Nigerian bloggers seek union amid government clampdown

14 October 2016

Digital Content

Nigerian bloggers are canvassing the creation of a union that could defend the interests of its members, after the arrests of several bloggers and journalists by the government.

Federal and state agents have arrested more than a dozen bloggers and journalists deemed critical by political authorities in the last three months.

The latest arrest involved a blogger, Jamil Mabai, arrested in Kaduna more than two weeks ago.

Mr. Mabai’s offence was posting a report critical of Gov. Aminu Masari of Katsina State.

A few days after the arrest, Mr. Mabai was arraigned before a Magistrate court in the state, which after adjourning the case to September 29, later said it had no jurisdiction on the matter.

Yet, the court dismissed his application for bail.

The blogger will remain at the Katsina Central Prison where he is held, till at least October 31 when the state high court is scheduled to hear a fresh application for his bail.

More bloggers have been arrested in Nigeria in the last one year. Still, many cases of arrest or harassment go unreported, says Mercy Abang, a blogger.

Ms. Abang said this is because, unlike other professionals, bloggers have no association to defend their interests.

“It is an attempt to check freedom of speech in Nigeria,” Ms. Abang told PREMIUM TIMES. “I just think it is an attempt to break the freedom that the internet offers. And for a government that had the luxury of riding on that freedom to power, it is rather unfortunate.”

Ms. Abang said bloggers should team up to defend their interests.

“It is important for bloggers to come together, put their voices together and talk about it, to try and lobby even the policymakers not to turn it into a cycle where on Monday Mr. A is picked, and on Tuesday another Mr. B is picked,” Ms. Abang told PREMIUM TIMES.

She expressed surprise that the development had come up under the All Progressives Congress-led administration that benefitted from the power of internet and social media.

“Social media gave this government an opportunity to push the kind of conversation that would have been composed by the previous government of the PDP,” she said.

“And even part of the success of the election was also linked to social media. So how come you get into office now and you said these guys are now enemies, let’s shut them down.

“So what they are trying to tell us is that ‘stay in your office, we will send you our statement, then you will use it’. The stories the government sends are 99% lies. Are they telling us that we should consume and keep to such lies?” she asked.

Another blogger, Japhet Omojuwa, who also spoke to PREMIUM TIMES, believed that a law passed by the seventh National Assembly gave room for the arrests of bloggers.

“Well, the Seventh National Assembly, among the 38 bills passed in 2015 that were assented by the then President Goodluck Jonathan, actually give rooms for the authorities to make such arrests,” he said.

“I think one of the big moves that is being made right now is the conversation on the Internet Rights Act that has passed first reading in the current National Assembly and is recognized globally.

“If it is passed into law, it might be able to scuffle this other law that allows bloggers to be picked at will by the authorities”, he said

Mr. Omojuwa also called for a national professional body to represent bloggers and other internet publishers.

“There are different associations of bloggers and online practitioners. I also know that organisations like Teen Nigeria that is led by Gbenga Sesan, and Enough is Enough Nigeria are working very much on things like this.”

“Maybe this situation calls for a big one that get to protect the interest of bloggers, the way you have the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), NUJ and others like that. Maybe this calls for something like that,” he said.

Source: Premium Times 8 October 2016