Yomi Olomofe was left with serious injuries to his face after being beaten. (Yomi Olomofe)

Nigerian journalists investigating smuggling are beaten

Abuja, Nigeria, July 1, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns an 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.

Yomi Olomofe, executive director of the privately owned community monthly Prime Magazine, and McDominic Nkpemenyie, a correspondent with the state-funded Tide Newspaper, 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.

Yomi Olomofe was left with serious injuries to his face after being beaten. (Yomi Olomofe)
Yomi Olomofe was left with serious injuries to his face after being beaten. (Yomi Olomofe)

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.

“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.”

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 20,000 Nigeria naira ($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 Nkpemenyie that 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 with 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 Kayode Aderanti, the commissioner of police for Lagos state, who in a telephone conversation with CPJ said he would follow up on the attack.

CPJ did not get any response to phone calls and text messages sent to Solomon Arase, the Inspector General of Police, and 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 in violence against journalists. Presidential media aides Shehu and Adesina acknowledged receipt of the letter, but the government has yet to respond.