Nigerian Journalist’s Detention Threatens Press Freedom

Human Rights

Journalists and human rights activists in Nigeria are protesting the arrest and detention of Daniel Ojukwu, a reporter at the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, who went missing in Lagos on May 1. He was later discovered to be in police custody, accused of violating Nigeria’s cybercrimes law.

The authorities have since moved Ojukwu between various police units, including the National Cyber Crimes Center and the Force Criminal Investigations Department in Abuja, the nation’s capital. Nigeria’s constitution requires that anyone suspected of a crime be charged before a court within 48 hours of arrest. Ojukwu has been in detention without charge for more than nine days.

The Foundation for Investigative Journalism said thatOjukwu was arrested over an online report he authored in November, alleging that Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, a former senior special assistant to the president on sustainable development goals, transferred 147 million naira (about US$106,000) of government funds marked for school construction into a restaurant’s bank account.

Nigeria’s cybercrimes law makes a broad range of online interactions a criminal offense. Several activists and journalists have been arrested and charged under the law. The Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) Court of Justice in 2022 ruled that certain provisions of the law should be amended, citing violations of the rights to freedom of expression and information.

In February, the government amended the law, but the Committee to Protect Journalists and others contend that the amendments are not extensive enough to prevent the law from being used for censorship and intimidation. In particular, section 24 of the law vaguely criminalizes messages sent with the intention of “causing a breakdown of law and order [or] posing a threat to life.”

Nigeria’s constitution, along with international and African human rights conventions, protects press freedom and the right to free expression. Nigerian authorities are obligated to respect such rights by allowing criticism of the government without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanctions.

The detention of a journalist for doing his job is a violation of these rights. The authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Ojukwu if he has not been charged with a criminal offense.

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