Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps officers on February 20, 2016, detained three television journalists in Owerri, the capital of the southeastern Imo State, for refusing to hand over their phones to officials of the Federal Road Safety Commission who were allegedly demanding a bribe from a motorist, according to news reports and two of the journalists.
Nnamdi Ofonye, a reporter with the privately owned Silverbird Television station, told the Committee to Protect Journalists that three road safety officials stopped him and Obioma Oburuoga, a reporter with the privately owned Africa Independent Television station, as they walked along the road while taking a break from a nearby reporting assignment and demanded their phones on suspicion they had used them to record video of the officials arguing with a motorist.
When the journalists refused, the officials seized Ofonye’s press card and called armed civil defence officers to arrest them, Ofonye said. The officers shot into the air several times to disperse several journalists who were gathering at the scene and arrested Eyitope Kuteyi, a correspondent with Channels Television, after seizing his press card, Kuteyi told CPJ.
“They cocked and pointed their guns at us. One was dragging me by my waist to their office as others punched, slapped, and kicked us with their boots. I sustained serious… injuries on both legs and knees,” Ofonye told CPJ.
Ofonye said that the motorist, who was also detained at the civil defence offices with the journalists, told him the argument was over his refusal to bribe the road safety officials.
Pedro Ideba, the head of civil defense for Imo State, in a meeting with the journalists apologized for the attack and told CPJ that the officers in question had been transferred out of southeastern Nigeria for at least three years as punishment and to deter others. He said the note of an official inquiry in their dossiers and the punitive transfer would follow them throughout their careers.
Moses Abutu, a road safety intelligence officer in Imo State, told CPJ that the officers accused of seeking a bribe from the motorist had been barred from road operations pending the completion of investigations into the incident.