The Nigeria Police Force, on Thursday, denied allegations that it was out for witch-hunt against journalists, in a bid to suppress press freedom, through the application of the amended Cybercrime Act 2024.

The Force said journalists do not enjoy immunity, noting that professionals are “criminally liable” once accused of a crime.

The country has seen a series of crackdowns on journalists due to the implementation of the Cybercrime Act 2024 by the police.

The ex-Editor of First News, Segun Olatunji; a journalist with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, Daniel Ojukwu; the Executive Director of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Dayo Aiyetan, and an investigative journalist with the ICIR, Nurudeen Akewushola, are among the latest victims of the contentious Act.

Speaking at a joint briefing by the Security, Defence and Response agencies, organised by the Strategic Communications Interagency Policy Committee, in Abuja, the Force Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, said the police were not preventing journalists from performing their duties.

“It’s not that we are applying the Cybercrime Act for witch-hunt. Also, it is not to oppress or subvert press freedom in Nigeria. I am not saying you should not be a whistleblower, but if you want to be one, you must get your facts right,” he said.

He added that journalists had no immunity and could be arrested or invited by the police.

Adejobi said, “The fact that somebody is a journalist does not grant him immunity over certain things. You are criminally liable once an offence has been laid against you and the police must take it up.

“Let me put it on record that if a petition has been written against you as a certified journalist, the best is to honour the invitation and get across to the office of the Force spokesperson.

“Some of them you claimed have been victimised have not contacted me. Everybody is a journalist; we practise citizen journalism in Nigeria.”

Adejobi said the police operated under numerous laws and could prosecute journalists found guilty of publishing defamatory reports using any of these laws.

“Defamation of character is a law defined under the Cybercrime Act and the Criminal Act of this country defines defamation as an offence. If somebody publishes something wrong against you, as a Nigerian, you have the right to take it up.

“As a trained police officer, I may decide not to use the Cybercrime Act to prosecute you. With my training, I must be able to lay my hands on many laws to nail you if I want to.

“Forget the fact that the NSA has called for the full implementation of the Cybercrime Act, the police can lay their hands on any law to prosecute anybody,” he said.

Adejobi stressed that the police had not yet arrested any journalist from mainstream media, adding that the bloggers were the ones running afoul of the law, many times.

“The fact is the police have not arrested anyone from the mainstream media. Most of these bloggers are always running afoul of the law because they want to break the news.

“You can’t break the news without confirmation from the parties involved. You need to balance your report. Once you are invited to come and clarify a report, don’t run away. We are human beings like you,” he stated.

The FPRO criticised media houses for using the term “abduction” to describe the arrest of journalists, stressing that the police did not abduct, but rather arrest.

He said, “We don’t abduct, we arrest. If the arrest is wrong, you tell us why the arrest is wrong and we will tell you why it is right. We face challenges because many of you don’t understand the legal framework.”

Adejobi also said if any journalists got arrested, his colleagues would not be able to stand surety for him, adding that the police would not release such a journalist unless a “substantive surety” was provided.

“Once you have been arrested, your statement is taken under caution. Under the law, you are to be granted bail to a substantive surety and that is another problem.

“Don’t tell me your colleague in your office will stand surety for you. No. If you are not a substantive surety, the police will not release anybody to you,” he said.

He described as an honour the police invitation to a suspect, adding that the police were not mandated to extend an invitation to a suspect during an investigation.

“I want to clarify that we are not obliged to send an invitation to a suspect in the first instance. It is just out of respect. No law says you must invite somebody before you carry out your investigation, we can only honour you by extending an invitation to you.

“Where you don’t honour the invitation, we go to court to get a warrant. With that warrant, we can even declare you wanted and arrest you anywhere,” he said.