The Nigerian police secretly commenced the trial of PREMIUM TIMES’ journalist, Samuel Ogundipe, on Wednesday, while denying him access to his lawyers.
The police arraigned Mr Ogundipe at a Magistrate Court in Kubwa on Wednesday afternoon.
He was charged with criminal trespass and theft of police document.
Earlier on Wednesday, PREMIUM TIMES staff and the company’s lawyer visited the detention facility of the Special Anti-robbery Squad, SARS, in Abuja where Mr Ogundipe is being detained.
At about 10:00 a.m., the lawyer and the staff were allowed to see Mr Ogundipe. They were also briefed by the Deputy Commission of Police handling the supposed investigation, Sani Ahmadu.
Mr Ahmadu and other police officers present asked this newspaper’s lawyer and other staff present to leave the SARS facility and return at 4:00 p.m. Earlier, the police commissioner had interrogated Mr Ogundipe and repeatedly asked him to name his source for a story as a condition to be released.
Despite the protest by the lawyer, Mr Ahmadu said no action would be taken until the 4:00 p.m. he asked the lawyer to return.
Like most actions of the police since the targeted attack at PREMIUM TIMES began on Saturday, that turned out to be a ruse and deceit.
At about 4:00 p.m., PREMIUM TIMES Editor-In-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, received a call from the court.
Mr Ogundipe had been secretly taken to the Kubwa magistrate court where he was tried. Even though he repeatedly told the police that he would, as legally allowed, need to contact his lawyers or his employer before going to court, the police refused.
When the charge was brought before the magistrate, there was no mention Mr Ogundipe was a journalist to the judge. The police carefully avoided mentioning that, only telling the magistrate he was being charged with criminal trespass and theft of police document.
The magistrate then gave an order that he be detained for five more days, till August 20. It was the magistrate who ordered that he be allowed to make a call while within the court premises.
It was the phone of a court official that Mr Ogundipe used to contact the editor.
“They brought me to a magistrate court in Kubwa where they arraigned me. The magistrate said they should detain me for five days.
“They accused me of criminal trespass. They said I stole secret documents. The magistrate does not know the details, because they did not include in the charge that I am a journalist. I was not allowed to contact my lawyers.
“They also did not allow me to call anyone until the magistrate ordered them to let me make I call. I am currently using the registrar’s phone to make this call and they are collecting it,” Mr Ogundipe said just before the call ended.
Mr Ogundipe said the police accused him of violating sections 352, 288 and 319 of the penal code.
A review of the sections however indicate that they are not related to the charges but are about sexual assault and attempted murder.
PREMIUM TIMES condemned the secret arraignment of its staff, and repeated its demand for Mr Ogundipe’s immediate release.
“Each day, the police continue to behave in ways that embarrass this country. PREMIUM TIMES has a constitutional duty to inform the Nigerian people and hold public officials to account. It will neither be intimidated nor cowed by the filthy antics of the police,” said editor-in-chief Musikilu Mojeed.
HOW IT BEGAN
Mr Ogundipe’s ordeal began on Tuesday. However, since Saturday, the police had been harassing his colleague, Azeezat Adedigba, threatening her on phone. When she eventually asked that she be formally invited if the police had any case against her, the police sent an invitation letter on Monday.
“This office is investigating a case of criminal conspiracy, cybercrime, attempted kidnapping and fraudulent act that your name and phone number featured.
“You are kindly requested to interview the undersigned officer on 14th August 2018 by 1000hrs for fact findings,” the letter signed by an assistant commissioner of police, Sanusi Muhammed, reads.
Those allegations turned to be totally fabricated when Ms Adedigba arrived the SARS office as directed.
As early as 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, the reporter, in the company of Mr Mojeed and another staffer was at the SARS headquarters, Guzape, but was told the investigating officer, Emmanuel Onyeneho, was not available.
An armed operative (ostensibly on directives), who attended to the trio, subsequently confiscated Ms Adedigba’s phone and detained her, after physically manhandling PREMIUM TIMES editor-in-chief, who attempted to intervene.
After she was led in, the editor and the staffer had to wait for over four hours before Mr Onyeneho eventually sauntered in.
Subsequently, the official, who declined giving details on the reason for the invitation, requested that Ms Adedigba dial a number, he provided, with her phone. The dialled number turned out to be that of Mr Ogundipe. The official requested that Mr Mojeed ask the reporter, to come down, a request he immediately obliged.
Immediately, Mr Ogundipe came in, Ms Adedigba was allowed to go while Messrs Mojeed and Ogundipe were detained. There was no further mention of the fabricated allegations against Ms Adedigba.
Mr Mojeed was later released on Tuesday while Mr Ogundipe is still being detained.
The police want Mr Ogundipe to disclose his source for a story published by PREMIUM TIMES and other news media.
The story revealed a preliminary report written by the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on last week’s siege to the National Assembly by security officials.
In the preliminary report on the controversial incident prepared for Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on Wednesday, Mr Idris said Mr Daura was working for some politicians for selfish interest, but did not name the accomplices.
He said Mr Daura did not consult with other security agencies before ordering the siege, and questioned the validity of a security report that allegedly anticipated a violence at the parliament.
Mr Daura was sacked by Mr Osinbajo on Tuesday afternoon. He was immediately handed over to the police for further interrogation, but was later released.
Mr Ogundipe’s arrest and detention has been condemned by local and international rights groups and most Nigerians.
However, the federal government and Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress have kept mum about it amidst worry among Nigerians that the country was gradually sliding back into a dictatorship and era of media repression.
“The Nigerian police must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Samuel Ogundipe, who has been in unlawful police detention since yesterday,” Amnesty International said in its statement on Wednesday.
“Reports that police detained Samuel Ogundipe with the intention of forcing him to reveal his sources are extremely disturbing and illustrate the level of harassment and intimidation that Nigerian journalists face. The duty of journalists is not to please the authorities – it is to share information in the interest of the public, and forcing journalists to reveal their sources is illegal,” it added.
“I stand for Samuel Ogundipe and I call for his unconditional release. Free press is the fortress and the Bastion of democracy,” a Nigerian senator, Shehu Sani, said.
By Evelyn Okakwu, Premium Times