It’s frightening to be a journalist in Nigeria these days. Across Africa’s most populous nation, where Muhammadu Buhari, a former military dictator and retired Major-General is in power, many journalists are being arrested and brought to court, sometimes, in handcuffs.
On Wednesday, newswire, PRNigeria, reported that two more journalists were arraigned in court by the Nigeria police force for a story published more than a year ago.
They were arraigned over a petition from a company owned by the just appointed Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Finance and Economy, Dr. Sarah Alade.
Their arrests followed an investigative report on hemp smoking published on 19 May 2018.
The investigative report with headline “Inside Kwara factory where Indian hemp smoking is ‘legalized,” was authored by Mr. Olufemi, a student journalist from one of the premier universities in Nigeria.
According to the report, Hillcrest Agro-Allied Industry, one of the groups of companies owned by the former Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr. Sarah Alade tolerated the smoking of cigarettes, as well as Indian hemp by workers within its vicinity.
The report also stated that the industry refused to respond to Olufemi’s inquiry on the disturbing situation after he had put several calls and text messages to the industry’s hotlines.
Police operatives earlier arrested the platform’s professional webmaster, Adebowale Adekoya in Lagos and Gidado Yushau in Abuja before taking them to Ilorin for further questioning. Olufemi Alfred voluntarily submitted himself to the police later in Ilorin.
According to the police, their arrest was based on a petition received from the company’s management, which debunked the claims in the publication.
However, on Tuesday, the two defendants (Gidado and Alfred) were charged with Criminal conspiracy and defamation against Sections 97 and 192 of the penal code.
The First Information Report (FIR) obtained by PRNigeria averred that the two defendants “criminally conspired to tarnish the name and image of Hillcrest Agro-Allied Industries”
Both Messrs Shuaib and Olufemi pleaded not guilty before a Magistrate Court in Ilorin Metropolis
Following the bail application made by the defence counsel, Barrister Usman Kola Belgore, the Chief Magistrate of the Court, Magistrate A.O Muhammed released the defendants on grounds of recognition and that they are innocent until proven otherwise.
The conditions of bail include two sureties each who are relatives of the defendants with a bail bond of two hundred thousand naira(N200,000.00)
The case was adjourned for hearing on January 13.
Earlier, Messrs Gidado Shuaib and Adekoya were detained and subsequently released by the Kwara State Police Command after they were thoroughly quizzed for publishing the investigative report.
The reporter of the story, Alfred Olufemi is a university student and an investigative journalist whose works have appeared in major news media in Nigeria.
He is a recipient of News Editor Award of the Nigerian Universities Merit Award (NUMA) 2018, Campus journalist of the year 2018 and Investigative Reporter of the Year at the 2019 Campus Journalism Award. One of his award-winning investigative reports include “Kwara communities where pregnant women abandon health centres for herbalist,” and the report on the factory belonging to Buhari’s Adviser, Sarah Alade