Groups condemn battering of journalists



LAGOS chapter of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have condemned the attack on two journalists who, according to one of the journalists and news reports, were left with serious injuries after being beaten and threatened on the grounds of the Nigeria Customs Service offices on June 25.

Executive Director of the privately-owned community monthly Prime Magazine, Yomi Olomofe and a correspondent with state-funded Tide Newspaper, McDominic Nkpemenyie, were assaulted by a group Olomofe claimed were smugglers, according to news reports. Olomofe told CPJ the attackers threatened to kill them to serve as a deterrent to other journalists who they said had written negative stories about them.

Olomofe was beaten, left in a coma, and suffered serious injuries to his face, and Nkpemenyie’s eyes were damaged in the attack, leaving him unable to see properly, Olomofe told CPJ on June 29 after regaining consciousness. They are still receiving medical treatment, he said.

Meanwhile, the Lagos NUJ is set to file a wide-range of lawsuits against the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) over the attacks. Chairman of the union, Comrade Deji Elumoye, last Wednesday, said the council’s lawyers had been briefed on the sad occurrence. Elumoye said he was baffled that Olomofe was beaten into a state of coma by smugglers in the full glare of the public within the premises of the Seme border command of Nigeria Customs Service.

Wondering why journalists going about their lawful duties would be so harassed and molested, Elumoye noted that the leadership of the union had instructed its team of lawyers to file charges, which include but not limited to attempted murder, accessory, aiding and abetting, manslaughter, harassment and assault among others, against the service and some of its officers, in order to see that justice is done on the matter.

“We are appalled by the brutal beating of two journalists in full view of Nigerian customs officials,” said Peter Nkanga, CPJ’s West Africa representative. “We call on President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to hold the attackers and their sponsors to account and to ensure the well-being of Yomi Olomofe and McDominic Nkpemenyie, who remain in fear of their safety.”

It was gathered that Customs officers at Seme on the Nigeria-Benin border in Lagos state had invited the journalists to their offices after Nkpemenyie sent questions via text to Mohammed Ndalati, head of customs at the border crossing, about allegations that customs officials were involved in smuggling, Olomofe told CPJ.

When Nkpemenyie left the office after the meeting about 15 attackers started to hit and slap him, according to reports. They took his camera and a folder containing N20,000 Nigeria ($100), and stopped only when the journalist ran towards Ndalati, reports said. He was taken to the customs conference room where, according to someone who has knowledge of the attack and who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, officers told Nkpemenyiethat to prevent further attacks he had to provide names of other journalists involved in his investigation. Ndalati, who heads the committee of all security agencies at the border crossing, asked police and state security service officers to take Nkpemenyie to his house and, without a warrant, retrieve all documents linked to his investigation, the source told CPJ.

Olomofe told CPJ that when he heard Nkpemenyie being attacked he rushed outside, but the men started to beat him. He said they tore his clothes, took his phone, and beat him with sticks and their fists until he passed out. The journalist said he recognized some of his attackers as men alleged to be smugglers.

In a telephone call to CPJ, Ndalati denied any involvement in the attack. He said he witnessed it but the attack was too rowdy for arrests to be made. He said he asked police to take Nkpemenyie to his house for his own safety, but denied asking for the journalist’s documents to be seized.

Olomofe told CPJ the journalists fear for their safety and that of their families because those involved in the attack know where they live. Olomofe said he has filed a complaint about the attack at the office of Lagos State Commissioner of Police,Mr. Kayode Aderanti, who in a telephone conversation with CPJ said he would follow up on the matter.

CPJ did not get any response to phone calls and text messages sent to Solomon Arase, the Inspector General of Police, and Messr Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina, media aides to President Buhari.

On June 3, CPJ wrote a letter to Buhari calling on him to take action and address the high rate of impunity and violence against journalists.

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