THERE was outrage yesterday over the detention of editors of Vintage Press Limited, publishers of The Nation, over the publication of a letter from former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan.
Four editors of the newspaper and three other employees were arrested by the police at the Lagos and Abuja offices of the organisation on Tuesday and detained.
Deputy Editor Lawal Ogienagbon and News Editor of the weekend titles Dayo Olufade were detained at Force CID, Alagbon, Lagos while the Managing Editor, Northern Operations, Yusuf Ali and Abuja Bureau Chief Yomi Odunuga were detained at the Abuja Force Headquarters.
Also detained were Labour correspondent, Mrs Dupe Olaoye-Oshinkolu, Legal Editor John Unachukwu and Chief Security Officer (CSO), Jide Adegbuyi.
All but Alli were released last night after police interrogation and search of their homes and offices.
Notable individuals and organisations have condemned the raid on The Nation.
The detention of its editors was criticised by the Newspapers Proprietor Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the International Press Institute (IPI), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and Amnesty International (AI) among others.
The NGE berated the Police for taking Nigeria’s rating down by a few notches.
It condemned what it called ‘proxy arrest’ of Ogienagbon, Olufade, Alli and Odunuga. They were arrested in lieu of the Managing Director/Editor-in-chief, Mr Victor Ifijeh and Editor Gbenga Omotoso, General Editor, Kunle Fagbemi, Deputy Editor News Adesina Adeniyi, Group Political Editor, Bolade Omonijo, Managing Editor, Waheed Odushile and Administration Manager Folake Adeoye.
A statement by NGE president, Mr Gbenga Adefaye said: “Those who came to effect the arrest were kitted in anti-human trafficking kits.
The drama was irreverent, irrelevant and unnecessary because the law has set out the due process for taking in anyone who has infracted against it.
“In this case, we are not aware that the editors of The Nation newspaper shunned any formal invitation to them with contempt. Those editors, who were invited in Abuja, honored the invitation with dignity and respect to the authority.
“The Attorney-General of the Federation must share blame for the Police misstep in these matters: he ought to have advised the action agency – the Police on the letters of the law which is specific on who is responsible for the content of a newspaper.
“The law does not allow for proxy arrest, which was the past time of dictatorial military regimes. We are 12 years into democratic rule where the rule of law is paramount, where due process, no matter how slow, is compulsory, where self help must be prevented.
“The Nigerian Guild of Editors demands that the arrested and detained editors be released forthwith while the police should follow due process in the discharge of its duties. Anticipatory arrest without a show of court certified warrant is unlawful and oppressive.
“It is an atavistic recline into the cave. Keeping the arrested editors beyond 24 hours without being charged to court is unlawful.
“Nigeria has moved beyond such frontiers and the police is expected to know their limit within the law.
“The place to establish criminality is in the court of law and no one should undermine the due process, in a way to diminish our country in the comity of the civilized nations.”
The NPAN statement expressed grave concern at the police invasion of Tuesday, October 11, 2011, of the Lagos and Abuja offices of The Nation.
The body’s president, Nduka Obaigbena said: “The NPAN said the police action was unhelpful to the atmosphere of free -flow of information being engendered by the historic signing into law, of the Freedom of Information Act , by President Goodluck Jonathan, on May 28, 2011.
“To say that the police action is a set back would be an understatement as it undermines the constitutional right of Nigerians to a free press. At this time when all hands should be on deck to help the police and other security agencies deal with our unprecedented security challenges, pursuing journalists and newspaper houses, instead of terrorists, could only be a major distraction.”
Reacting through a statement by its spokesman, Alison Bethel McKenzie, IPI said: “We are appalled to hear that the police would simply raid the offices of The Nation and start arresting journalists.”
“We are even more appalled that, over 24 hours later, the journalists remain in custody and have not been charged, which is a violation of their rights. Unless police have concrete evidence to prove that these journalists committed a crime, they should release them immediately.
“The Nation and all other news outlets in Nigeria have a right to publish the news, whether or not it embarrasses the president and former president.”
Also yesterday, world human rights body, Amnesty International (AI) urged the National Assembly to adopt a motion imploring the Attorney General and Minister of Justice to fully and promptly investigate all acts of intimidation and violence against human rights defenders and journalists.
Africa Programme Director of AI, Erwin Van Der Borght made the plea when he visited Senate President David Mark in Abuja.
Mark’s Chief Press Secretary Paul Mumeh said in a statement that Borght was of the view that “such investigation would help bring the culprits to book and serve as a deterrent to others.”
“Amnesty International also canvassed that the National Assembly draft a bill to establish a comprehensive witness protection programme for the protection of individuals – including human rights defenders involved in investigations or other proceedings against those accused of human rights violation,” the statement added.
Mark assured the delegation and the international community that Nigeria has resolved to eliminate all forms of human rights abuse in line with global best practices.
•How Obasanjo’s petition led to police invasion
Following publication by The Nation of the now controversial letter said to have been written to President Goodluck Jonathan by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the ex-head of state wrote a petition to the Presidency.
Jonathan on receipt of the complaint forwarded it to Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke (SAN), who referred same to the Citizens Rights Unit (CRU) in his ministry for action.
The CRU next sent the petition to Inspector-General of Police, Hafiz Ringim, asking the Police to investigate the matter. Acting on this request the Police authorities swung into action – invading The Nation offices in Abuja and Lagos – arresting four editors and three editors.
Sources told The Nation last night that when word of the invasion and mass arrests got to Adoke, he reportedly told Ringim that the CRU request for an investigation was not an instruction to detain the entire editorial and administrative leadership of the newspaper.
Courtesy: The Nation