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Nigeria has detained a journalist who reported on corruption in a widening crackdown

Daniel Ojukwu is an investigative journalist in Nigeria.
Foundation for Investigative Journalism
Daniel Ojukwu is an investigative journalist in Nigeria.

LAGOS, Nigeria — An investigative journalist in Nigeria has been arrested by police and held without charge for over a week, leading to growing fears for his safety. His case has also ignited criticism from media and advocacy groups on the worsening climate for independent journalism in Africa's most populous country.

Police arrested 26-year-old Daniel Ojukwu on May 1 in Lagos. He was reported missing the following day by his colleagues at Nigeria's Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), after friends and family were unable to reach him by phone. FIJ hired private investigators who found his last location before he was arrested, leading journalists to demand answers from Nigerian police.

Police only confirmed his detention on Sunday, days after moving him to the capital, Abuja, where he has been accused of violating the Cybercrime Act, a controversial law that gives the Nigerian government broad powers to regulate perceived online offenses. It has been criticized by Amnesty International as a means of punishing journalists and undermining the right to freedom of speech.

The detention follows investigative reporting by Ojukwu and colleagues revealing corruption implicating senior Nigerian officials. A presidency official, Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, who was tasked with achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, allegedly ordered the transfer of more than $106,000 of government funds to a restaurant in the capital, according to Ojukwu's reporting. The funds had been budgeted for the creation of a school building and learning center but, according to Ojukwu's report, the facilities were never created. Orelope-Adefulire has not responded to the allegations.

Fisayo Soyombo, the founder of FIJ, described Ojuwku's arrest — two days before the May 3 World Press Freedom Day — as an "abduction." "I use this word very carefully because they never invited him to address concerns about the story in question. Instead, they tracked him, picked him and held him," he said.

As of Wednesday, a week after he was taken, Nigerian police had not interrogated Ojukwu on the story he produced, or questioned him for any alleged crime, Soyombo said, adding that FIJ made contact with Ojukwu on Sunday by phone. "All they have done is dump him in a cell." Police did not respond to NPR's requests for comment.

Ojukwu's arrest was a further sign of the "horrible" climate for independent journalism in Nigeria.

"If a journalist can be abducted because of that story, I think anyone in doubt can see clearly that Nigeria currently runs a pretend democracy," Soyombo said.

Soyombo is also being investigated by police for reporting in February that revealed alleged collusion between senior Nigerian police, customs officials and smugglers, in the movement of arms and food items across Nigeria's border with Benin. A member of FIJ's board was then questioned by Nigerian police in April, the organization said.

On Wednesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a statement urging authorities in Nigeria to "immediately release journalist Daniel Ojukwu and stop intimidating and arresting members of the press who investigate the government's spending of public funds."

"The Nigerian police's investigation into such a reputable media outlet demonstrates the alarming extent to which they are willing to go to silence journalists seeking to expose crime," said Angela Quintal, head of CPJ's Africa program.

Ojukwu's case is the latest in a growing number of arrests of journalists over the last year under President Bola Tinubu's government. Last month, another journalist, Segun Olatunji, was arrested and detained for two weeks by the Nigerian military, following a report revealing alleged corruption by the president's chief of staff, Femi Gbajabiamila. He was released last week without charge and told local media he had been stripped, blindfolded and detained by officers.

Various media groups in Nigeria, including the Nigerian Union of Journalists, released a joint statement urging the government to stop using "repressive tactics." Nigeria is one of West Africa's most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are regularly monitored, attacked and arbitrarily arrested, according to Reporters Without Borders, which ranked Nigeria 112th out of 180 countries for press freedom.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.