DIA’s assault on press freedom, threat to democracy

Apr 3, 2024 | Press Releases

Mr Segun Olatunji, the editor of FirstNews newspaper, who was abducted by operatives of the Defence Intelligence Agency in the presence of his wife and two young children, aged seven and one, from his residence at Iyana- Ado, Abule Egba, Lagos State on March 15, was eventually released to go home after 12 days in the dungeon of the military intelligence outfit. His ordeal in the hands of the military was linked to a story: ‘Revealed: Defence Chief Running Office Like Family Business – Public Interest Lawyers,’ and other stories published by his newspaper, which some top officials in the Presidency allegedly found uncomfortable.

It took the combined efforts of his employers, other media houses, the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Nigeria Guild of Editors, non-profit organisations, International Media groups, the National Security Adviser, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and the Minister for Information and Orientation, Mohammed Idris to effect Mr Olatunji’s release on March 28 from the detention facility of the DIA, after the initial several denials that he was in their custody.

Mr Olatunji narrating his experience said he was handcuffed, blindfolded, chained in the legs, and flown from Lagos to Abuja, stripped of his clothes except his boxer shorts, thrown into a cell and brought out for interrogation over stories FirstNews had published about the head of DIA and Chief of Staff to the President.  

The National Association of Seadogs, Pyrates Confraternity condemns the kidnap and incarceration of Mr Olatunji.  His detention by the military is an unacceptable and disgraceful trampling on the due process of lawful exercise of authority.  It is a sad reminder of the dark days of the military under the  brutal dictators, Ibrahim Babaginda and Sani Abacha and their later civilian successors.  It is an assault on press freedom and free speech, which are fundamental pillars of democracy.

 Unequivocally, this is an all-time low for the Nigerian military under the administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. It is shocking that soldiers numbering more than 30 could descend on an innocent journalist’s house and arrest him right in the presence of his wife and children for performing his constitutional duty.

 Olatunji’s only offence was that he did his job professionally, without fear or favour. He got a story of corruption in high places and published it. How does that contravene the Constitution that the Military swore to uphold? Even if FirstNews’s story breached the ethics of the journalism profession, there are local laws and globally acceptable standards for judicial redress for any aggrieved parties. Taking laws into their hands and kidnapping a journalist is criminal conduct and those involved must be fished out and made to face the law.

We urge Nigerian President, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, to investigate the barbaric act of the DIA. By now the Presidency should have been worried enough that the name of a top-ranking official was mentioned in connection with the abduction of Olatunji, and absolved itself from this illegality by swiftly conducting an investigation into those men that dehumanised the journalist. This is one of the ways it can prove that the echelon of power was not in support of such undemocratic acts of citizen victimisation and official arbitrariness.

Nigeria must not be portrayed as a jungle where human rights are trampled upon by brute force. Failure to punish the soldiers would portray the Nigerian military as being replete with misguided bullies who oppress innocent citizens while insurgency ravaged the country.

 Aside from probing this embarrassing action of the military by the Presidency, we demand an unreserved public apology to Olatunji by the military authorities. This petty tyranny of the DIA further dents Nigeria’s image and extends our poor record on press freedom. Africa Media Development Foundation, AMDF, through its Senior Program Officer, Joy Gadani stated in a report in May 2023 that Nigeria has the highest number of violations of Press Freedom in Africa.  Nigeria is currently ranked 123 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.  The action of the military demonstrates the fact that some men in military uniform have the false impression that they are above the law. This is shameful for Nigeria’s democracy. President Bola Tinubu must use this unlawful abduction of Olatunji to prove he is capable of defending the tenets of democracy.

 Abiola Owoaje

 NAS Capoon


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