Nigerian journalists, civil organisations, protest in Abuja, demand release of Daniel Ojukwu, FIJ reporter

Nigerian journalists, civil organisations, protest in Abuja, demand release of Daniel Ojukwu, FIJ reporter

Nigerian journalists and members of some Civil Society Organisation (CSOs), on Thursday, assembled at the Nigerian Police Force Headquarters in Abuja

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Nigerian journalists and members of some Civil Society Organisation (CSOs), on Thursday, assembled at the Nigerian Police Force Headquarters in Abuja to protest the continuous detention of a journalist with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), Daniel Ojukwu.

The protesters arrived at the Force Headquarters along Shehu Shagari Way at around 9 a.m., chanting solidarity songs and carrying placards, demanding the unconditional release of Mr Ojukwu who has been in police detention for more than a week.

Some of the inscriptions on the placards were “Free Daniel Ojukwu”, “Journalism is not a crime”, “Protect Human Rights”, “Respect Freedom of Expression” and “Nigeria Police, Stop Impunity

The protesters were led by the Chairperson of FIJ Board of Trustees, Bukky Shonibare; Human Rights Activist and former presidential candidate, Omoyele Sowore, and Human Rights Lawyer, Deji Adeyanju.

Police officers gathered to ensure that the protest was orderly and peaceful.

Speaking at the scene, Shonibare, who read out a statement jointly signed by some CSOs and media organisations in Nigeria, said the protest was organised to demand the unconditional release of Ojukwu, who was arrested and detained for carrying out his constitutional duties as a journalist.

Shonibare noted that Ojukwu’s arrest was unlawful, unconstitutional, immoral and should not happen in any democratic society

She expressed concern about the escalating attacks on press freedom, which she said is shrinking the Nigerian civic space.

Shonibare emphasised the critical role of a free press and public participation in upholding democracy.

The CSOs denounced the silencing of journalists and civic actors who hold power accountable, citing violations of constitutional provisions guaranteeing freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

“The mischievous interpretation and hyper-application of laws, especially the Cybercrimes Act of 2015 which has now been amended, and the abuse of power and public institutions are all draconian tactics deployed to further shrink Nigeria’s fragile civic space. These tactics have no place in a democracy, where accountability and transparency in governance are essential,” part of the statement said.

The CSOs accused state actors of “mischievous interpretation and hyper-application” of the Cybercrimes Act which has been described as the latest tool to gag the media.

They threatened that the protest would be sustained should the police fail to release the reporter.

The statement was signed by Enough is Enough Nigeria; Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO); Invictus Africa; Accountability Lab Nigeria; Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC); Global Rights; International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR); and Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID).

Others are Dataphyte; Gatefield; BudgIT Foundation; WikkiTimes; Hope Behind Bars Africa; Partners West Africa; Media Rights Agenda; International Press Centre; TheCable; Premium Times; Digicivic Initiative; the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) and BONews Service,

The Human Rights Journalism Network Nigeria (HRJN) and Kebetkache Women Development & Research Centre also endorsed the statement.

Also speaking, Sowore said the police have continued to detain the reporter even though his bail conditions had been successfully met.

The former presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) said he and other civil society leaders explored means of securing the journalist’s release, and that their meeting with senior police officers resulted in them presenting one surety.

“We presented the highest official of the NUJ in Abuja, and after verifying his property and place of work, they said they have now jacked the bail conditions to two directors who are civil servants with landed properties in Abuja,” he said.

“It is an oxymoron for somebody to ask an investigative journalist to present corrupt people that he has been investigating. Our position is that he has not committed any crime. It was the position of his employer that we should present a surety, and as of now, we are yet to get any civil servants for his bail.”

The Deputy Director, Centre for Journalism, Innovation and Development (CJID), Busola Ajibola, also called on President Bola Tinubu to promptly as proof of his administration’s respect for democracy and the rule of law.

“If you think the journalists have erred on the side of ethics, the right thing to do is to charge them in court, not abduct or detain them for days.

“It is very important for the (President) Bola Tinubu administration to respond to this issue because … one of the fundamental anchors of democracy is a free press,” she said.

Responding to the protesters’ demands, the Commissioner of Police in charge of Federal Cooperation, Vungmoh Kwaimo, said legal action would be taken to ensure justice is served both the petitioners and the detained journalist.

He said: “We have heard all your demands, this will be communicated to the appropriate authority, and I can assure you that our Inspector-General of Police will definitely take steps to ensure the liberation of Daniel Ojukwu or if it means charging him accordingly,” Kwaimo said.

The police officer, who arrived at scene of the protest at about 10 a.m., urged the demonstrators to disperse so their protest is not hijacked by hoodlums. The protesters rebuffed him.

At 10:31 a.m., the FCT Commissioner of Police, Ben Igweh, arrived at the scene and spoke to journalists.

He said as the commissioner in charge of the Federal Capital he would speak with the police authorities and ensure justice is served.

“Every Nigerian including the journalist is entitled to his rights and privileges,” Igweh said.

“I am the commissioner of the FCT. Every other office including (that of) the IGs are under me, so I can assure you that I will go there from here,” he said.

Shortly after the commissioner’s speech, Shonibare enjoined protesters to retreat from the police headquarters since the Force had promised to look into the matter

“The Police said they have heard us and they will meet with the appropriate authorities to ensure his release, let us all go to our different places,” she pleaded.

Following her plea, the protesters left the venue at about 10.45 a.m.

Ojukwu, the FIJ journalist, had gone missing last week Wednesday with his telephone number switched off and his whereabouts unknown to family, friends and colleagues.

He was later tracked to the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Panti, in Lagos, where he held incommunicado and detained for days.

However, last Sunday, the police moved the journalist to the Nigerian Police Force National Cybercrime Centre (NPF-NCCC) in Abuja, where he is currently being held.