Legal Nigeria

Judge detains seven journalists for hours, free them after snake threat

Seven journalists were yesterday, arrested and detained at the Ota High court premises for three hours on the order of a judge attached to the state High Court 1, Ota, Ogun state, Justice N. I. Agbelu.
The detained Journalists are Daud Olatunji(Vanguard), Samuel Awoyinfa(The Punch), Ernest Nwokolo(The Nation), Abiodun Taiwo(Daily Times) , Sulaiman Fasasi(Nigerian Pilot ), Wale Adelaja(TVC) and Johnson Akinpelu(Alaroye).
The seven journalists arrived the court premises by 11:44am to cover two proceedings involving victims of Pakoto demolition and killing in Oke – Ore community, which were believed to have been listed for hearing on Tuesday at the Ota state High Court .
As the journalists were disembarking from their vehicles, a Police orderly accosted them and asked them of their mission, upon identification as pressmen, the Police officer returned to his duty post.
About a minute later, the Assistant Court Registrar(ACR) – a woman whose identity could not be ascertained emerged and demanded to see a letter of authorisation from the Chief Judge or a Senior judiciary officer permitting them to enter the court premises.
Upon the failure by journalists to produce the letter of authorisation, the woman immediately went to the judge and later came back with a policeman, saying, the judge had ordered the arrest of the journalists for allegedly filming the court premises without his consent.
For three hours from 11:45am to 2:44am, the reporters were detained inside the administrative wing of the court .
But a poisonous snake that emerged from the bushy court premises and which eventually bite a male visitor which caused pandemonium and apprehension, forced the judge to send the journalists away after reprimanding them.
Shortly before he ordered the release of the seven journalists, Justice Agbelu who ordered that the journalists should be brought to his office confirmed that he ordered their arrest.
He said their offence was that they invaded the court premises and started filming the premises without his permission.
He said “I put you under arrest. You are under arrest. You will discover that this compound is fenced round, is that not so? It is not on the major road that you can just come in . If you are representing the public interest, you must know we have a head in this Court . I am a judge, I have an unlimited jurisdiction in the state. I can even say somebody should be arrested without question , but, in exercising my power, I have to inquire into many things.
“You cannot say because you are representing public interest, you cannot just burst into any compound or burst into my house. You have a right as a journalist, but, where your own stops my own starts . And If I am the owner of a house, I have a right to my privacy, fundamental right to privacy, because I want to educate you. If you want to infringe on my right that is where your own right stops which I am entitled to.
“What I am saying is that judiciary has its own right too. You are infringing on our own right too. You don’t know?
“A report came to me that some people invaded the court claiming that they are journalists filming the whole place.
“It is not a local market and it not an open market, you are approaching the court. If you are interested in a particular matter in a company, will you just burst into the company, saying you are journalists that is what I am telling you. You don’t just go into a place and start filming and them say you are a journalist.
“If we said you are trespassing into our land, do you have any defence answer me now? I am telling you it it not a public place I am telling you, the court is not a public place”.