Seven members of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) were, on Tuesday, detained on the order of a High Court judge, Justice N.I Agbelu, in Ota Judicial Division for three hours.
Those detained were Samuel Awoyinfa (Punch), Daud Olatunj (Vanguard), Ernest Nwokolo (Nation), Abiodun Taiwo (Daily Times), Sulaiman Fasasi (Nigerian Pilot), Wale Adelaja (TVC) and Johnson Akinpelu (Alaroye).
The judge, who sits in the High Court 1 of the judicial division, told the ‘detainees’ that a court is not a public place.
The journalists were at the court to cover the proceedings of a case of an alleged murder of 19-year-old, Bidemi Akinde, in the hands of one Alhaji Mutairu Owoeye over a land dispute.
The journalists, who arrived at the court premises by 11.44 a.m., were detained on the order of the judge over their inability to produce a ‘letter of permission’ from the chief judge and senior judiciary officer before entering the court.
It was learnt that the Assistant Court Registrar (name unknown), a woman, who accosted the journalists, said she had the authority of the judge to arrest and detain them.
They were detained for three hours from 11:45 a.m. till 2:44 p.m. inside the administrative wing of the court.
The journalists, while narrating their ordeal, said they were also accosted by a policeman attached to the court.
Justice Agbelu, who later invited the journalists after presiding on a case, told them that the court room/premises could no longer qualify as a public place.
”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 will just burst into any compound or burst into my house. You have a right as a journalist, but where your own stops is where my own starts.
“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 rights too. You don’t know? A report came to me that some people invaded the court claiming that they were 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? You don’t just go into a place and start filming and then say you are a journalist.
“If we said you are trespassing into our land, do you have any defence? I am telling you, it it not a public place, the court is not a public place,” the judge said.