By Ismaila Chafe
Presidency has dispelled insinuations that the arrest and continuing detention of Mr. Jones Abiri, who claimed to be a journalist, trampled on freedom of the press.
The presidency said on Thursday that Abiri has not been able been able to prove that he is a bona fide journalist.
Malam Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media and Publicity), said in Abuja on Thursday said: “It is very uncharitable for anyone to infer that the President is in support of restrictions on freedom of expression and the media.’’
“On the issue of the arrest and continued detention of Abiri, who allegedly parades himself as a journalist, by the Department of the State Services (DSS), it is instructive to note that the accused is a guest of the security agency because of his alleged involvement in militant and criminal activities.
“Admittedly, the issue of Abiri had been brought to the attention of the Presidency by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Abiri is accused of being a Niger Delta militant by the Department of State Services (DSS).
Abiri who claimed to be a publisher of the Atlantic Express, was arrested on July 21, 2016 in his Yenagoa office and has since been in the custody.
He was accused of sponsoring the circulated hoax of a planned overthrow of President Muhammadu Buhari and destruction of pipelines belonging to oil multinationals.
DSS had alleged that Abiri masterminded the vandalism and bombing of Agip Oil Company and the Shell Petroleum Development Company pipelines in Southern Ijaw and Brass on July 8, 2016.
“As a true believer in the rule of law and the integral role of the media in a democracy, the Presidency did interface with the security agency involved in the matter and our findings confirmed that the suspect is in custody because of alleged involvement in pipeline vandalism and theft.
“Abiri is not a registered journalist with any of the media professional bodies in the country.’’
Shehu further stated that there was no evidence to show that Abiri belonged to any chapel or membership of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) or payment of the union’s check-off dues.
“Abiri’s stock-in-trade and notoriety in the liberalised Nigeria media industry include fronting as a spokesman for militants engaged in economic sabotage in the Niger Delta region,’’ he added.
He said the administration would continue to promote the freedom and safety of journalists.
He assured the world that the administration would do nothing untoward to damage the credibility it has demonstrated in promoting press freedom.
According to the presidential aide, President Muhammadu Buhari is resolutely committed to the freedom of the press.
He said the administration would ensure that media personnel in the country discharged their duties without let or hindrance.
He, therefore, frowned at those individuals or groups insinuating that President Buhari was in support of restrictions on freedom of expression and the media.
The presidential spokesman, however, maintained that the Buhari administration would continue to promote the freedom and safety of journalists.
He reassured that the administration would also do nothing untoward to damage the credibility it had demonstrated in promoting press freedom since coming into power in May 2015. (NAN)