On February 7, a magistrate court in Nigeria’s southern Kwara State convicted Yushau, publisher of the privately owned website News Digest, and freelance reporter Olufemi of criminal defamation and conspiracy, according to a copy of the judgment reviewed by CPJ and phone interviews with the journalists and their lawyer, Ahamad Sa’eed Ibrahim-Gambari. CPJ became aware of the conviction after an April 9 report by the privately owned news website Premium Times.
The court ordered the journalists to be jailed for five months or pay 100,000 nairas (US$219) each, which they paid in February to avoid jail. Ibrahim-Gambari said the journalists plan to appeal the ruling.
The journalists were arrested and arraigned in 2019 over a publication published in News Digest in 2018. The publication — titled “Inside a Kwara factory where Indian Hemp is legalised” — exposed activities at Hillcrest Agro-Allied company, which is linked to Sarah Alade (pictured), President Muhammadu Buhari’s economic adviser.
In a statement on Saturday, Auwal Musa, CISLAC executive director, said the magistrate court convicted Yushau and Olufemi of criminal conspiracy and defamation on February 7, despite the testimony of an ex-employee indicting the company and a lot of infractions by the police.
“Nigerian journalists Gidado Yushau and Alfred Olufemi should never have been charged, let alone convicted, for publishing an investigative report about a factory,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, from New York. “The telecom surveillance used to bring the journalists into custody, followed by a more than three-year-long trial, demonstrates the lengths Nigerian authorities will go to arrest and prosecute the press.”
The telecom surveillance, along with two similar cases in 2017 and 2018, prompted an ongoing lawsuitagainst the Nigerian Communications Commission over regulations granting warrantless access to telecom subscribers’ information.
CPJ’s calls and text messages to the prosecutor, Samuel Mayowa, received no response.