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Another Nigerian blogger arrested by ‘state agents’ in Abia

Service operatives on Tuesday arrested a blogger in Akwa Ibom State, in what activists see as as the latest in a string of crackdowns against free speech online.

Emenike Iroegbu, who publishes Abia Facts Newspaper, was arrested in front of his family by men suspected to be attached to the SSS field office in Uyo, the Abia State capital, his wife, Ekaette, told PREMIUM TIMES.

Mrs. Iroegbu said the officials arrived at about 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday and carried out a search of their apartment.

"They took my husband's laptops and phones and also seized my two phones as well," Mrs. Iroegbu said. "They didn't even enter quietly."

Mrs. Iroegbu said the officials, numbering three, came in a black SUV which they used to whisk her husband away.

"I was unable to mark down the number plate," Mrs. Iroegbu said. "I was busy begging them to kindly release one of my phones so I could at least be able to stay in touch."

News of Mr. Iroegbu's arrest lit up the social media on Wednesday morning, coming barely a month after Abubakar Usman, a pro-government blogger was arrested in Abuja in similar circumstances. 

Although there was no official confirmation from the SSS on her husband's arrest, Mrs. Iroegbu said she had learnt he had been transferred to Abia State field office of the secret police in Umuahia on Wednesday morning.

"They told me he was transferred to their station in Umuahia this morning, I pray nothing terrible happens to my husband," she said.

Inibehe Effiong, a human rights lawyer who called media attention to Mr. Iroegbu's arrest on Tuesday night, said the blogger was being sought over contents published on his website.

Mr. Effiong said some officials in Abia and Akwa Ibom States recently threatened Mr. Iroegbu after publishing some materials they deemed critical.

"It is on record that the Abia State-born blogger has been constantly harassed by the agents and officials of the Abia State Government over his publications," Mr. Effiong said. "It is also on record that some government officials in Akwa Ibom State have been uncomfortable with some of his publications online."

But Enyinnaya Appolos, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu in Abia, said the state was not behind Mr. Iroegbu's arrest, but confirmed he was wanted in the state on offences bordering on "defamation".

"He recently published an article saying the governor buried a 9-year-old in the Government House in Umuahia," Mr. Appolos told PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday afternoon. "We are going to request that the SSS should transfer him to us after facing charges in Akwa Ibom."

Mr. Appolos sent PREMIUM TIMES a screen-grab of materials allegedly published by Abia Facts Newspaper about the Mr. Ikpeazu administration.

Some of the materials detailed how Mr. Ikpeazu allegedly aided the killing of pro-Biafran agitators in the state. The publication, quoting inside sources, also said Mr. Ikpeazu had intensified diabolical activities within the Government House during his political battle with Uche Ogah, after the latter was issued a certificate of return by INEC.

"We're writing to the SSS to send him to Umuahia because we want him to come and prove all these things," Mr. Appolos said.

Mr. Appolos said he could not confirm if Mr. Iroegbu had been transferred to Umuahia.

The State Director of SSS in Akwa Ibom did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES calls and text messages seeking comments for this story. 

Ekerete Udoh, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Emmanuel Udom, did not respond to inquiries from PREMIUM TIMES about the development.

But Mr. Effiong said Mr. Iroegbu's arrest showed that the matter was being treated as a criminal case because of the status of the individuals involved.

"I know he published some things on his website, but they should have sued for defamation of character and not arrest him based on that," Mr. Effiong said. "The reason why they're doing this is because it involved some governors or powerful people."

"This criminal dimension that the authorities have taken the matter is clearly illegal."

Mr. Effiong said Mr. Iroegbu's arrest marked the latest in an "emerging capricious proclivities of political office holders to use security agencies to clamp down on Nigerians for exercising their constitutional liberties".

Within the past one year, Nigeria has witnessed an upsurge in arrests of citizens over their activities on the Internet.

In August 2015, three bloggers —Demond Ike, Seun Oloketuyi and Chris Nwandu— were arrested and charged for offences that allegedly contravened Cybercrime Act in Lagos. 

Mr. Ike spent six months in custody, parts of which were in Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison.

A month later, Emmanuel Ojo, was arrested in Abeokuta allegedly on the orders of Ogun State governor, Ibikunle Amosun, after posting some "offensive" materials on Facebook. The charges preferred against him remained stalled in the Abeokuta Division of the Federal High Court. 

Mr. Ojo said he had since fled Nigeria to another West African country after "threats from powerful people became unbearable."

On August 8, 2016, Abubakar Usman, a pro-government blogger, was also arrested and detained for nearly two days for apparently publishing a report critical of the head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu.

"Democracy is being threatened in Nigeria by the rising display of intolerance to free speech," Mr. Effiong said.

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