A police truck is seen in Abuja, Nigeria, on November 2, 2021. Abuja police recently arrested five staff members of the Peoples Gazette news website. (AFP/Kola Sulaimon)

Nigerian police arrest, briefly detain 5 staff members of Peoples Gazette in Abuja

New York, July 22, 2022 — Nigerian authorities should cease harassing employees of the Peoples Gazette and reform the country’s laws to decriminalize defamation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

Mid-day on Friday, July 22, police arrived at the privately owned news website’s office in Abuja, the capital, and arrested assistant managing editor John Adenekan, according to the outlet’s managing editor, Samuel Ogundipe, who spoke to CPJ over the phone, and media reports.

Police returned about 30 minutes later and arrested four more people: reporters Ameedat Adeyemi and Sammy Ogbu, and administrative staff members Grace Oke and Justina Tayani, according to those sources.

Authorities released Adeyemi, Ogbu, and Tayani shortly thereafter, and released Adenekan and Oke on bail Friday evening, according to Ogundipe and Peoples Gazette lawyer Ken Eluma Asogwa, who also spoke to CPJ by phone.

The arrests were related to a criminal defamation complaint filed by former Nigerian army chief Tukur Buratai over a Peoples Gazette report published on June 23 about a law enforcement operation at Buratai’s home, Ogundipe and Asogwa told CPJ.

“The arrest of five Peoples Gazette staff members over a report published by their outlet is a gross overreaction and a direct attack on freedom of the press in Nigeria. Nigerian authorities should cease harassing and intimidating the outlet and decriminalize defamation nationwide,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, from Durban, South Africa. “There is no reason for Nigerian police to arrest journalists over their reporting. It’s something that happens far too often in the country, and authorities should act swiftly to reverse this trend.”

Ogundipe said officers took all five detainees to a police station in Utako, a neighborhood in Abuja, after their arrests.

Officers initially said Adenekan and Oke would be held until Ogundipe and Adefemola Akintade, a Peoples Gazette reporter who authored the June 23 report, appeared at the station, but then released them later Friday evening, Ogundipe and Asogwa said. Asogwa said Buratai’s complaint specifically accused Ogundipe and Akintade of defaming him.

The Nigerian Union of Journalists’ Abuja chapter secretary acted as surety for Adenekan and Oke’s bail, Asogwa said.

CPJ called Buratai but the calls rang unanswered or did not connect. CPJ also called national police spokesperson Alumuyiwa Adejobi and Josephine Adeh, a spokesperson for police in the Federal Capital Territory including Abuja, but no one answered.

CPJ has previously reported how access to the Peoples Gazette website was blocked in Nigeria and how intelligence agents have harassed its staff.

In 2017, Nigerian police arrested Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of the news website Premium Times, and Evelyn Okakwu, a Premium Times reporter who now works as a CPJ correspondent, over a defamation complaint by Buratai, as CPJ reported at the time.