Reps move to safeguard journalists against erratic arrest, detention

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House of Representatives

The House of Representative has resolved to probe alleged arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists in the line of their constitutional duties by security agencies.

The resolution is sequel to the adoption of a motion by Rep. Clement Jimbo (APC-Akwa Ibom) at plenary on Thursday.

Moving the motion, Jimbo said that freedom of the press is a fundamental right enshrined in Section 39 subsection (1) of the 1999 Constitution.

The legislator explained that the Constitution guarantees journalists the ability to report news without fear of arrest or persecution.

He said that freedom of the press is a cardinal feature for democracy as it serves as essential ingredient for holding government accountable and ensuring transparency.

The lawmaker, who represents Abak/Etim Ekpo/Ika Federal Constituency of Akwa Ibom, said that journalism practice is regarded as the fourth estate of the realm.

Jimbo observed that there had been a troubling increase in the number of journalists being unlawfully arrested, detained, and harassed for carrying out their professional duties.

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“This act is being carried out by law enforcement agents, relying on the offence of cyber-stalking within the Cybercrimes Act, 2015,’’ he said.

Jimbo recalled that the arrest of Mr Daniel Ojukwu, an investigative journalist which occurred in March 2024 as particularly disturbing.

He explained that the journalist was arrested in a “commando style” barely 43 hours after 2024 World Press Day.

Jimbo said that such actions are responsible for international opinion rating of Nigeria as one of West African’s most dangerous places to practice by Reporters without Borders (RSF).

“In recent times, between 2015 and 2024 there have been incessant unwarranted arrest, unlawful detention and several other forms of harassment and intimidation meted on at least 25 journalists in the course of their duty.

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“This is threatening the very fundamental pillar of democracy and culminating into a breach of their constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech.

“Earlier this year 2024 the President signed the amended Act with a substantial adjustment on section 24, which listed what constitutes cyber-stalking and provided the punishment for such.

“The law enforcement agents neglect this aspect and continued their clampdown on free speech,’’ he noted.

It was gathered that more than 10 journalists have been arrested in the past one year and another 15 during the previous administration as a result of the same alleged offence.

Jimbo cautioned that arbitrary arrests of journalists have its consequences as it could lead to a worsening climate for investigative and independent journalism in the country’s media space.

According to him, this fourth republic democracy will be impugned by her admirers due to the excesses of those perpetuating this act of arbitrary absolutism.

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The house sent a very strong warning to perpetrators of the unwholesome act, saying that protecting the rights of journalists is not only important for upholding democracy but also for safeguarding the principles of free speech and human rights.

The lawmakers resolved to pass laws to strengthen press freedom and to also engage in diplomatic efforts to pressure government to respect press freedom.

They called on the Police and other law enforcement agencies to cautiously and democratically rely on Section 24 of Cybercrime Act 2015 as amended.

The lawmakers insisted that law enforcement agencies should charge anyone including journalists to court if they have violated any law instead of depriving them of their constitutional right.

The Speaker of the House, Rep. Tajudeen Abbas mandated the Committee on National Security to ensure compliance.

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