CONDEMNATIONS TRAIL POLICE INVASION OF THE NATION
Condemnations yesterday trailed the invasion of The Nation newspapers by security operatives and subsequent arrest and detention of four of its editors. Detectives from the Force CID, Alagbon, Lagos had stormed the premises of the Vintage Press Limited, publishers of The Nation titles at its Fatai Atere Way, Lagos headquarters and arrested the editors. Two of the editors had earlier been picked at its Abuja office.
Those arrested included Deputy Editor Lawal Ogienagbon, News Editor (Weekend titles), Dapo Olufade; Managing Editor, Northern Operations, Yusuf Alli and Abuja Bureau Chief, Yomi Odunuga.
They were said to have been arrested in lieu of the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of the newspapers, Victor Ifijeh; Editor Gbenga Omotoso; General Editor Kunle Fagbemi; Deputy Editor News Adesina Adeniyi; Group Political Editor Bolade Omonijo; Managing Editor Waheed Odusile and Administration Manager Folake Adeoye.
Yesterday, police detectives conducted thorough searches at residences of the arrested editors and senior staff of the The Nation. Daily Sun learnt that the residence of The Nation's lawyer, Mr. John Unachukwu, located at Victoria Abiodun Street, Gowon Estate, Egbeda was ransacked by police detectives, led by Sgt Amechi Augustine and Inspector Moji Kelani, between 4p.m and 5p.m yesterday. Similar search was carried out at Dapo Olufade's residence, led by one Emma Ogolo while the No1, Alhaji Idowu Street residence of one of the arrested editors was also ransacked.
It was gathered that the police detectives were armed with copy of a search warrant from the Presidency for copies of the alleged letter of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan, which The Nation publicized the story in its October 4 edition.
The Nigerian Guild of Editors, led by its President, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye, yesterday, described the incident as 'irreverent, irrelevant and unnecessary because the law has set out the due process for taking in anyone who has infracted against it.'
'In this case, we are not aware that the editors of The Nation newspapers shunned any formal invitation to them with contempt. Those editors, who were invited in Abuja, honoured the invitation, with dignity and respect to the authority,' the editors said.
They put the blame of the 'police misstep' at the doorstep of the Attorney-General of the Federation, who they claimed 'ought to have advised the action agency (police) on the letters of the law which is specific on who is responsible for the content of a newspaper'. 'The law does not allow for proxy arrest, which was the pastime of the dictatorial military regimes. We are 12 years into democratic rule where the rule of law is paramount, where due process, no matter how slow, is compulsory, where self help must be prevented.
'The Nigerian Guild of Editors demands that the arrested and detained editors be released forthwith while the police should follow due process in the discharge of its duties. Anticipatory arrest without a show of court certified warrant is unlawful and oppressive. It is an atavistic recline into the cave. Keeping the arrested editors beyond 24 hours without being charged to court is unlawful. Nigeria has moved beyond such frontiers and the police is expected to know the limits, within the law,' the editors said.
The umbrella body of journalists in the country, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) also condemned the Gestapo manner the police invaded The Nation headquarters, urging the government to release the arrested editors unconditionally in the spirit of the rule of law. In a statement by its National secretary, Shuaibu Usman Leman, NUJ said the police action was a demonstration that the Goodluck Jonathan-led federal government would not stop at anything in 'silencing any dissenting voice which government and its agents may perceive as unacceptable.'
Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi, said the arrest of the editors without any warrant of arrest was 'an indication that the country is gradually sliding into civilian dictatorship.' According to the governor, there are many civil and polite ways the police could react to any publication rather than resorting to Gestapo-like operation. The Newspaper Proprietors' Association (NPAN) described the development as a setback to the much-publicized Freedom of Information Act (FoI) recently signed into law by the President.
In a statement by its president, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, NPAN said the police onslaught on The Nation 'is unhelpful to the atmosphere of free-flow of information being engendered by the historic signing into law of the FoI Act.
'To say that the police action is a setback would be an understatement as it undermines the constitutional right of Nigerians to a free press.
'At this time when all hands should be on deck to help the police and other security agencies to deal with our unprecedented security challenges, pursuing journalists and newspaper houses, instead of terrorists, could only be a major distraction,' NPAN said. The body called on the Inspector-General of Police, Hafiz Ringim, to use his office to effect the release of the arrested editors. Kwara State chapter of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) expressed disbelief and disappointment at the incident, describing it as 'a slap on our democratic aspiration as a country.'
'It is no doubt a throwback to an era of state terrorism, despotism and highhandedness, which democracy ought to end.
'We join all democrats of good conscience to reject and condemn this assault on the freedom of the press. Our law is very clear on the appropriate steps to be taken by any individual or institution who feel wronged by any publication: the aggrieved should approach the court. Failure to follow the procedure is itself a violation of the law.' The party called for the immediate release of all the detained journalists and the reopening of the Abuja office of the newspapers.
The International Press Centre (IPC) also condemned the arrest of the editors, describing it as 'demeaning, untoward and unwanted and a violation of the right of the concerned journalists'. In a statement by its Director, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, signed by Stella Nwofia, Programme Officer of the centre, IPC said 'any form of throw-back to the notorious era of repression, when journalists were openly harassed and media houses invaded by armed marauders, serving the interest of military and civilian dictatorships, was unacceptable'.
It, therefore, called for immediate and unconditional release of the editors or their prosecution in a law court.
Similar condemnation was expressed by the Human Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), which cautioned the Federal Government not to allow security operatives to 'soil the seemingly and credible pro-media image that the current administration has built for itself.'
The editors' arrest has also drew the ire of Senator Olufemi Lanlehin, representing Oyo South senatorial district; Mr. Ajibola Famurewa, member House of Representatives, representing Ijesa South Federal Constituency of Osun State; human rights lawyer and writer, Mr. Richard Akinnola, all who advised the security operatives to tread the path of law and order by redressing their grievances at the law court instead of indiscriminate arrest and witch-hunt of the media executives.