By Charles Kumolu& Joseph Erunke
THE Police, yesterday, said they would not release detained Premium Times, reporter, Mr. Samuel Ogundipe, claiming that he is being investigated and prosecuted for offences, which violated Official Secret Act, Cyber Crime Act, and the Penal Code Law.
The police explained that the alleged offences amounted to crimes against national security and were capable of breaching peace and security in Nigeria.
These came as the Chairman of National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Mr. Anthony Ojukwu; Chairman of Lagos State chapter of Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, Dr. Qasim Akinreti; Second Vice President of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Monday Ubani; and a human rights activist, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, faulted the reasons adduced by the police for refusing to release Ogundipe.
In a related development, protesters, who demanded the release of the detained Premium Times reporter, were dispersed, yesterday, at the force headquarters, Abuja.
They protested on the platform of OurMumuDonDo Movement. Some civil society organisations were among those tear-gassed by the police.
A statement by Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Jimoh Moshood, said Ogundipe would remain in custody until the case comes up on August 20, 2018.
The statement reads: “Nigeria Police Force as a law-abiding organisation will continue to ensure that the rule of law and its supremacy, which are essentials of democracy prevail at all times.
“The Force will also ensure that all Nigerians irrespective of profession, are subject to the same law, and therefore wishes to impress it on the media to encourage prosecution of all offenders upon whom a prima facie case has been established.
Arrest and ongoing prosecution
“The Nigeria Police Force’s attention was drawn to the innuendos and misinformation in the media about the arrest and ongoing prosecution of one Samuel Ogundipe of Premium Times online publication.
“ The Force is categorically stating that one Samuel Ogundipe is being investigated and prosecuted for the offences of theft and unlawful possession of restricted and classified documents inimical to national security that can jeopardize peace, lead to the breakdown of law and order and capable of precipitating a crisis in the country.
“Mr. Samuel Ogundipe is also being investigated and prosecuted for other offences, which violate Official Secret Act, Cyber Crime Act, and the Penal Code Law for which he has volunteered statements and is standing trial.
“It is factual to state that Mr. Samuel Ogundipe was arrested on August 14, 2018 and on completion of preliminary investigation, he was arraigned in a court of competent jurisdiction in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, less than 24 hours of his arrest.
“The Nigeria Police Force and the media are veritable partners in ensuring peace, law, and order in the country, but the Force will not compromise or allow an offender to go scot-free or pervert the end of justice. However, the Force is constrained by the law to allow justice to take its course.
“Consequently, members of the public are implored to disregard every sentiment being peddled to cast aspersions on the investigation and the ongoing prosecution of the offender in court.”
We’ll challenge Police in court—NUJ
However, Akinreti said it was wrong for the police to detain Ogundipe without bail, noting that the NUJ would challenge the action in court.
He said: “The Police should produce him in court. The law says that nobody should be detained for more than 24 hours without being charged to court. As far as we are concerned, the rule of law must prevail. He should be charged to court. If they fail to produce him, we will go to court and challenge it. Everything we are going to do on the matter will be within the ambit of the law
Police won’t succeed in convicting him—NBA
On his part, Ubani said: “They can charge him with anything. They should prove it in court. The constitution gives journalists the right to get information. Can the acts they have stated override the constitutional provision of journalists? The IGP should redeem his image by releasing that young man. Asking him to disclose the source of his information is wrong and unlawful. A journalist cannot disclose the source of his information. Even in the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, a journalist has the right to seek information and if he succeeds, the person should not be incriminated. The FOIA forbids it. They should release him immediately. It is a bailable offence. His lawyers should apply for his bail. I believe that they charged him when there was nobody around so that his lawyers will not apply for his bail. It is bailable because what he is being charged with is not murder or armed robbery. The judge or the magistrate should have granted him bail.
“What is the meaning of asking him to be detained until August 20, 2018? Since he had been arraigned, they should have granted him bail. I will advise his lawyers to put up an application for his bail. The Police should drop those charges because they cannot succeed in convicting him. What information would a journalist steal? The Inspector General of Police should put his house in order and release the young man because he cannot be asked how he got his information.’’
Police obtaining information forcefully—NHRC
On his part, Ojukwu said: “We insist as a commission that there must be accountability. The National Assembly has passed the Anti-Torture Act, and over the years, Police have been using unconstitutional means to obtain evidence from suspects.
‘’All these arose because the Police try to brutalise suspects to confess crimes that they committed. What they do is called trial within a trial.”
FOIA recognises Official Secret Act —Adegboruwa
Adegboruwa said: “An Act remains an act and does not need a court validation. Meanwhile, some are of the view that FOIA has nullified the Official Secret Act. Some sections of the FOIA also recognise some aspects of the Official Secret Act as regards information that is related to the state. I am not too sure if there is any judgment that has nullified the Official Secret Act.’’
Magistrate threaten to strike out case against Abiri
Meanwhile, a magistrate court in Abuja presided over by Chukwuemeka Nweke, has threatened to strike out the case against a Bayelsa-based journalist, Mr. Jones Abiri.
Abiri, the publisher of the Weekly Source, a newspaper based in Yenagoa, was arrested by Department of State Services, DSS, in 2016 on the allegation that he is the leader of the joint revolutionary council of the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force.
He finally met his bail conditions, last Wednesday.
At the court, yesterday, MD Tanko, counsel to DSS, asked for an adjournment because the main lawyer handling the case was not available.
Samuel Ogala, counsel to Abiri, opposed the application, saying the reasons given by the prosecuting counsel were not good enough to warrant an adjournment.’
Press freedom in 1999 constitution
However, section 22 of the 1999 constitution as amended stated the obligation of the mass media thus: “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people”
Specifically, Section 39 emphasises full protection of any person, who wishes to express his opinion as well as receive and impart ideas and information.