In what appears to be unending attacks on the media in recent times, last week a journalist with an online newspaper, Premium Times, was arrested and detained by the police through its Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS).
Mr. Samuel Ogundipe was held over what the police called criminal trespass and theft and unlawful possession of classified and restricted documents. He was invited to the SARS headquarters in Abuja and later taken to the IGP Monitoring Unit at the Force Headquarters, where he was asked to divulge the source of a story he recently wrote. And in keeping with the tenets of the profession, Ogundipe refused to disclose his source, a development which led to his detention. And a day later, the SARS took the harassment further by freezing the journalist’s bank account.
Mr Ogundipe was also accused of publishing mainly negative stories about the police.
A statement by the police spokesman, acting DCP Jimoh Moshood, said, “ 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 state/national security that can jeopardise peace, cause breakdown of law and capable of precipitating crisis in the country. Ogundipe is also being investigated and prosecuted under other offences, which violate Official Secret Act and the Penal Code Law for which he has volunteered statements and is standing trial”.
The police then secretly arraigned the journalist at a Magistrate Court in Kubwa, FCT, without any legal representation. During the arraignment, the police left out the fact that the supposed suspect was a journalist.
Condemnations and outcry have trailed the action with media organisations, well-meaning individuals and groups, criticising the police. Following the outrage, Ogundipe was released on Friday after three days in detention.
We condemn the action by the police and urge it and other security agencies to forthwith desist from arbitrary arrests and harassment of journalists in whatever form. This latest arrest adds to the list of journalists so far held since the advent of this administration and it does not speak well of a democratically elected government.
Ogundipe’s arrest is most disheartening, especially coming at the time when we were just celebrating the release of Jones Abiri, another journalist who had been held in custody by the Department of State Security (DSS) for over two years. Security agents should note that it is unethical for a journalist to disclose his or her sources and aside that, once that is done, that journalist loses his credibility as he or she can no longer be trusted with information, a development that will hamper performance. Secondly, we are of the opinion that the police should have been more concerned about the authenticity of the report written by Mr Ogundipe. If that was the case, it should have taken the media organisation and the journalist to court, rather than holding him illegally and asking that he reveals his sources.
In any case, the police is an agency involved in intelligence gathering and has the machineries to do so, we implore it to always use those resources to fish out leaks such as this rather than harass someone who was merely performing his legitimate duties.
The media is not the enemy, in fact, the security agencies, especially the police have on various occasions benefitted from the dexterity of journalists who in the course of investigation come up with information that have assisted them in cracking some difficult cases. The idea of going after journalists when reports do not favour them is not good for the country. The duties of the media and that of the police are alike in many ways and both should be working together to make Nigeria better.