February 4, 2023

Luka Binniyat: The story of a fearless Journalist in Nigeria

Binniyat walks with crutches under watch by prison guards

By Masara Kim

JOS, Nigeria (18 Jan. 2022): Like the revered holy Evangelist Luke after whom he was named, Mr. Binniyat, Luka Aye Isaac delved into journalism long after graduating in the sciences. His influence and popularity as a fearless and prolific writer grew rapidly, giving the now 56year-old international recognition. He has been bartered for using his skills to defend Christianity in an increasingly hostile society.

For 26 years, Binniyat extensively reported on the persecution of Christians in Nigeria – one of two designated in Africa as countries of particular concern by the Donald Trump administration in the United States of America. In 2017, he spent three months in jail without a sentence after publishing a news report that exposed government’s failure to protect Christians in his home State of Kaduna in northwest Nigeria. On November 4, 2021, he was again arrested and thrown in jail after reporting on the killing of 42 Christians in a rampantly terrorized southern corner of the State.

He is charged with “cyberstalking” at a Magistrate Court in the capital city of Kaduna and is sure to spend 78 days behind bars after his lawyers’ bail application was deferred for hearing three times for what observers regard as a deliberate attempt to shut him down completely.

Born the son of a poor army veteran in Nandiyam – a small farming town in a southern Kaura Local Government Area of Kaduna State, Binniyat had his entire high school education in the chiefly unattended local government schools – the worst foundation for a child like him who dreamt to change the fate of his people who were abandoned by their own government.

Luka Binniyat

From the Army Children School of 123 Battalion in the city of Minna, to Government College Bida, both in Central Niger State – where he got his elementary and high school training from 1972-1978 and 1978-1983 respectively, Binniyat’s only hope of securing a University admission was the Interim Joint Board Matriculation Board (IJMB) – a remedial study program in Nigeria – at the College of Advanced Studies in Zaria, Kaduna State in 1984-1986. With this, he enrolled for a bachelor’s degree in Geography and Mining at the University of Jos in Central Plateau State from 1988 to 1992. At the time, Nigeria was ruled by a ruthless Muslim military dictator – General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida who is credited with the conversion of Nigeria into an Islamic State.

“By taking Nigeria into the OIC in 1986, Ibrahim Babangida officially turned Nigeria into an Islamic state. Simply by the act of the application for OIC membership, Babangida tampered with the secularity of the Nigerian State. That unilateral decision should be reviewed because it violates Section 10 of the Constitution,” said a renowned senior attorney in Nigeria, Solomon Asemota to The Guardian newspaper.

Babangida signed the formal upgrade in a 1989 meeting in the capital city of Abuja according to several unrefuted newspaper reports. At the meeting, Babangida reportedly donated $21m from Nigeria’s treasury to the organization. He built on the foundations of his predecessor – Major General Muhammadu Buhari – another military dictator who reportedly applied for the upgrade of Nigeria’s membership of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) from observer to permanent status. Buhari became civilian President of Nigeria again in 2015, and was reelected in 2019. He has been accused of marginalizing Christians, as aiding and abetting the killing and persecution of Christians in the country.

Nicknamed “Evil Genius” for his autocratic policies, Babangida allegedly jailed and ordered the assassination of several activists and Journalists including the owner of an anti-government newspaper – Dele Giwa. “It was simply the application of brutal  force against a non-military institution,” wrote Owei Lakemfa, a renowned newspaper columnist with Vanguard newspaper.

Labour unions equally suffered brutal violations under Babangida who made employment opportunities slimmer by the day. To survive, Binniyat switched low-class jobs including becoming a waiter at a popular hotel in Abuja. In 1996, three years after Babangida was replaced by another Muslim Dictator – General Sani Abacha, Binniyat enrolled for a one-year computer training program – a skill that would later become a threatening tool for the liberation of his people.

Journalism Journey

Determined to increase his childhood dream of influencing positive change in an increasingly fickle society, Binniyat enrolled at the International Institute of Journalism in Abuja for a Post Graduate Diploma in Mass Communication and Journalism from 1996.

This launched him into the field of journalism which started off as a blazing passion one year before his graduation in 1998. From a junior reporter at a local newspaper – The Post Express from 1997 to 2003, Binniyat soon became a celebrated reporter in Nigeria with several honors and recognitions.

He held varying responsibilities in top Nigerian newspaper outfits, rising to management rank at The Vanguard newspaper in 2011. He resigned in 2017 after being locked up for his works and started his own magazine – The Kaduna Frontier News.

Binniyat during a press briefing in Kaduna before arrest

Despite growing threats and intimidation, the magazine which has an online version frequently published compelling details of persecution against Christians in the State of Kaduna. Its reporting is reputed for influencing international responses and actions against the administrations of Governor Nasir El-rufai and President Muhammadu Buhari – both Fulani Muslims accused of antichristian policies and actions. Binniyat was crowned “The Torchbearer of Press Freedom” by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) at a 2018 Press Freedom Award ceremony in Abuja.

Jailed for “cyber stalking”

Binniyat was arrested by Police on the orders of the Buhari-led federal and El-rufai-led Kaduna State governments on 4 November, after a U.S.-based newspaper, The Epoch Times, published his reporting about Fulani militia attacks against Christian communities in his native Kaduna state. He was arraigned on Nov. 9 at the Barnawa Magistrate’s Court in Kaduna and charged with “cyberstalking” – the same charge brought against him in 2017. At the time, he was jailed for 96 days after he published a story in a local daily about an attack by Fulani terrorists in southern Kaduna that year.

Under Nigeria’s widely criticized Cybercrime Act of 2015, “cyberstalking” is defined as sending any message that is “grossly offensive” or that the sender “knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance.” It is punishable by up to three years in prison. But Binniyat has stayed in jail for 78 days without trial, the same as his 2017 jailing.

Binniyat with fellow Epoch Times reporter, Lawrence Zongo

On 23 November, the court remanded him to custody and adjourned to 6 December, to consider his application for bail and his lawyers’ claim that the court lacks jurisdiction. On the set date, his lawyers and supporters appeared in court but the presiding judge was missing. Court employees informed the solidarity crowd that the judge had gone on leave on December 2, despite scheduling the high-profile case. To date, the trial has not resumed, and Binniyat has remained in jail against his fundamental rights.

“From all that transpired in court [on November 23], it is obvious that Luka Binniyat is being persecuted rather than being prosecuted,” barrister Yakubu Bawa told The Epoch Times.

Genocidal violence against indigenous Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt has become a regular occurrence in recent years, wrote CSI President, Dr. John Eibner in a statement condemning Binniyat’s detention.

“CSI has followed the journalist’s reporting on the Nigerian security establishment’s consistent failure to either halt genocidal assaults carried out by Fulani Muslim militias against the Christian communities of Nigeria’s Middle Belt, or to arrest the perpetrators of those assaults,” says the statement published by Nigeria-Report on 1st December, which calls for the release and dropping of all charges against Binniyat.

The appeals and those of other rights groups including Committee to Protect Journalists have been ignored. But even so, Binniyat’s trial confirms his influence as a writer and rights defender, according to observers. Nina Shea, the chief religious freedom scholar at the Hudson Institute, told The Epoch Times: “It’s preposterous that Kaduna state’s powerful security commissioner is claiming to be a victim of ‘cyberstalking’ by a small-town reporter based on an article he wrote for an American audience.”