The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has strongly condemned the arrest and detention of four senior editors and other officials of The Nation newspaper, reportedly following a petition to the police by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
In a statement issued in Lagos on Wednesday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said the harassment of journalists for no other reason than for carrying out their professional duties is a dangerous throwback to the past and a blight on the country’s democratic credentials.
It reminded the police, which acted illegally in arresting the editors without establishing reasonable suspicion as stipulated by Section 35 of the Constitution, former President Obasanjo who is so eager to get his pound of flesh and President Goodluck Jonathan under whose watch this is happening, that the media fought hard, perhaps more than any other group, for the democracy being enjoyed by all today.
ACN wondered whether Inspector-General of Police Hafis Ringim, who reportedly ordered the arrest of the journalists, would have acted with the same alacrity if the personality concerned is an ordinary Nigerian.
”The Nigeria police force put up a show of force in harassing and detaining harmless journalists. This is typical of the police, which sees itself as beholding to the elite while daily intimidating, brutalising and killing ordinary Nigerians. One can only imagine how successful the police would have been in tackling the security challenges facing the country if it had been employing the same attitude (show of force) in battling armed robbers, kidnappers and Boko Haram elements,” the party said
It wondered why Obasanjo did not go to court to challenge the paper’s story which he found offensive, as he had threatened, instead of petitioning the police as he did.
”Would Obasanjo have done that (petition the police) if he had not been a former President? Is it not possible that he used his status to goad the police into carrying out an illegal act, in line with his trademark disregard for the rule of law? Does Obasanjo remember that he would probably not be alive today were it not for this same media which exposed the plan by the Abacha administration to execute him with dispatch after his conviction over an alleged coup?” ACN queried.
The party also said President Jonathan cannot escape being blamed for the illegal action of the police under his watch, especially since he has so far not come out to condemn the action of the police in not carrying out an investigation before harassing innocent journalists.
”Under President Jonathan’s watch, the judiciary has been hobbled and judges cowed. Is it now the turn of the media to be cowed? Is the arrest of The Nation’s journalists aimed at sending a signal to the media that publishing the truth is not enough, and that journalists risk arrest and detention if their stories make the high and mighty in the society uncomfortable?” it said.
ACN also said it is curious that the Presidency has not come out to say whether or not the contentious letter is in its possession, ”or is the presidency saying, by its silence on this issue, that no such letter exists?”
Concerning the authenticity or otherwise of the letter at the centre of the whole issue, the party said the police should have used handwriting experts to determine the authenticity of the letter, after which it can arrest the journalists (if it found that the letter was forged) and charge
them to court.
them to court.
It warned that the targeting of the judiciary and the media – two institutions that are key to the survival of any democracy – for decimation could spell danger for the nation’s young democracy, and call for vigilance on the part of the citizenry if the country is not to be taken down the path of dictatorship.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed
National Publicity Secretary
Action Congress of Nigeria
Lagos, Oct. 12th 2011