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Thursday, June 13, 2024

How Nigeria’s Defence Intelligence Agency abducted, detained, tortured journalist for days

How Nigeria’s Defence Intelligence Agency abducted, detained, tortured journalist for days

The press statement below, which was jointly produced by the IPI, NGE and NUJ described the events that led to the illegal arrest, detention and torture of a journalist in Nigeria under the administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

The anti-press incident appeared to be unilaterally planned and executed by a unit of the Nigerian Military, yet the government is being watched by observers to see what it would do to restore sanity to the system.

Read the full press statement below:

 Let’s Protect Free Press, Let’s Protect Our Democracy against military misconduct

Being a press statement read at a press conference called by the International Press Institute (IPI), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) at FCT Council of NUJ, Utako, Abuja, to update members of the public about the abduction of the Editor, FirstNews, Mr Segun Olatunji

Gentlemen of the press. We thank you so much for honouring our invitation in spite of the short notice. The invitation by the leaderships of the International Press Institute (IPI), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) was sent out late last night. And we are encouraged by your turnout and solidarity.

The IPI, the NGE and the NUJ called this joint press conference to update members of the public on the ordeal of our colleague – the Editor of FirstNews, Segun Olatunji, who armed people we earlier thought were non-state actors abducted from his home in Lagos on March 15.

READ ALSO: Tell Nigerian military to produce abducted FirstNews editor, IPI urges President Tinubu

In a statement issued by the management of FirstNews, Mr Olatunji’s abduction was linked to a recent story published by the media organization titled, “Revealed: Defence Chief running office like family business – Public Interest Lawyers.”

Narrating the ugly incident, Mr Olatunji’s wife, who witnessed the abduction of her husband, said the armed men stormed their residence a few minutes after 6 pm that day. She said on their arrival, the abductors immediately confiscated her husband’s telephone before shoving him into a van. She said she asked the abductors what her husband’s offence was and where they were taking him. The stern-looking men rebuffed her enquiries.

For days, the Publisher of FirstNews, Mr Daniel Iworiso-Markson, as well as Mr Olatunji’s colleagues and family members, tried in vain to locate him. But those who abducted him ensured he was incommunicado. They also ensured that no one knew his whereabouts, a development that further traumatised his family, employers and colleagues.

READ ALSO: IPI Nigeria demands immediate release of FirstNews editor, Segun Olatunji 

For days, the leaderships of the IPI, the NGE and the NUJ frantically searched for Mr Olatunji. We interacted with the presidency, the Nigeria Police Force (Lagos and Abuja), the Nigerian Army, the Defence Intelligence Agency, the Ministry of Interior, the Defence Headquarters, the Office of the National Security Adviser, the Ministry of Information and National Orientation, and the State Security Services (SSS). Other security agencies were also contacted. But all the efforts failed until last night. The military claimed the journalist was not in their custody. They lied to us and top government officials whose interventions we sought.

However, on Monday, IPI Nigeria was able to determine (without doubt) that the journalist was being detained and tortured by the Defence Intelligence Agency in Abuja.

The IPI then informed the Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Musa and the Chief of Defence Intelligence, Major General Emmanuel Undiandeye, of its finding and asked them to release our colleague immediately. We also provided that information to top government officials who also reached out to Generals Musa and Undiandeye. Again, they lied that the journalist was not in their custody. Yet our sources were telling us we needed to act fast to save our colleague from being killed.

That was what culminated in the IPI Nigeria’s press statement of Wednesday, which clearly accused the DIA of abducting and detaining Mr Olatunji.

READ ALSO: Amnesty International vows to fight Tinubu’s ‘dangerous and oppressive’ move to regulate social media in Nigeria

Once that statement circulated in the media, the anti-democratic officers became jittery. They became even more confused after they became aware that the NGE, the NUJ, and the IPI had scheduled a follow-up press conference for this morning. Knowing the game was up, they admitted their crime last night.

They confessed to the Honourable Minister of Information and National Orientation, Alhaji Mohammed Idris, that our colleague was in their custody and that they would release him immediately.

At this point, we want to put on record the important role played by the minister of information and other top officials of government towards the resolution of this matter. These reckless and anti-media officers, who apparently have no respect for civilian authorities, lied to and disobeyed officials of the federal government who intervened.

We are sure that many right-thinking members of society, including the international community, are both amazed and shocked by the lawlessness and fear-provoking action of the DIA – an agency under the command of Major General Undiandeye, who reports directly to the Chief of Defence Staff, General Musa.

The DIA’s action makes us wonder about its real intention. Our suspicion is that they planned to secretly eliminate Mr Olatunji so that members of the public could attribute his disappearance to unknown gunmen. But we are glad they failed.

For us, this vicious, uncivilized, unlawful and criminal action of the DIA is unacceptable. The action is alien to Nigeria’s democratic space. It is now clear that there are some officers in our military who are still finding it difficult to subject themselves to civil authority 24 years after our country returned to representative governance.

We do not think this kind of attitude should be condoned by President Bola Tinubu, particularly, and Nigerians, in general. If officers in a military institution like DIA could hack a journalist’s telephone, mishandle his wife, abduct him, detain him secretly for 12 days and disobey senior officials of the federal government, then our democracy cannot be said to be safe.

Although our colleague has now been released, we are calling on President Tinubu to ensure that these officers are punished for their bad behaviour. By all standards, the actions of the DIA, General Musa and Major General Undiandeye are against the provisions of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution and other international instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory – which forbid the detention of any citizen or resident beyond 48 hours, except with a valid court order.

More so, the DIA’s action is a direct attack on press freedom. One of the core missions of the free press is to serve as a watchdog on power. The press, as we all know, is the connection between the people and the government. If the press is not allowed to carry out its social and constitutional responsibilities but instead obligated to power, it simply serves as an extension of power. Without freedom of the press, our democracy is endangered. In the case of corruption, a free press is critical to exposing abuses of power. For sure, the media is not above the law, but in a democracy, the only way to determine wrong or right is through the legal process.

This is not the end of this matter. The Nigerian media community shall consult further in the next few days on the actions to take against the CDS, the CDI, and the military regarding this matter.

We thank you all for coming.

Musikilu Mojeed

President, International Press Institute, Nigeria

Iyobosa Uwugiaren

Secretary, Nigerian Guild of Editors

Chris Isiguzo

President, Nigerian Union of Journalists

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