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Nigerian journalist Madu Onuorah arrested for alleged defamation, released on bail

By Committee to Protect Journalists - Africa
Nigeria Madu Onuorah, publisher and editor-in-chief of Global Upfront Newspapers, told CPJ he was arrested May 22 at his home in the Lugbe district of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. His image is seen here in a May 23 globalupfront.com report about his arrest. (Screenshot: CPJ)
SAT, 25 MAY 2024 LISTEN
Madu Onuorah, publisher and editor-in-chief of Global Upfront Newspapers, told CPJ he was arrested May 22 at his home in the Lugbe district of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. His image is seen here in a May 23 globalupfront.com report about his arrest. (Screenshot: CPJ)

New York, May 24, 2024 — Nigerian authorities should drop their investigation into journalist Madu Onuorah and cease arresting journalists in connection with their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

Armed police officers from Nigeria’s eastern Enugu and Ebonyi states arrested Onuorah, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Global Upfront Newspapers, at his home in the Lugbe district of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Wednesday evening, according to news reports, his outlet’s press release, and Onuorah, who spoke to CPJ by phone Thursday while in custody in Enugu city, the capital of Enugu state, more than 250 miles by road from Abuja.

Onuorah told CPJ that police tricked his 10-year-old daughter into opening the gate of his home, and then “came in with guns, threatening me.” The officers then took him to a local police station in Abuja until 5 a.m. on Thursday, when they drove him for nine hours south to Abakaliki, the Ebonyi state capital, and then to Enugu, Onuorah said.

Onuorah was arrested after Enugu police received a written petition alleging defamation in a report about a U.S.-based Catholic reverend sister, according to a police statement, Onuorah, and Onuorah’s lawyer, Ifeanyi Odo, who also spoke to CPJ by phone. Reached by phone on Thursday, the reverend sister referred CPJ to her lawyer. When CPJ contacted him by phone on Friday, he declined to comment on the record about the case.

After his release on bail late on Thursday evening, Onuorah told CPJ that no charges had been filed against him, but he had given a police statement and a police investigation into him was ongoing. Odo told CPJ that he and Onuorah had met with the police and a lawyer representing the reverend sister on Friday morning and that Onuorah was free to return to Abuja, but the journalist was expected to return to Enugu to meet with police in two weeks.

“Nigerian authorities should drop their investigation into journalist Madu Onuorah and reform the country’s laws to ensure journalists are not detained for their work,” said Angela Quintal, head of CPJ’s Africa program, in Maputo, Mozambique. “Nigerian security forces seem to be making a habit of arresting journalists without warning and then transporting them across the country. It’s an alarming trend that must be reversed.”

Ebonyi police spokesperson Joshua Ukandu confirmed to CPJ by phone that Ebonyi state officers assisted in the arrest, but directed questions to Enugu police.

Enugu police spokesperson Daniel Ndukwe told CPJ in a statement shared via messaging app that Onuorah was “arrested in Abuja with the assistance of police operatives from Ebonyi State Command and the aid of intelligence, after efforts made to formally invite him failed.”

Onuorah told CPJ that he was unaware of any police efforts to summon him for questioning, adding that he had not been presented with a warrant for his arrest.

CPJ sent follow-up questions to Ndukwe but did not receive an immediate response. A follow-up call was answered but then disconnected. Another call on Friday rang unanswered.

Local media groups, including the Federal Capital Territory chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Media Rights Agenda, and the Lagos state-based International Press Centre, have condemned Onuorah’s arrest.

Earlier this year, Nigerian security forces separately arrested journalists Segun Olatunji and Daniel Ojukwu in Lagos State without prior notice and then transported them to Abuja.

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