Saint Mienpamo Onitsha, publisher of NAIJA Live TV, was arrested on October 10, 2023, and charged with cybercrime and defamation in relation to a report that he wrote alleging that there was tension in the Niger Delta after a man had been killed by security guards outside government offices in the capital, Abuja.
Onitsha is the founder and publisher of the online broadcaster NAIJA Live TV, which was launched in Nigeria’s southern Bayelsa State in 2016 and covers political and economic issues, according to Onitsha and CPJ’s review.
On October 10, police officers arrested Onitsha at the home of his friend Charles Kuboro James in Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa State, Onitisha’s lawyer Anande Terungwa and James told CPJ.
James told CPJ that the officers arrived at his house and forced him at gunpoint to phone and summon Onitisha. The officers then forced both men into police vehicles at gunpoint and began driving towards the police station, he said. James said the officers accused him of involvement in a criminal conspiracy with Onitsha and dropped him on the roadside midway to the station.
Lawyer Terungwa said the officers held Onitisha overnight at the Criminal Investigation Department office in Yenagoa and then flew him to the capital, Abuja, where he was detained in the police headquarters.
On October 17, police charged Onitsha with cyberstalking under the Cybercrimes Act—for which the penalty is a 25 million naira (US$32,694) fine and/or up to 10 years in jail—as well as defamation and the publication of defamatory matter under the Criminal Code Act—for which the maximum penalty is two years in jail, according to Terungwa and a copy of the charge sheet reviewed by CPJ.
The charge sheet cited a September 8 NAIJA Live TV report alleging that there was tension in the southern Niger Delta because a man had been killed in Abuja by security guards outside the offices of the Presidential Amnesty Program (PAP), which was set up in 2009 to end a militant insurgency in the oil-rich region. It said the man, Pere Ebidouwei, had gone to Abuja to submit his documents to the PAP after the government delisted some amnesty program beneficiaries, who receive a monthly stipend in exchange for laying down their arms.
Later that day, Onitsha shared a link to the article on Facebook, as well as a video showing someone pouring water over a man lying on a street, who Onitsha identified as Ebidouwei. He also posted a letter, dated September 8, which appeared to be from solicitors working for the PAP, who said Onitsha’s article was defamatory and demanded that NAIJA Live TV publish a disclaimer and apology or face court action.
On September 9, Onitsha published another article, in which he quoted a PAP statement saying that they “decided to discipline” Ebidouwei for trying to force his way into their offices and that when he “pretended to have passed out,” they arranged for him to go to hospital where he was confirmed to be OK.
Terungwa told CPJ that a court was due to rule on January 25 on an application for Onitsha to be freed on bail.
Nigerian police spokesperson Olumuyiwa Adejobi told CPJ on October 23, that the officers were carrying out their duties by implementing the law and were not to blame for the charges. Adejobi said he would investigate Onitsha and James’ allegations that the officers aimed their guns at them but he did not respond to CPJ’s subsequent calls and text messages.
CPJ’s calls and text messages to the PAP did not receive any response. The phone number on the letter that Onitsha posted on Facebook which appeared to be written by solicitors working for PAP did not connect.