Two journalists arraigned for conspiracy, defamation over report indicting company owned by Buhari’s aide

ALFRED OLUFEMI, a student journalist at Obafemi Awolowo University, and Gidado Shuaib Yushau, editor of Youths Digest and The News Digest, were on Tuesday arraigned before an Ilorin magistrate court on charges of conspiracy and defamation.

Their prosecution by the Nigeria Police was triggered by a petition from Hillcrest Agro-Allied Industry, an agricultural products processing company, located at Ajase Ipo, Kwara State, owned by Sarah Alade, Special Adviser to the President on Finance and Economy and former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Olufemi had in May 2018 written an investigative report that alleged that Hillcrest permits the consumption of banned substances in  violation of the the law. He said though the company promised to get back to him on his findings, no statement was given after several days.

Yushau and Olufemi were charged with criminal conspiracy and defamation, prohibited by the Penal Code, after the company made complaints in a letter to the police dated September 9, nearly 16 months after the report’s publication.

“Both Messrs Shuaib and Olufemi pleaded not guilty,” PR Nigeria reported.

“Following the bail application made by the defence counsel, Barrister Usman Kola Belgore, the Chief Magistrate of the Court, Magistrate A.O. Muhammed released the defendants on grounds of recognition and that they are innocent until proven otherwise.

“The conditions of bail include two sureties each who are relatives of the defendants with a bail bond of two hundred thousand naira. (N200,000.00) The case was adjourned for hearing on January 13.”

According to a First Information Report filed at the magistrate court and seen by The ICIR, when he was invited, Olufemi insisted his findings were true “but could not come up with proves [sic]”.

The document further stated: “Investigation conducted at State Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department, Ilorin, revealed that you Olufemi Alfred ‘m’ and Gidado Shuaib ‘m’ criminally conspired to tarnish the name and image of Hillcrest Agro-Allied Industries Limited with your injurious and malicious article, which you published on on 19/05/2018, without any substantial evidence.”

The police in October  arrested Yushau and Adebowale Adekoya, NewsDigest’s webmaster, in connection with the report.

Olufemi later reported voluntarily to the police. He has won a number of journalism awards, including the 2018 News Editor Award of the Nigerian Universities Merit Award (NUMA), as well as the Campus Journalism Awards’ Campus Journalist of the Year award in 2018 and Investigative Reporter of the Year award in 2019.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent US-based non-profit that promotes press freedom, has called for the charges against Olufemi and Yushau to be dropped.

“CPJ is alarmed that reporter Alfred Olufemi and NewsDigest publisher Gidado Yushau have been charged with criminal conspiracy and defamation for a May 2018 report,” it wrote on Tuesday.

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