Nigeria has added another to its string of firsts with the arrest of the popular writer of elendureports.com, Mr Jonathan Elendu, by the State Security Service (SSS). As reported by the PM News, Mr Elendu was picked up on Saturday, October 19, at the Nnamdi Azikwe International airport, Abuja, on his arrival from the United States. He is being held by the SSS for his alleged connection with saharareporters.com. Saharareporters.com is known for publishing top-secret stories and photographs of the gross misdeeds of Nigerian government officials including those of the president’s family members. Elendureports.com is far less aggressive and biting than sharareporters.com. There are rumours that the SSS is desperately inventing a web of accusations, including money laundering and sedition, to squeeze round Mr Elendu's neck. (Above is Mr Elendu's picture which I copied from bbc.co.uk)
Online journalism has been considered the safest form of journalism, the least susceptible to state clampdown. It has negotiated for itself a clear space in the public sphere for citizens’ engagement of government, its actions and policies. This form of journalism is understandably attractive to Nigerians given the experiences of orthodox journalists in the hands of the Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha—Nigerian military dictators who hounded and pounded journalists for nearly fourteen years. (See, for instance, Sunday Dare's Guerrila Journalism)
Media scholars and political scientists who support the idea of a free press find in online journalism an avenue for unfettered freedom of expression. Not only this, online journalism has led them to announce and in fact celebrate the death of gate-keeping and censorship. [See, for instance, Williams and Carpini’s (2000) “Unchained reaction: the collapse of media gate-keeping…”, Journalism (1) 1:61-85]. Jonathan Elendu’s arrest by the government of Nigeria should lead theorists to cut short this celebration and rethink the universality of their conclusions. This is the same way the recent invasion of Channels TV by the SSS calls for a rethink of press freedom in the Nigerian democracy. And those who call President Yar'Adua "Go Slow" should have a rethink: he can be very swift if the issue matters to him--his men did not allow Mr Elendu to even spend a second in Nigeria before arresting him. Nigeria!
There is some worry about the silence of most Nigerian papers on the arrest of Mr Jonathan Elendu. We do not know for sure why most papers, unlike bloggers, have been quiet on this. Even the BBC has done a report on the arrest. Do orthodox Nigerian journalists consider their online colleagues comrades or rivals? Maybe this is a good question for empirical investigation. However this goes, in my view, Nigeria is the first sub-Saharan African country and the second country in the world (after China) to attempt a clampdown on online journalism.
NB: I have edited this post slightly since after receiving Loomnie's comment.