Ogundipe on the other hand said they are in touch with MTN, Glo and Airtel executives to resolve the disruption.
When Peoples Gazette, an online Nigerian news outlet, published a story last October detailing how the son of President Muhammadu Buhari’s chief of staff Ibrahim Gambari, now allegedly leads the strongest power bloc in Nigeria’s presidency, its publishers never thought it would warrant an intense witch-hunt.
Samuel Ogundipe, who founded the news outlet after leaving Premium Times, is not an alien to the Nigerian Government trying to stifle voices of scrutiny.
On the 27th of January, Ogundipe said access to its website has been restricted by mobile telecommunications companies including MTN, Glo, and 9mobile.
Accessing the website using Airtel data service was intermittent as at presstime. Readers using the telecommunications listed could only access the website with the use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
“This disruption, we are increasingly learning from top federal sources, was based on a directive, from the Nigerian government to MTN, Glo Mobile and other telecom firms, that sought an immediate blacklist of our web address as well as all other alternative domain names,” People’s Gazette publisher Samuel Ogundipe said in a statement.
“Our internal assessments and notes from our readers indicate a total restriction on our website for people connecting via MTN, Glo Mobile and Airtel, i.e.: a vast majority of Nigerian Internet users.”
The newspaper resolved to using alternative URLs in the wake of the restriction. But a source said those URLs were immediately blocked by the telecom firms.
However, it is currently publishing from Gazettengr.com.
“I think they have realised that if they clamp this down, we just switch to another one,” a source at the newspaper said.
Titled “Gambari’s son leads new cabal as Farouk Gumel disappears from Aso Rock,” the story that landed People’s Gazette in the bad book of a power bloc in the Nigerian Government, detailed how the son of the recently appointed Chief of Staff Ibrahim Gamabari, Bolaji Gambari, took over the portfolio of his father due to his health.
The online news outfit claimed Gambari is the one running the affairs of the State House without being officially appointed by the Nigerian government.
PG said they got the information from a top source in the state house. “Mr. Gambari has found himself authorising administrative regulations and fixing top secret executive briefings barely five months after President Muhammadu Buhari appointed his father, Ibrahim Gambari, as the chief of staff,”a part of the story read.
“It would be considered an excellent list of responsibilities for Mr. Gambari, but for the fact that he has been deemed as patently unqualified for such.”
PG claimed it came under severe security pressure shortly after the story was published. It said the clampdown on its website began after it refused to accept bribe to pull down the story.
“But the harassment were rebuffed since the Gazette does not entertain discussion about deleting an already published story,” the news outlet said.
PG said after the story was published the officials who called in to express displeasure about the report did not indicate any interest in rebutting any elements of the story.
The action against PG dampens the fundamental objectives contained in Section 22 of the Constitution that gives the press, and other agencies of the mass media the duty to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria said in a statement on Friday.
“This administration has in many ways proven to be against press freedom and internet freedom carrying out moves interpreted as a clampdown on democracy, in a democratic system,” PIN’s communication officer Valery Njiaba said in the statement.
“Paradigm initiative in its consistent commitment to protect and defend digital rights condemns in the strongest terms these acts by the Nigerian government through the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).”
Njiaba said Freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of democracy, one that must fiercely protect.
“Any attempt at shutting down the press is outrightly illegal and a violation of the freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without inference, protected by section 39 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria(As amended).”
Njiaba said the organisation has engaged the NCC in the past on the same subject and will continue to do so.
“All hands need to be on deck to push back on what has now become the government’s playbook in shutting down opposing voices,” Njiaba said.
“Paradigm Initiative and many other concerned organizations are willing to support platforms that are victims of government censorship to get judicial redress. We call on all meaningful Nigerians to support these efforts at curtailing the excesses of the government and its attack on the freedom of the press and the Internet.”
He also urged the Nigerian authorities to respect and enforce their citizens’ right to access to information, the rights of freedom of expression and opinion as assured and protected by the 1999 Nigerian Constitution(as amended).
“While we continue efforts to restore regular access to Peoples Gazette’s website, we would like to encourage readers to consider the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to bypass prevailing censorship in the meantime,” Ogundipe said.
“All our stories will also be replicated on our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/GazetteNGR. We also encourage our readers to create or replicate their own digital solidarity platforms for sharing stories by Peoples Gazette.”