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Nigerian authorities detain journalist Precious Eze Chukwunonso for 18 days

By Committee to Protect Journalists - Africa
Nigeria Police in Nigeria on May 27 arrested journalist Precious Eze Chukwunonso, the publisher of privately owned online publication News Platform, and detained him for 18 days over a May 8 article about a local businessman. (Photo: Courtesy of Precious Eze Chukwunonso)
MON, 24 JUN 2024 LISTEN
Police in Nigeria on May 27 arrested journalist Precious Eze Chukwunonso, the publisher of privately owned online publication News Platform, and detained him for 18 days over a May 8 article about a local businessman. (Photo: Courtesy of Precious Eze Chukwunonso)

Lusaka, Zambia, June 21, 2024—Nigerian authorities should drop all criminal charges against Precious Eze Chukwunonso, publisher of the privately owned outlet News Platform, who was detained for nearly three weeks following a complaint about his reporting, and allow journalists to work without fear of arrest, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

On May 27, police arrested Chukwunonso at his home in Badagry, a coastal town west of Nigeria’s biggest city, Lagos, and held him at the Zone 2 Command Headquarters on Lagos Island, according to news reports.

Chukwunonso was released on bail on June 14, the journalist and his lawyer, Femi Adisa-Isikalu, told CPJ.

Chukwunonso is due back in court on July 2 for a hearing on charges of conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace, provoking a breach of the peace by offensive publication, and conspiracy to commit a felony, according to the charge sheet, reviewed by CPJ, and his lawyer.

If found guilty, the journalist could be jailed for up to two years, fined up to 90,000 naira (US$60), or both, under the 2015 Criminal Law of Lagos State.

The charges relate to Chukwunonso’s May 8 article for News Platform, which alleged that a local businessman Prince Chris Odinaka Igwe, who heads the petroleum distribution firm Mainland Oil and Gas Limited, was involved in a confrontation with a neighbor in a Lagos residential estate, during which shots were fired, those sources said.

“Precious Eze Chukwunonso joins a shamefully long list of Nigerian journalists who have been thrown behind bars simply for doing their jobs,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator, Muthoki Mumo, in Nairobi. “Authorities in Lagos should drop the pending criminal charges against Chukwunonso and allow him to continue his journalistic work without further harassment.”

Chukwunonso told CPJ that police arrested him without a warrant and confiscated his phone, which they had yet to return. Chukwunonso said that the police questioned him about his sources during his detention and on May 29, the businessman, who is the complainant in the case, came to the police station and threatened to “deal” with Chukwunonso and show him “where power lies.”

On May 30, authorities made a request to Ebute-Metta magistrate’s court in Lagos to keep Chukwunonso in detention but the court declined on the grounds that remand was reserved for serious offences, Adisa-Isikalu told CPJ.

“The court wondered why it should grant a remand order for a journalist for just writing something,” the lawyer said, adding that the police were ordered to bring the journalist before the court the next day.

On May 31, the court ordered that Chukwunonso be freed under the condition that two employed people stand surety for his return to court, each undertaking to pay a bail bond of 500,000 naira (US$330) should the journalist not comply with the conditions for his release.

Chukwunonso was transferred to Ikoyi Prison in Lagos where he waited until June 14 to be freed as the court did not approve his second surety until June 10 and that person did not finalize paying taxes required to stand surety until June 13, Adisa-Isikalu said.

CPJ has recently documented the arrest of several journalists in Nigeria over their reporting.

On May 20, police in the capital Abuja summoned and briefly detained two journalists with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting following a complaint over a corruption report. On May 22, armed police arrested Madu Onuorah, publisher and editor-in-chief of Global Upfront Newspapers, at his home in Abuja, over an allegation of defamation. He was released on bail the following day.

Lagos State police spokesperson Benjamin Hundeyin did not respond to CPJ’s repeated calls for comment and queries sent via messaging app.

On June 21, CPJ contacted Igwe through a number listed on the Mainland Oil and Gas website and when asked to comment on the criminal allegations against Chukwunonso a person who answered the phone said, “I have nothing to say to you,” and referred CPJ to the authorities for comment.

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