Rotimi Jolayemi, a journalist and poet also known as Oba Akewi, has been charged to court by the Police for recording and broadcasting an audio message with an alleged intent to cause annoyance, hatred, and ill-will to Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Information Minister.
- His court charge came last weekend, 17 days after he was “illegally detained” by the Federal Investigation Bureau of the Nigeria Police Force in Abuja, according to the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights [CDHR].
What they are saying: In the charge sheet presented in court per this PUNCH report, the Police accused Jolayemi of violating “Section 24(1)(b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act 2015” with his audio message posted in a Whatsapp platform known as ‘Ekan Sons and Daughters’ for the purpose of “causing annoyance, insult, hatred, and ill-will” to the minister.
- Lai Mohammed, through his spokesperson Segun Adeyemi, has denied instigating the arrest of the journalist.
- However, the CDHR disputes the claim of the Minister and accused him of not only instigating the arrest of the journalist but also going after his wife and two brothers who were all illegally detained for days by the Police.
- CDHR’s claims are corroborated by Olu Olugbade, Chairman of the Freelance and Independent Broadcasters Association of Nigeria [FIBAN], who confirmed the arrest of the journalist’s wife and brothers by the Police.
He said: “We were then told the minister had listened to the audio and tagged it hate speech. Comrade Jolayemi later showed up at the police headquarters in Ilorin and submitted himself for investigation. He was then moved to Abuja and since we’ve not been allowed access to him.”
Why this matters: Nigeria continues to see heightened harassment of journalists and arbitrary restrictions on press freedom since President Buhari’s election. This case even goes further because the police arrested Jolayemi’s family members for actions they were not involved in. That is contrary to the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
- Before getting into power, Lai Mohammed was a staunch defender of the rights of journalists to criticize and make demands of governments. As the spokesman of the opposition APC, he was one of the fiercest critics of the erstwhile government.
- As minister, Mohammed has become irritated with scrutiny and defended a repressive social media regulations Bill widely condemned as government overreach at odds with guaranteed constitutional freedoms and rights.
- Lai Mohammed is not alone. A government-owned station in Imo state recently suspended a journalist indefinitely for protesting non-payment of salary for months. In Bayelsa state, masked men broke into the home of a journalist and detained him over a report he published.