Police deny witch-hunting journalists with cyber crime act

The Nigeria Police Force clarified on Thursday that it was not out to witch-hunt journalists and suppress press freedom through the application of the amended CyberCrime Act of 2024, as alleged by the public.

The Force Public Relations Officer, FPRO, Assistant Commissioner of Police, ACP, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, who made the clarifications while speaking at a joint briefing by Security, Defence and response agencies organised by the Strategic Communications Interagency Policy Committee of office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA in Abuja, stated that the police were not preventing journalists from performing their duties.

Recently, the country has seen a series of crackdowns on journalists due to the implementation of the act by the police.

The former editor of First News, Segun Olatunji; Daniel Ojukwu, a journalist with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism; Dayo Aiyetan, Executive Director of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting; and Nurudeen Akewushola, an investigative journalist with the platform, were among the latest victims of the contentious act.

According to the Force Spokesperson, “It’s not true that we are applying cyber crime act to witch-hunt or oppress you or to subvert press freedom in Nigeria. I am not saying you should not be a whistleblower but if you want to be one, you must get your facts right.”

He noted that the police operated under numerous laws and could prosecute journalists guilty of publishing defamatory reports using any of these laws.

Adejobi said, “Defamation of character is a law defined under the Cybercrime Act and the criminal acts of this country define defamation as an offence. If somebody has published something wrong against you, as a Nigerian you have the right to take it up.

“As a trained police officer, I may decide not to use the cybercrime act to prosecute you. As a trained policeman I must be able to lay my hands on many laws to nail you if I want to. Forget the fact that the NSA has called for the full implementation of the act, the police can lay their hands on any law to prosecute anybody.”

The Force Spokesperson added that journalists do not enjoy immunity, noting that a journalist is “criminally liable” once accused of a crime.

According to him, “Mind you, the fact that somebody is a journalist does not grant him immunity over certain things. You are criminally liable once an offence has been laid against you and the police have the duty to take it up.”

He urged journalists invited by the force to honour the invitations and inform his office.

Adejobi said, “Let me put it on record that if a petition has been written against you, as a certified journalist is to honour the invitation and get across to the office of the Force spokesperson.

“Some of them you claimed have been victimized have not contacted me. Everybody is a journalist, we practise citizen journalism in Nigeria.”

Adejobi stated that the police had not yet arrested any journalists from mainstream media.

He said, “The fact is the police have not arrested anyone from the mainstream media. Most of these bloggers are always running foul of the law because they want to break the law. You can’t break the news without confirmation from the parties involved. You need to balance your report. Once you are invited to come and clarify a report, don’t run away. We are human beings like you.”

He criticised media houses for using the term “abduction” to describe the arrest of journalists, saying that “the police do not abduct, rather they arrest.”

According to him “We don’t abduct, we arrest. If the arrest is wrong, you tell us why the arrest is wrong and we will tell you why it is right. We face challenges because many of you don’t understand the legal framework.”

Adejobi, however, said “when a journalist is arrested, his colleagues cannot stand surety for him.”

He maintained that the police would not release such a journalist unless a “substantive surety” is provided.

According to him” Once you have been arrested, your statement is taken under caution. Under the law, you are to be granted bail to a substantive surety and that is another problem. Don’t tell me your colleague in your office will stand surety for you. No. If you are not a substantive surety the police will not release anybody to you.”

Adejobi stated that the force was not mandated to extend an invitation to a suspect during the investigation, describing such a gesture as an honour.

He said, “I want to clarify that we are not obliged to send an invitation to a suspect in the first instance. It is just out of respect. No law says you must invite somebody before you carry out your investigation; we can only honour you by extending an invitation to you. Where you don’t honour the invitation, we go to court to get a warrant. With that warrant, we can even declare you wanted and arrest you anywhere.”

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