A Nigerian man who tweeted pictures of an attempted jail break at the country’s intelligence agency headquarters has been arrested and held incommunicado for 11 days, his family said Thursday.
The head of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, told AFP that his office was investigating the alleged disappearance of 32-year-old Yusuf Siyaka Onimisi.
Reports suggested Boko Haram militants were among the detainees trying to escape but there has been no official confirmation of the group’s involvement.
Onimisi works for Nigeria’s national electricity firm and was assigned to a sub-station within the presidential compound in the capital, Abuja, according to his brother, Yusuf Sanusi.
The presidency is near the Directorate of State Services (DSS) headquarters where the agency said there was an attempted jail break on March 30, sparking a gun battle that killed 21 detainees.
On the day of the attack, Onimisi was at work and “called me to say there is gunshots and he is not sure what is happening”, said Sanusi, explaining that his brother had decided to walk towards the shooting to get a closer look.
When Sanusi called back some time later, his brother was unreachable and so he asked a mutual friend in Abuja to check that he was safe.
Colleagues at the power firm reported back that Onimisi had been arrested for “snapping pics (of the shooting) and taking shots and putting them on Twitter”, according to Sanusi.
His Twitter timeline on his account @ciaxon showed initial tweets describing the sound of gunshots around the presidency. Four photographs appeared to show the military response to the incident.
Two appeared to show soldiers lying in the undergrowth; another a deserted street outside the presidential residence; and a fourth of what seemed to be a soldier crouching behind a vehicle for cover.
“I’m snapping from d basement cos my office is directly at the gate 7!” he tells his followers, going on to describe helicopters overhead and what he said was the capture of detainees.
He did not appear critical of the operation, writing in one tweet: “as far as am concerned, Nigerian soldiers are the best! They are good! They have done a very gr8 job!”
DSS spokeswoman Marylin Ogar did not respond to phone calls or text messages seeking comment.
Onimisi’s alleged arrest has sparked an intense reaction on Twitter, including a hashtag dedicated to the case, #freeCiaxon.
Sanusi said that even if his brother broke the law by tweeting pictures from a high-security zone without consent, the family was entitled to information about his condition.
“I am helpless. I don’t know who to contact. Is he alive or dead?” he asked.
Nigeria’s security forces, including the secret police, have frequently cited national security concerns as justification for arresting or intimidating people who publish sensitive material.
Reporters Without Borders ranked the country 112th out of 180 countries worldwide in its 2014 Press Freedom Index.
Censorship and crackdowns have typically targeted reporters working in older media, like newspapers or television.
But the government has increasingly responded to sensitive reports published exclusively online.