Tinubu, is this a military regime?

THE abduction, detention and subsequent torture and dehumanisation of the Editor of an online newspaper, FirstNews, Segun Olatunji, must not be swept under the carpet. President Bola Tinubu must prove to Nigerians that he is not using the cover of democracy to run a military regime.

On March 15, armed men arrested Olatunji from his home in Lagos. They held him for two weeks until his release on March 28. According to Olatunji, a combined team of 20 heavily armed military men, comprising the Army, the Air Force, the strike force, and the Defence Intelligence Agency officers invaded his house to arrest him.

Before then, his wife, 16-month-old child, and another woman were said to have also been harassed and picked up by security men. With Nigeria suffering from toxic insecurity, it is ludicrous that the military has so many resources to utilise when it is pushed by the powers that be to harass just one private citizen.

In an interview with the Foundation for Investigative Reporting, Olatunji said, “It was a harrowing experience for me and my family because my wife and children had now become traumatised by this incident. They had never seen such a large number of armed men in their lives, not to talk of the situation where these men actually came and suddenly took away their breadwinner to an unknown destination in such a Gestapo-like manner.

“In fact, I felt dejected seeing my wife and children crying and begging the armed men not to take me away. It was more or less a commando operation against a defenceless and unarmed journalist.

“The show of force by the armed men numbering over 20 was not only frightening but also embarrassing to me because innocent residents of my neighbourhood were terrified seeing such a large number of armed men. Many of the people had to scamper to safety in order not to be caught up in any possible incident of accidental discharge from the guns of the heavily armed men in the course of my arrest.”

What was his offence? He published a story allegedly linking a key member of the Tinubu government who knew not the road to the court but used the military to harass an innocent journalist who was simply doing his job.

This is harassment, a gross violation of his rights. The military has once again overstepped its constitutional rights. In Nigeria, it is the police that investigate an offence like this. So, whoever gave those orders must be made to face the full wrath of the law. Heads should roll! The job of the military is to defend Nigeria’s territorial integrity and not pursue unarmed journalists all around the place.

In all this, the military initially falsely denied that its officers arrested Olatunji. This dents its reputation.

Although it was worse for journalists in the military era, Nigeria has witnessed a disturbing trend of government harassment and intimidation of journalists, often carried out with the complicity of the military despite that the country returned to democracy in 1999.

These acts of repression not only violate the fundamental rights of journalists but also undermine the principles of democracy and freedom of the press upon which Nigeria stands. It is time for the government to end this culture of impunity and respect the vital role of journalists in holding power to account.

The harassment of journalists and media houses by the military is not new; it is deeply rooted in the country’s history of authoritarianism. From the dark days of military dictatorship to the present, journalists have been targeted, tortured, and silenced for daring to expose the truth and speak out against injustice.

This shameful legacy continues to haunt Nigeria’s democracy, as journalists face threats, assault, and even death for simply doing their job.

One such flagrant case is that of Jones Abiri, a journalist and publisher of Weekly Source in July 2016. He was initially detained without trial for over two years by the Department of State Services. He was re-arrested again in 2019. Abiri’s arrest and prolonged detention without access to legal representation or family visits epitomise the government’s blatant disregard for the rule of law and press freedom. Abiri’s ordeal serves as a chilling reminder of the dangers journalists face in Nigeria.

Another case is that of Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of Sahara Reporters, who was arrested and detained multiple times by Nigerian security forces for allegedly plotting to overthrow Muhammadu Buhari through the #RevolutionNow movement in 2019. Buhari’s government spurned several court orders for his release.

Sowore’s detention, which included allegations of torture and abuse, sparked outrage both domestically and internationally and drew attention to the government’s systematic crackdown on dissenting voices.

Furthermore, the arrest of Agba Jalingo, the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, in August 2019, on charges of treason and terrorism, raised serious concerns about the shrinking space for independent journalism in Nigeria.

Jalingo was detained for months before being granted bail, during which time he faced threats and intimidation from security agents. His case exemplifies the government’s tactics of using draconian laws to silence and intimidate journalists who dare to criticise the authorities.

In 2020, journalist and activist Kufre Carter was arrested and detained by the DSS for allegedly publishing false information. Carter’s arrest followed his critical reporting on government officials in Akwa Ibom State. Despite being granted bail, Carter continues to face harassment and threats from security forces, highlighting the ongoing dangers faced by journalists in Nigeria.

These are just a few examples of journalists who have been targeted and silenced by the Nigerian government in its relentless pursuit of censorship and control. Such actions not only violate the rights of journalists but also undermine the public’s right to access information and hold power to account. This is partly responsible for the disdain governments have for complying with the Freedom of Information Act.

But the government must recognise that press freedom is a cornerstone of democracy and an essential safeguard against tyranny and corruption. Instead of silencing dissenting voices, the government should respect and protect the rights of journalists to report freely and without fear of reprisal. This includes holding accountable those responsible for harassing, torturing, and abusing journalists and ensuring that perpetrators face justice for their crimes.

The government must take concrete steps to create an enabling environment for press freedom, including repealing repressive laws being used to target journalists and activists.

It must strengthen mechanisms for the protection of journalists, including providing adequate training and resources to law enforcement agencies and establishing independent oversight bodies to investigate allegations of harassment and abuse.

In conclusion, the Nigerian government must end its campaign of harassment and intimidation against journalists and respect the fundamental right to press freedom. Instead of hounding journalists, aggrieved public officials should ventilate their grievances through the judiciary, as Nigeria has adequate laws on libel, slander, and falsehood.

Tinubu should not be silent on the rascality of the military against Olatunji as there are allegations that top officials in his government are behind the editor’s ordeal. To disprove it, the perpetrators should be unearthed and face prosecution.

The President had promised to uphold press freedom when he met with the executives of the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria last year after he won the Presidency. He should abide by this solemn vow.

The world is watching!

By Punch Newspaper Editorial Board

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