Femi Falana, human rights lawyer, says the detention of Tony Ezimakor, Abuja bureau chief of Daily Independent newspaper by the Department of State Services (DSS) is a reminder of how the Muhammadu Buhari military regime jailed two journalists.
DSS had invited Ezimakor to its headquarters in Abuja after a report detailing how the federal government allegedly paid Boko Haram millions of dollars to secure the release of 82 Chibok girls.
He honoured the invitation on Wednesday and has been in detention since then.
Dan Okore, editor of the newspaper, had disclosed that the secret police said unless the journalist reveals the identity of those who provided the information he used in the story, he would not be released.
Daily Independent had asked DSS to charge Ezimakor to court but the agency refused.
In a statement on Tuesday, Falana said DSS has no right to force a journalist to disclose the source of a story he wrote.
“The Abuja bureau chief of the Independent Newspaper was arrested last week by the State Security Service for publishing a story on the alleged payment of $2 million to the Boko Haram terrorists for the release of some of the abducted Chibok girls,” Falana said.
“Apparently embarrassed by the publication Mr. Ezimakor has been held incommunicado by the State Security Service. As a condition for his release from the illegal custody of the State Security Service, Mr. Ezimakor has been asked to disclose his source of information.
“The harassment of Mr Ezimakor is a sad reminder of the case of Messrs Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor who tried, convicted and were jailed by the Buhari/Idiagbon junta in 1984 over their refusal to disclose their source of information pertaining to a story published in The Guardian newspaper.
“Regrettably, the State Security Service is yet to appreciate that a journalist cannot be forced to disclose his source of information under the current democratic dispensation. It is high time the attention of the State Security Service was drawn to Section 35(2) of the constitution which provides that “any person who is arrested or detained shall have the right to remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his own choice”.
“Since Mr. Ezimakor is constitutionally entitled to “remain silent” the State Security Services lacks the power to subject him to disclose the source of his information.”
Condemning the action of the DSS, Falana asked the agency to release Ezimakor and apologise to him.
The lawyer said the journalist has not committed any offence.
“Therefore, by arresting and detaining Mr. Ezimakor for the purpose of compelling him to disclose the source of a story written by him and published by the Independent newspaper the State Security Services has acted malafide, illegally and unconstitutionally,” he said.
“As Mr. Ezimakor has not committed any offence known to law the State Security Services should release him unconditionally and publicly apologize to him in line with the requirement of section 35(6) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigerian as amended.”