editor), and Chibuzor Ukaibe (political reporter).
“President Jonathan and his handlers need to tell Nigerians and the civilised world why they have suddenly moved from describing the document as ‘fiction’ to a do-or-die obsession with knowing the source; they need to tell Nigerians, most of whom now live in mortal fear of their personal safety and security, if clamping down on the press has now become a priority sport.
“On our part, we wish to restate our resolve to continue to hold the government to account as enshrined in Chapter 22 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and to remain resolute in championing the cause of press freedom and the right of the people to know.
“We stand by our story and will neither be cowed nor intimidated by the strong-arm tactics of President Jonathan nor by the puerile attempts by his spokesmen -- Dr Doyin Okupe and Dr Reuben Abati – to tarnish our report.”
NUJ, Editors, HURIWA condemn arrest
The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has condemned yesterday’s arrest and detention of four journalists on the stable of LEADERSHIP Newspaper group on the orders of President Goodluck Jonathan.
In a statement by its President, Mr. Femi Adesina, the Guild faulted the government’s turnaround to detain the LEADERSHIP Four after honouring an invitation by the police over a report published by the newspaper last week.
Also, President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Malam Muhammad Garba, has called on the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, and relevant authorities to release the journalists held in police custody in line with the provisions of theS Constitution.
Garba said the NUJ was surprised at the arrest of the four journalists yesterday by the Force Headquarters, but shocked when two of them, were released and the two other were taken to undisclosed location.
The NUJ president described the arrest as “an attempt by the Nigerian government to muscle the Press and prevent it from carrying out its constitutional duty of ensuring good governance and justice in the country.”
He added that the detained journalists should be released immediately and given their fundamental freedom, saying if the government was aggrieved by the alleged publication, “it should follow due process to seek redress rather than harass journalists who were merely discharging their constitutional duty.”
And, Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has asked the Federal Government to go to court if it has any case against the Leadership Newspaper, rather than resorting to crude tactics of self-help by harassing the organisation and its staff.
In a statement by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko and National Media Affairs Director, Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA said “rather than harassing the media organization and its staff, the police should concentrate their energy on restoring peace and security in the country as well as focus its attention on how to regain the respect of Nigerians.
“The media has the independent constitutional mandate to inform, educate, and entertain Nigerians and if in the event of carrying out these functions the practitioners are presumed to have erred, then the law enforcement officials must respect the due process of the law and use civilize approach to gather their body of evidence if they are convinced that what the media wrote was false and/or malicious.”
The NGE wrote:“The Presidency has faulted the report, in which the newspaper claimed (accompanied by the alleged bromide of an official document) that there was an official directive to deal with certain political figures in the country, who were opposed in one way or the other to the government of the day. LEADERSHIP Newspaper, however, responded to the rebuttal, saying it stood by its story.
“When such a development occurs, as it will inevitably happen in a vibrant and virile polity like ours, we expect the security agencies to scrupulously investigate the issues at stake, while being mindful of the fact that we run a democracy, with freedom of the press enshrined in our Constitution.”
The Guild warned: “No government that lays claims to democratic credentials can afford to be at loggerheads with the Press, which is a worthy ally in any robust democracy, as we seek to become. Yes LEADERSHIP Newspaper and its staffers can be investigated for any tendentious report, but this can, and should be done without the scaremongering tactic of clamping journalists into detention, after inviting them to Force Headquarters, where they had reported without any form of resistance…The law has not empower any agency of government to determine guilt in any form. Only the courts can.”
The NGE therefore, demanded “that the journalists be released, as they will in no way stand in the path of dutiful investigation by the security agencies.”