By Our Reporters
The police, yesterday, offered conditional freedom to two Leadership journalists, Tony Amoekedo and Chibuzor Ukaibe, who they clamped into detention, when they honoured police invitation over a story they ran last week.
Force headquarters had seized the two journalists from the seventh floor of the massive building to an unknown location after they had written their statements about the controversial story.
After releasing the duo of Mrs Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe, who is the Executive Director, Human Capital, and Mr. Chuks Ohuegbe, Managing Editor, at 10pm on Monday, the police held onto the News Editor, Tony Amoekedo and correspondent, Chibuzor Ukaibe, insisting that they reveal the source of the offending story.
The duo, it was gathered stood their grounds that they could not breach the code of their ethics by revealing their sources, which further infuriated the police, who felt defeated in their quest to get to the root of the story.
After granting them what a source called “administrative bail,” the police high command ordered the two men to be reporting at 10am daily until further notice.
Before leaving the Louise Edet House, the journalists had through their lawyer, Ugo Udoji (Esq.), filed an action at the Federal High Court, Abuja, against the Inspector General of Police for wrongful arrest and detention.
In the suit, the journalists are seeking the enforcement of their fundamental human rights as guaranteed under SS. 34, 35 and 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria enforceable under Section 46 of the said Constitution and articles 4, 5, 6, articles 9 (2) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement Act).
They are praying the court for an order to serve as a stay against further arrest and detention by the police.
Last night, Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigerian, NPAN, issued a strong statement condemning the arrest and detention of the journalists by the police.
In the statement by its General Secretary, Ms Comfort Obi, NPAN expressed worry that police were yet to free themselves from the military mentality of gagging the press even under a civilian administration.
NPAN said: “We are concerned and worried because we had thought that by now, the police and other similar organs of state would have weaned themselves of the carry-over of military mentality of intimidation, harassment and arrest of journalists.
“We had thought that at this stage of our democracy, agents of the state would have imbibed and thoroughly schooled themselves in the time-honoured principles of civility and recourse to the rule of law.
“If the Police are convinced that the journalists breached any law, the decent thing to do is to charge them to court.
Similarly, President, Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Alhaji Muhammad Garba, warned against the resort to military tactics by the police in a civilian regime, which guarantees freedom of speech to all Nigerians.
He told journalists in Kano: “We don’t need to remind them that military dictatorship is over in Nigeria and our security agents should start understanding the press freedom as it is obtained under democratic dispensation.”
Garba, who also doubles as the President, Federation of African Journalists, however, cautioned media men to be extra careful in the discharge of their professional duties and avoid the temptation from politicians.
“Our professional colleagues should understand that it is not good for them to be used by politicians while discharging their statutory duties,” he added.
In its reaction, Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, condemned the arrest of the four Leadership newspaper journalists, saying it was a sign of the seemingly inevitable descent into dictatorship by an increasingly desperate presidency.
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the arrest over a story the government had refuted, was the worst attack against press freedom under the Jonathan administration.
We (ACN) demand an immediate and unconditional release of the detained journalists and the tendering of an unreserved apology to them. And if the police are convinced that the journalists have broken any law, it should charge them to court. After all, the police cannot be the accuser and the judge at the same time.
‘’To the Jonathan Administration, we say no government, whether elected or not and irrespective of its level of brutality, has ever won any battle against the media, and this administration will not be the first.
ACN said the arrest was also a sign of things to come, warning that the administration would increasingly seek to tamper with press freedom as it pushes its do-or-die plan to stay in power with or without the people’s votes.”
ACN stressed that the alleged vow by the police not to allow the detained journalists to leave until they have revealed the source of their story had shown that the Leadership’s story – on the plan by the presidency to scuttle the merger of progressives and target key leaders of the emerging All Progressives’ Congress, APC, was indeed true.
‘’Why will the police, and by extension those who are playing the puppeteers in this case, be interested in the source of a story that the government has described as fake? This confirms the saying that anywhere one sees a ‘no thoroughfare sign’, there is indeed a road,” the party said.