A group of Nigerian public commentators, intellectuals, activists and writers have urged President Muhammadu Buhari to stop the harassment of journalists and bloggers by security agencies and to respect the freedom of expression.
In a letter addressed to Mr. Buhari, the writers expressed their “deep concern over what appears to be an increase in harassment by security services of journalists going about their work.”
The letter, signed by Kadaria Ahmed, Kayode Ogundamisi, Pius Adesanmi, Sonala Olumhense, Akin Adesokan, Okey Ndibe, Moses Ochonu, Farooq Kperogi, Lola Shoneyin, Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, and Okechuckwu Nwanguma, cited recent incidents of the harassment of journalists, including founders of websites devoted to investigative reports. “Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, journalist and Publisher of Premium Times, was arrested and detained for hours yesterday following a raid on his office by plain clothes security personnel. Just last week, the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, was detained on a spurious allegation shortly after he arrived in Nigeria from the United States,” the writers stated in their letter to Mr. Buhari. They also voiced grave concern over the arrests, “including that of Abu Siddiqi and Ahmed Salkida, which have occurred since your election as Nigeria’s president.”
The protesting writers and activists reminded President Buhari that a free press “is central to democracy and its mandate as assigned in section 22 of the Nigerian constitution includes that of being watchdog on all aspects of governance while advancing democracy and promoting the building of a just and equitable society.
“We are particularly disturbed by the fact that a democratically elected government appears ready to trample all over the media when it carries out its duties as stipulated in the constitution. This document is the same one that confers legitimacy and authority on you and the office you hold.”
They pointed out that the Nigerian constitution contains provisions for libel and slander, adding that these laws were “designed to hold the press to account if they fail in their responsibility of taking care and doing their job diligently. We expect the security services, who after all are the custodians of our laws, to lead by example by respecting these laws.”
The protesting writers and activists decried “a disturbing trend that suggests not just an attempt to criminalize the important work that journalists in Nigeria do, but also a drive to frighten and cower and stop this critical constitutionally mandated work through the aggressive use of the state security apparatus.” They described the development as “an abuse of office.”
The signatories urged President Buhari to instruct Nigeria’s security services “to cease and desist from harassing and arresting journalists for carrying out their constitutional role of gathering and reporting news and information.” In other demands, they asked the president to “Insist that in cases where the police believe a crime has been committed that they respect the law and the constitution and make arrests and charge suspects to court in a timely and transparent manner that will enable the public assess the legitimacy of the charges,” and that Mr. Buhari openly declare his “belief in the importance of press freedom and commit to protecting the constitutional role of the press and the rights of Nigerians to information.”