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Nigeria: Journalists Targeted Again Under Cybercrime Law | #cybercrime | #infosec | #hacking | #aihp

The IPI global network calls on the authorities in Kwara State, Nigeria to stop using Nigeria’s Cybercrimes Act and the penal code to target journalists and undermine media freedom. 

Earlier this month, on February 6, four journalists from the online news site Informant247 – Adisa-Jaji Azeez, Salihu Ayatullahi, Salihu Shola Taofeek, and Abdulrahman Taye Damilola – were recently arrested, detained, and charged with conspiracy, cyberstalking, and defamation. 

The charges leveled against them followed a complaint lodged by the rector of Kwara State Polytechnic, Engineer Abdul Jimoh Muhammed. The complaint stemmed from reports that were published by the news site on November 10, 2023, and February 1, 2024, alleging that the rector had made false claims about the institution’s financial status and commissioned shoddy project work.

On February 6, the Kwara State police invited Adisa-Jaji Azeez and Salihu Ayatullahi for questioning, only for them to be arrested, detained overnight, and presented before the court. They were granted bail and released. In court, the pair was charged together with two other colleagues, Salihu Shola Taofeek and Abdulrahman Taye Damilola, who were not present in court. 

“Salihu Shola Taofeek and Abdulrahman Taye Damilola were not invited for questioning by the police; only myself and Adisa-Jaji Azeez were”, Salihu Ayatullahi told IPI. “It was surprising when we saw their names on the First Information Report in court, with reports that they are at large. Now, they fear the police are up to something for not inviting them and instead declaring that they are at large in court, which has led them to go into hiding,’’ he said.

Salihu Ayatullahi said that he appeared in court on February 13 and 14 and that his next court appearance is scheduled for February 21.

“The offenses brought against them were under Sections 24 & 27(1b) of the Cybercrimes Prohibition and Prevention Act of 2015”, lawyer A.J. Edun told IPI. “The punishment if they are found guilty is three and seven years imprisonment, respectively, or a fine or both.’’

IPI Africa Advocacy and Partnerships Lead Nompilo Simanje called for the charges against the journalists to be dropped, and emphasized that journalists must be free to work without fear of intimidation and legal reprisals.

“This is the latest example of cybercrime laws in Nigeria being used to target journalists”, she said. “The authorities in Nigeria should amend their legislation to align with regional and international standards. The continued use of such laws like criminal defamation and vague provisions of the cybercrimes act against journalists pose an ongoing risk to media freedom and freedom of expression.”

She added: “It is appalling that the Nigerian authorities continue to enforce Section 24 of the Cybercrimes Act, which was declared by the ECOWAS Court of Justice to be inconsistent and incompatible with Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.” she added. 

Several journalists in Nigeria have been arrested, detained, and arraigned in recent years on charges stemming from the Cybercrime Act. Examples include the 34-day detention of journalist Agba Jalingo and the jailing of Saint Mienpamo Onitsha, who was recently released after four months in jail. This recent case of the above four journalists adds to an already long list of media practitioners and journalists who have been prosecuted under Nigeria’s cybercrime law.

In 2022, the ECOWAS Court of Justice ordered the Nigerian government to amend its cybercrime law, particularly Section 24 which does not conform to the principles laid out in Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), both of which promote free expression and to which Nigeria is signatory. 

Overbroad cybercrime laws pose an increasing threat to free expression and media freedom. Especially alarming is a planned U.N. cybercrime treaty that, in its current form, would elevate these dangers to a transnational level. Recently, IPI spearheaded the submission of a joint letter to the Ad Hoc Committee on the UN Cybercrime Treaty by civil society and media organizations in Africa calling on the committee to ensure the treaty does not become yet another tool for some authoritarian governments in Africa to surveil journalists and undermine fundamental rights. The letter highlighted examples from Africa, including Nigeria.

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