Abuja, Nigeria, March 10, 2016 – Nigerian authorities should immediately release magazine publisher Yomi Olomofe on bail, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Police detained Olomofe early this evening in Lagos, after men he had accused of severely beating him in June 2015 alleged the publisher had assaulted and attempted to extort money from them, Olomofe and his lawyer told CPJ by telephone.
On June 25, 2015, Olomofe, who publishes the monthly community magazine Prime Magazine, and McDominic Nkpemenyie, a correspondent with the state-funded Tide Newspaper, were investigatingallegations that customs officers at Seme, on Nigeria’s border with Benin, were complicit in smuggling, when more than 15 men attacked the two journalists, Olomofe told CPJ. The men hit Olomofe on his face and body with their fists and sticks until he lost consciousness, the publisher and witnesses told CPJ days later, after Olomofe regained consciousness.
In a June 30, 2015, complaint to the Lagos state police commissioner, and a July 1, 2015, complaint to the inspector general of police, Olomofe identified his attackers and customs officers who had not intervened to stop the attack. Police have not charged anyone for assaulting the journalists, Olomofe and his lawyer, Akin Osunsusi, told CPJ.
In an October 2015 complaint to the police, the men Olomofe had accused of beating him themselves alleged that he had assaulted them and had attempted to extort money from them, the publisher told CPJ. He denied the accusations, and he and his lawyer said the first they had heard of them was today, after his arrest. It was unclear whether the publisher was formally charged with a crime.
« Arresting magazine publisher Yomi Olomofe for beating the men he says beat him to a pulp is nothing short of obscene, » Peter Nkanga, CPJ’s West Africa representative, said. « Rather than blaming the messenger, police should energetically pursue those responsible for the crime. »
A police officer at the Lagos State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), who gave his name only as Aminu, contacted by CPJ on March 8 in the course of follow-up research into the initial incident, said that he had repeatedly invited the customs officers for questioning about the June 2015 beating, but that they had not come, despite his having copied the head office of the customs service in Abuja. « Being service officers, » he said, « I cannot just arrest them. »
One of the customs officers who Olomofe said had not intervened to stop the 2015 attack told CPJ at the time that there was nothing he could do: The assailants were too « rowdy. »
Police at the SCID today told CPJ that they had been instructed to pass Olomofe’s file to the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) in Alagbon, in Lagos state, where Olomofe is held. Dolapo Badmus, the Lagos State police spokeswoman told CPJ that police authorities in Abuja have jurisdiction over FCID and not the Lagos State Police Command. CPJ could not immediately reach the FCID spokesman for comment.
Deji Elumoye, the chairman of the Lagos state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, told CPJ that police in Alagbon had refused to grant Olomofe bail today, and that representatives of the union had not been allowed to see him in custody.
Olomofe and the Lagos state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in January 2016 filed a civil lawsuit against the attackers and the customs service seeking compensation for the attack, according to press reports.
CPJ is an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.