In a statement signed by the Chairman of HEDA, Olanrewaju Suraju, the civil society group warned whoever may be concerned that the civic space, media and other rights activists would never be gagged nor made to succumb to any form of intimidation in any guise by any force(s).
The HEDA boss decried the use and compromise of the police to criminalise allegations of defamation against the civic space which he described as a threat to Nigeria’s democracy and freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution and other international laws to which Nigeria is bound to obey.
He called on President Buhari and the National Human Rights Commission to communicate the implications of this ugly trend to the police leadership, condemn the actions and act accordingly.
It called for an end to “incessant attacks and harassment” of the media and civil society groups by public officials using the instrumentalities of the military and paramilitary personnel.
Suraju recalled sadly how the immediate former Army Chief, Tukur Buratai, used the military to oppress the media and civil society organisations.
“This harassment on the media, civil groups and crusaders of good governance, rights activists and advocates of justice and equity has become a recurring ritual, that no military or paramilitary chief leaves office without stepping on the toes of these aforementioned groups and individuals.
“It’s unfortunate this administration, in particular, does not know the relevance of the media and CSOs in a democratic era. They fail to understand that the more they rise against us, the more their atrocities are exposed. Truth cannot be suppressed,” he affirmed.
He charged other civil society organisations not to be daunted in the fight against bad governance, maladministration and mismanagement of public resources, noting that with time and steadfastness, evil will bow to Godliness.
Last week, armed police officers broke into the Peoples Gazette’s office opposite NNPC Quarters in Utako and arrested Mr John Adenekan, an Assistant Managing Editor and four other staff members: Ameedat Adeyemi, Grace Oke, Sammy Ogbu and Justina Tayani.
“The officers declined to state the reason for their assault but demanded to see the paper’s Managing Editor, Samuel Ogundipe, and reporter Adefemola Akintade,” the statement quoted the newspaper as saying.
But both journalists were reportedly not available during the operation, prompting the officers to arrest Mr Adenekan. But on Friday night, Peoples Gazette announced that they had been freed.
“We are excited about the release of our colleagues, John Adenekan and Grace Oke,” Managing Editor Samuel Ogundipe was quoted to have said last Friday evening. “We thank our lawyers and the Nigerian public for mounting appropriate pressure.”
Ogundipe thanked all Nigerians and organisations, including the CPJ and SERAP, who showed solidarity towards the media platform, saying the fight to detach Nigeria from the brutalities of its dark days should be sustained.
Earlier, spokesman for the FCT Police Command, DSP Josephine Adeh, said the journalists and staff members of the newspaper were only invited for questioning over a petition written against them, accusing the paper of defaming the character of Tukur Buratai, former Chief of Army Staff.
“Our officers did not raid any media house. We don’t raid media houses because we know better, and media houses are not criminal hideouts.
“Someone had written a petition accusing the newspaper of defamation of character. The newspaper was accused of defaming the character of the former Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai. However, we got a warrant from the court to invite them for questioning.
“We have no malicious intent for inviting them. Our officers went to Peoples Gazette office this morning to invite them to come to give a statement in response to the petition at the Utako police station. And as I speak to you, the NUJ Secretary is with them at the Utako police station as they’re making their statements,” she had said.