Femi Falana (SAN) File Photo for Illustration Purpose
Femi Falana (SAN) File Photo for Illustration Purpose

FOLLOWING the invitation of The ICIR management and one of its reporters, Nurudeen Yahaya Akewushola, by the Nigerian police for alleged violation of the Cybercrime Act, human rights lawyer Femi Falana has said that arresting journalists based on cyberstalking and criminal intimidation charges is unlawful.

Falana, in reaction to the police invitation received by The ICIR, on May 16, stated that although Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act (2015) initially criminalised cyberstalking, insult, causing annoyance, sending offensive messages, and criminal intimidation, the Nigerian government has repealed the section and replaced it with Section five of the Cybercrime Amendment Act.

READ ALSO: Nigeria’s cybercrime reforms leave journalists at risk – Report

Falana, a senior advocate, who described arresting journalists on cyberstalking charges as illegal, said the provisions of Section 24 of the Cybercrimes (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2015, that the police rely on have been amended by the Nigerian government.

“In the cases of Laws and Rights Awareness Initiative (Suit No. ECW/CCJ/APP/53/18) and Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (Suit Laws and Rights Awareness Initiative (Suit No ECW/CCJ/APP/09/19), the Ecowas Court declared section 24 of the Cybercrime Act 2015 illegal and directed the federal government to amend the section to make the law conform with the fundamental right of Nigerian citizens to freedom of expression guaranteed by section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 and article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.


“In line with both judgments of the Ecowas Court, the government of Nigeria has repealed section 24 by removing the provisions relating to ‘cyberstalking’, ”insult’, ‘causing annoyance’, ‘sending offensive messages’, and ‘criminal intimidation’ from the Cybercrime Act 2015 and replaced same with section 5 of the Cybercrime Amendment Act,” Falana said.

Quoting Section five of the Cybercrime Amendment Act, Falana noted that any person who ‘knowingly or intentionally’ sends a pornographic or false message via computer systems or networks, aiming to disrupt law and order or pose a threat to life, commits an offence and may face a fine up to N7,000,000, imprisonment for up to three years, or both.

The human rights lawyer, further argued that the Police and other security agencies lacked the power to arrest, detain and prosecute Nigerian citizens for the ‘so-called offences’ earlier listed in subsection 24 of the Cybercrime Act 2015.

“From the foregoing, it is crystal clear that the Police and other security agencies lack the power to arrest, detain and prosecute Nigerian citizens for the so- called offences of ‘cyberstalking’, ”insult’, ‘causing annoyance’, ‘sending offensive messages’, and ‘criminal intimidation’. Consequently, all pending cases filed on the basis of the repealed aspects of section 24 of the Cybercrime Act 2015 should be discontinued without any further delay, Falana added.”

Earlier, The ICIR had expressed concerns over the invitation letter to Akewushola and its managers by the Nigeria Police Force National Cybercrime Centre (NPF-NCCC) in Abuja.

The letter, dated April 16, 2024, required the journalist to report to the Centre on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, three weeks before the letter was delivered to The ICIR by the Police on Wednesday May 15.

Part of the letter reads, “The Nigeria Police Force National Cybercrime Centre is investigating a case of cyberstalking and defamation of character in which the above-named person featured prominently.

‘In view of the above, you are requested to interview the Director of the Nigeria Police Force National  Cybercrime Centre (NPF-NCCC) plot 625 Mission Road, Diplomatic Zone, Central Business District, Abuja through CSP Omaka Udodinma Chukwu on Wednesday 24th April 2024. Call 08067854241 on your arrival. Your cooperation in this regard will be highly appreciated, please.”

One of the concerns raised by The ICIR was that there were no details of the petition which led to the investigations for cyberstalking and defamation of character, as this would have helped the reporter better prepare for the interview with the Police.

The invitation is most likely about an investigation done by Akewushola and published by The ICIR which linked two past Inspectors-General of Police (IGPs) to corruption.

Continued attack on journalists 

Despite the constitutional mandate given to journalists to hold the government and its agencies to account, laws such as the Cybercrimes Act have been used to intimidate journalists and stifle press freedom.

On Wednesday, May 1, a journalist with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) Daniel Ojukwu was abducted by officials of the Nigerian Police and detained at the NPF-NCCC for ten days.

Before his abduction, former editor of First News Segun Olatunji was also abducted and detained for nearly two weeks by operatives of the Nigerian military before being released.

On Friday, May 3, The ICIR reported how the latest data on the 2024 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) placed Nigeria as one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists.

This followed Nigeria’s placement at 112th out of 180 countries where journalists are regularly monitored, attacked, and arbitrarily arrested.

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