Nigeria: How Nigeria's Police Used Telecom Surveillance to Lure & Arrest Journalists

21 February 2020

Digital Content

New York — As reporters for Nigeria's Premium Times newspaper, Samuel Ogundipe and Azeezat Adedigba told CPJ, they spoke often over the phone. They had no idea that their regular conversations about work and their personal lives were creating a record of their friendship.

On August 9, 2018, Ogundipe published an article about a communication between Nigeria's police chief and vice president. Days later, police investigating his source issued a written summons, CPJ reported at the time.

It was not addressed to Ogundipe and made no mention of his article or the charges he would later face of theft and possession of police documents. Instead, as Ogundipe recounted, police called Adedigba for questioning in connection with a slew of serious crimes, allegations that evaporated after police used her phone to summon her friend to the station.

Ogundipe's experience is one of at least three cases since 2017 where police from across Nigeria used phone records to lure and then arrest journalists currently facing criminal charges for their work.

In each case, police used the records to identify people with a relationship to a targeted journalist, detained those people, and then forced them to facilitate the arrest.

The police methods reinforce the value of internet-based, encrypted communications at a time when authorities have also targeted journalists' phones and computers to reveal their sources. Those prosecuted in all three cases are free on bail.

"If the police called me and said we have something to ask you, I would go there... this is just their tactics," Ogundipe said.

Ogundipe and Adedigba told CPJ that police made no secret of the way they had established their relationship, showing them each call records they claimed to have obtained from the pair's cellphone network providers--Nigeria-based 9mobile, a subsidiary of the UAE-based Etisalat telecom company, and South Africa-based MTN, respectively. Read the full article on Inter Press Service here