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Nigerian government charges journalist, Jones Abiri with terrorism, sabotage
THE federal government has again filed terrorism charges against Jones Abiri, a journalist based in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, months after he was released from illegal detention.
Abiri was arraigned in court on Wednesday on fresh accusations of terrorism, economic sabotage, and fraud, according to court papers made available to Premium Times by his lawyer, Samuel Ogala.
The journalist was alleged to have sent text messages to officials of Shell and Agip, two international oil companies operating in Bayelsa State, threatening to blow up their infrastructure if they refused to meet his demands.
Abiri was also accused of actually leading a gang of militants to blow up pipelines in Bayelsa.
Recall that Abiri was abducted by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) in 2016, and was kept incommunicado in custody for two years. It took a media outcry before the government charged him to court in July 2018 on trumped up charges of terrorism and criminal intimidation.
The government, through the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, at the time, claimed Abiri was not a journalist as he did not belong to the Nigerian Union of Journalists. Mohammed said Abiri was arrested for his involvement in pipeline vandalism, crude oil theft, and militant activities in the Niger Delta.
The truth, however, according to reports, was that Abiri’s arrest had to do with a story he published via his local newspaper, ‘Weekly Source’, with the headline: “Governor Dickson’s bad policies wreck Bayelsa”. Another headline in the publication read: “Rumble in the military… Inside the coup plot story”.
Abiri was later granted bail after which he filed a case in court demanding the DSS to pay him N200 million in damages for illegal detention. The court gave judgement in his favour, ordering the DSS to pay him N10.5 million.
It is not clear whether the DSS has obeyed the court order. However, Abiri was rearrested in March this year, snatched at gunpoint by men suspected to be DSS operatives and whisked away.
Kingsley Ladein, also a Yenagoa-based journalist who witnessed the arrest, said a white Hilux and black jeep pulled out from Ayabowei Plaza and armed men jumped out, threatening to shoot Abiri if he moved.
“The guns they carried were similar to those carried by the secret service,” Ladein said.