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MRA condemns abduction of journalist by police

LAGOS, Friday, May 24, 2024: Media Rights Agenda (MRA), today condemned as appalling and unacceptable, Wednesday’s abduction of Mr. Madu Onuorah, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the independent online news outlet, Global Upfront newspaper, by operatives of the Nigeria Police Force for allegedly defaming a Reverend Sister based in the United States.

Observing that the Nigeria Police has progressively become a “gun for hire” at the disposal of rich or powerful individuals or organizations who wish to silence journalists or to punish them for critical reporting, MRA argued that by constantly diverting and wasting Nigeria’s security resources to hound journalists all over the country at the behest of government officials, other rich and powerful individuals, as well as organizations, the law enforcement agency has become incapable of performing its most important function of ensuring the security of Nigerians, resulting in an upsurge in violence crimes across Nigeria.

At about 6.00 pm on May 22, 2024, 10 heavily armed policemen reportedly stormed Mr. Onuorah’s home in Lugbe area of Abuja in two Sienna buses and in the presence of his wife and children, forcibly arrested and took him away without presenting any warrant of arrest or disclosing any reason for his arrest. The police seized Mr. Onuorah’s phones to prevent him from reaching his family, friends, and lawyer despite pleas from his family. He was initially taken to the Lugbe Police Station from where he was later taken to Enugu.

The Enugu State Police Command later said, through its spokesman, Mr. Daniel Ndukwe, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), that Mr. Onuorah was duly arrested in Abuja with the assistance of police operatives from Ebonyi State Command and the aid of intelligence, after efforts made to formally invite him failed. The arrest, according to ASP Ndukwe followed the receipt of a written petition to the Commissioner of Police, Enugu State Command, against him over an alleged defamatory publication he made against a US-based Reverend Sister.

In a statement condemning the actions of the Police, MRA’s Programme Officer, Ms Esther Adeniyi, described as ridiculous and nonsensical the claim by the Police that Mr. Onuorah was only arrested “after efforts made to formally invite him failed”, saying it is a clear indication that the journalist was never invited by the Police and that there was no justification whatsoever for the huge public resources apparently wasted in dispatching policemen from Enugu and Ebonyi States to Abuja to abduct the journalist and bring him to Enugu.

She argued that public resources should not be used to protect the reputations of individuals, adding that a Reverend Sister based in the United States would never write a petition to the Police for alleged defamation of character in that country but has chosen to do so in Nigeria knowing that she could successfully abuse the system by procuring the services of the Police for her personal vendetta.

Ms Adeniyi said:  “We are extremely concerned that the Police are wasting government resources – human, material, and financial – to go to such lengths to prosecute what should ordinarily be a civil matter, rather than concentrating their efforts on more important security issues in the country, including in the South East. The world has since moved away from criminal defamation, which is inconsistent with regionally and internationally established norms and standards for the protection of the right to freedom of expression and media freedom. Nigeria cannot remain stuck in this antiquated practice.”

Besides, she noted, not having conducted any investigation into the subject matter of the report complained about to establish its truth or otherwise or to determine whether any offence had actually been committed, it was clearly premature and irrational for the Police to take such aggressive action against the journalist, unless they had an agenda that they were pursuing against him.

Ms Adeniyi said: “MRA finds appalling and unacceptable this tactic by law enforcement and security agencies of arresting journalists Gestapo-style, transferring them to other far away locations several hundreds of kilometres away from where they live and work, and detaining them incommunicado without any warrant of arrest and frequently without formally charging them with any offence.”

Although she expressed relief that Mr. Onuorah has now been released, she called on the Federal Government, particularly the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation as well as the Inspector-General of Police, to put an end to the culture of impunity for the repeated violation of constitutionally protected rights by the Police and other security and law enforcement agencies, urging that all those responsible for the journalist’s unlawful and unconstitutional arrest and detention should be held accountable.

For further information, please contact:

Idowu Adewale
Communications Officer,
Media Rights Agenda
Tel: +234 806 524 0610
E-mail: [email protected]

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