Endangered by social media posts

Endangered by social media posts

The social media has become a veritable platform for social interaction and one of the fastest means of sending and sharing messages across the globe. But KUNLE AKINRINADE reports that it can also become a source of trouble for users who are not circumspect about the kind of messages they post.

Muazu Magaji

Former Kano State Commissioner for Works and Infrastructural Development, Engr Muazu Magaji, had no inkling of the trouble he was plunging himself into when he posted a controversial message on his Facebook page, suggesting that he gloated over the death of former Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mallam Abba Kyari, who died of coronavirus disease in April.


In a comment considered by the state government as an improper way to celebrate the passage of Kyari amid the outpouring of tributes and emotions on the late Chief of Staff, Magaji had declared that “Nigeria is free.”

“It’s very, very important we put things in perspective so that we can save our system from punitive unconstitutional usurpers in the future!” the message read in part.

It added: “Democracy and democratic equity does not by itself strive. It must be guarded and protected… One person, just one person can set a dangerous precedence!

“When you are all done with the pretence and crocodile tears, we will do a review in the overriding interest of the nation and its people!

“I am perfectly aware of the storm I am in… The fact however is I know what comes from the heart or that which is purchased! You all will come around.”

The immediate result of Magaji’s post is that he was fired by Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, for what the Commissioner for Information, Muhammad Garba, described in a statement as “unguarded utterances against the person of the late Chief of Staff to the President, Malam Abba Kyari.”

“The action of a public servant, personal or otherwise, reflects back on the government and therefore, the Ganduje administration would not tolerate people in official capacities engaging in personal vendetta or otherwise,” Garba added.

Magaji, however, said his Facebook posts were misinterpreted.

He said: “In an emotional reaction to my posting, agents around the office of the Chief of Staff misunderstood my whole meaning, infuriated from the loss of their benefactor, as such petitioned my principal, His Excellency Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, the Governor of Kano State.

“They twisted the narrative with explanation completely out of context, lacing it with religious and cultural connotations that made it necessary for our Principal, the Executive Governor, to show leadership and solidarity with the dead by relieving me of my position in Kano State as his Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure.”

Ironically, Magaji in May tested positive for Covid-19 and was treated at an isolation centre in Kano for several days before he was discharged.

Audu Maikori

For many years, the co-founder of Chocolate City, a popular record label, Mr Audu Maikori, was busy grooming and managing music artistes. But he had a brush with the law, following a message he posted on Twitter criticising the Kaduna State Government for its complicity in the Southern Kaduna crisis in 2017.

Maikori had alleged in the controversial messages the killing of five Southern Kaduna students of Kaduna State College of Education, Kafanchan, by Fulani herdsmen, which turned out to be false.

The 41-year-old record label owner was first arrested in Lagos on February 17, 2017 for allegedly trying to incite the public through several messages he posted on his Twitter handle and was subsequently transferred to the Force Headquarters in Abuja for interrogation.

In one of the tweets on January 23, 2017, he said: “My driver’s younger brother and five other students of College of Education, Gidan Waya, were ambushed and killed by herdsmen yesterday.”

The school’s management, however, denied that any of its students was killed, prompting the state government to condemn Maikori for the misinformation, and vowed to press charges against him.

Maikori later apologised for the wrong information contained in his tweets.

In a statement issued on February 5, Maikori retracted the messages and claimed that he was misled by his driver, an indigene of Southern Kaduna, adding that he had handed the driver to the police for proper investigation to “ensure that all the facts of the case and evidence were presented to the authorities”.

He said: “I hereby tender an unreserved and sincere apology to the Management of the College of Education, Gidan Waya, His Excellency the Governor of Kaduna State and the Kaduna State Government, and also to the people of Southern Kaduna and the Fulani community… whose source was my driver, for the false statement by my driver, which I also publicised believing same to be true.”

He was arrested shortly afterwards and was transferred to Force Headquarters in Abuja for interrogation where he was eventually released on bail and cleared by the Force Headquarters of any complicity.

That, however, was not the end of the matter as he was later re-arrested on March 10 by a team of policemen and taken to Kaduna before he was subsequently released on health grounds.

Dissatisfied with the treatment meted out to him, Maikori sought redress in court. He slammed a N10 billion lawsuit against Governor Nasir El-Rufai and the Kaduna State Government at the Federal High Court for violating his human rights with incessant arrests.

He finally got a reprieve on June 6, 2020, after an Appeal Court sitting in Abuja ordered the Kaduna State Government to pay N10.5m as damages to him. The appeal Court reduced the damages awarded by the high court from N40 million to N10.5 million.

The court upheld the ruling of the Federal High Court that the state government violated the rights of Maikori when he was arrested in Lagos in 2017 by a team of policemen and was transferred to the Force Headquarters in Abuja for misinforming the public via his tweets on the killings in Southern Kaduna.

Kemi Olunloyo

Controversial blogger, Kemi Olunloyo, could not have foreseen his incarceration at the Port Harcourt Correctional Centre when she alleged in a post that the presiding pastor of Salvation Ministries, Port Harcourt, David Ibiyeomie, was having an affair with a popular actress, Iyabo Ojo.

The blogger, a daughter of former Governor of Oyo State, Victor Omololu Olunloyo, had posted a letter written by a member of Ibiyeomie’s church wherein the pastor was accused of a series of misconduct, including adultery.

While Ojo did not take any legal action against Olunloyo, the notable clergyman did otherwise. Olunloyo was arrested in a dramatic manner on March 14 2017 and taken to Rivers State where she was remanded in prison by a court for cybercrime.

She finally regained her freedom on January 9, 2018, following a N1 million bail granted her in April 2017 by Justice H.I.O Shamah of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt.

Upon regaining her freedom, she lamented the living conditions in the facility, saying: “It’s Tuesday, January 9, 2018. Happy new year to you my friends and my supporters.

“The feds (federal authorities) need to get into the Port-Harcourt Maximum Prison. 4,175 inmates, 75 of us women, 4,100 men. 18 to 25, mostly from the South-South and South-East. Not empowered, marginalised and they look bad.

“Health wise? Many hungry. So many problems in there. That prison needs to be decongested. To my fans, keep up the good work, have a great new year, keep to your resolution…”

Olunloyo subsequently visited the aggrieved clergyman and made an open apology.

Lawal Izala

Overwhelmed with emotions after the killing of his family members and the rustling of about 15 cows belonging to them by bandits, 70-year-old Lawal Izala, and two others, Bahajaje Abu, 30, and Hamza Abubakar, 27, all of Gafai Quarters, Katsina, in a video posted on Facebook rained abusive words on President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Aminu Masari over what they termed insecurity of lives in the state.

The video, which gained traction on social media, led to the trio’s arrest and Izala’s prosecution in a Katsina court. Izala was thereafter sentenced to 18 months imprisonment on May 5, 2020, with an option of N30,000 fine. The fine was paid by his sympathisers, following which he regained his freedom.

The septuagenarian said he spoke out of anger without an inkling that his remarks amounted to a crime.

He said: “I was coming back from my village where my 15 cattle were rustled and my family members killed. I was passing by when I was asked how life was going for me.

“Then I said our leaders, Buhari and Masari had failed us. I then threw insults out of anger from my agony. I did not even know I was being recorded.

“I was just saying my mind with all honesty. It was after the video went viral that I was arrested by the police. I was accused of committing a crime under Penal Code.”

Since it was promulgated in May 2015, the Cybercrime Act has been used to arrest and prosecute a number of social media users and citizen journalists.

Under Section 24 of the act, cyber stalking carries a fine of up to N7 million and a maximum three-year jail term for anyone convicted of intentionally or knowingly sending an online message that “he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another.”

This law was relied on by the police in the case of Izala to prosecute the septuagenarian and two others.

According to a statement  issued by the police in the wake of the arrest of the trio, titled ‘Conspiracy and intentional insult against the President and Governor of Katsina State by one Lawal Izala and two others on social media”, the spokesperson for the Katsina Police Command, Mr Gambo Isah, said: “The attention of the Katsina State Police Command has been drawn to a viral video on social media showing one Lawal Abdullahi alias “Izala”, ‘m’, aged 70 years of Gafai Quarters, Katsina, Katsina State, who was contemptuously insulting the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, and the Executive Governor of Katsina State, Aminu Bello Masari.

“Consequently, the Commissioner of Police, Katsina State Command, Sanusi Buba, ordered for investigation, which led to the arrest of the trio of Lawal Abdullahi Izala, Bahajaje Abu, ‘m’, aged 30 years and Hamza Abubakar, ‘m’, aged 27 years all of Gafai Quarters, Katsina, Katsina State.

“In the course of investigation, suspects confessed to committing the offences. To this end, the command wishes to warn members of the general public that the police will not fold its arms and watch while disgruntled elements violate the sacred laws of the land.

“Any person found taking undue advantage of the social media to insult others, contrary to the provisions of the Cyber Crime Act will face the wrath of the law.”

Gambo Saeed

Also in March 2017, a certain Gambo Saeed was sentenced to nine months imprisonment by a Chief Magistrate Court for defaming Aminu Masari, the Governor of Katsina State.

Police prosecutor, Isa Liti, told the court that Saeed was arraigned on account of complaints received from Mansur Ali Mashi, Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Radio Monitoring.

The prosecutor added: “Mashi said the accused person abused Masari and called him names on social media.

“He said the accused person posted on the media that it was Governor Masari who influenced the impeachment of the Speaker of Katsina State House of Assembly, Aliyu Muduru.”

Azare, Oloketuyi, others

The same section of the law under which cyber stalking falls was cited in the arrest of one Musa Babale Azare on August 21, 2016, for allegedly criticising a former Governor of Bauchi State, Mohammed Abubakar, on his Facebook and Twitter handle.

Azare was released a day after he was taken from Bauchi to Abuja to write a statement at the Force Headquarters.

Earlier on August 25, 2015, the publisher of Naijahottestgist, Seun Oloketuyi, was arraigned before a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on charges of cyber stalking and defamation over a story he posted alleging that a top banker was having an extra-marital affair.

Oloketuyi was subsequently remanded in prison and granted bail of three million naira with two sureties.

Experts speak on arrests

A rights group, Concerned Nigerians, condemned alleged conviction of a 70-year-old critic, Bala Izala, and two others for allegedly insulting President Muhammadu Buhari and the Governor of Katsina State, Aminu Bello Masari.

Spokesman of the group, Mr Theophilus Abu Agada, described it as shameful and an abuse of office by the authorities.

Agada said: “We condemn the shameful act of impunity and abuse of office by President Buhari- led government and Katsina State governor, Aminu Masari, over the arrest, detention, and sentence of a 70-year-old Bala Izala and two others for allegedly ‘insulting’ the President and Governor Aminu Bello Masari.

“Mr. Izala had said he spoke out of anger when he visited his village and found out that bandits had killed his family members and rustled 15 of his cows.

“Though some kind-hearted Nigerians were able to pay the option of fine slammed on Mr. Izala in securing his release, it is important to note that this is a gross abuse of power by the authorities.

“If President Buhari and Governor Masari had not failed in their constitutional duty in securing the lives and property of Nigerians and Katsina people instead of negotiating with terrorists and bandits, Mr. Izala wouldn’t have had any reason to criticise them, which was tagged an insult.

“Even so, Mr. Izala has the constitutional right to criticise any elected official as guaranteed in section 39 of the 1999 Constitution which states that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”

A digital media expert, Ms Tope Ogundipe, also has condemned the abuse of Nigeria’s Cybercrimes (Prevention etc) Act to harass citizens and journalists.

She made the remarks recently at the Research Methods Workshop for Internet Policy and Advocacy in Kampala Uganda, organised by the Internet Policy Observatory at the Annenberg School for Communications, University of Pennsylvania.

Ogundipe, described the Cybercrimes Act 2015 as a prime tool in the hands of the rich and powerful Nigerians to facilitate the arrest and harassment of journalists, bloggers and ordinary citizens for comments made online.

She said: “Since the passage of the Cybercrimes Act 2015, there has not been one incident where it has been used to prosecute a real cybercrime case. Instead, it has been used to arrest ordinary citizens for comments made online deemed offensive to the powerful in Nigeria

“Journalists in particular have been at the receiving end of these arrests using the Cybercrime law, because a large number of journalists have been arrested in Nigeria using sections 24 and 38 of the law.

“Paradigm Initiative, in partnership with Media Rights Agenda and Enough is Enough Nigeria, in response to the use of the Cybercrime legislation in the arrests of citizens have challenged the constitutionality of sections 24 and 38 of the Cybercrimes law in court.

“The case has been in the courts since 2016. We lost at the court of first instance and we are now at the Court of Appeal. Strategic litigation could be a long and drawn out process, and as such, patience and perseverance is required in this endeavour.”

Also, some rights groups including Media Rights Agenda and Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, Enough is Enough Nigeria, and Media Rights Agenda had recently challenged the constitutionality of sections of the cybercrime law in a lawsuit, noting that it threatens human rights online.

“The law gives them extensive powers to hold personal data without corresponding liability. And there is no provision in the law to seek redress,” Ilori said.

“A person’s personal data can’t just be handed over to security operatives when there is no proper procedure for protecting that person’s right.

“This is a serious concern because justice is seldom served.”

Deji Adeyanju

In 2018, the police arrested an activist, Deji Adeyanju, for allegedly posting of series of defamatory messages on his Facebook page.

Adeyanju, a former Social Media Director of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), was arrested alongside Daniel Abobama and Boma Williams and taken to the FCT police command of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for subsequent arraignment.

The police explained that Adeyanju’s posts on the social media were “capable of inciting public disturbance, threat to public security and safety”.

In one of his posts on Facebook, Adeyanju accused the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo of stealing public funds. He wrote: ’’Osinbanjo Oleeeeeeeeeeee…he stole N5.8 billion IDPS money.”

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