Charles Otu recovers in hospital in Abakaliki, Ebonyi, June 2, 2017. (Courtesy Charles Otu)
Charles Otu recovers in hospital in Abakaliki, Ebonyi, June 2, 2017. (Courtesy Charles Otu)

Nigerian publisher shot, second journalist badly beaten

New York, June 7, 2017–Nigerian authorities should swiftly bring to justice all those behind the beating of journalist Charles Otu and the shooting of publisher Samuel Nweze, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Otu, the publisher and editor of biweekly The People’s Conscience newspaper and a contributor to Nigeria’s daily Guardian newspaper, told CPJ that men abducted him from the street in Abakaliki, beat him in an Ebonyi state office building, and threatened to kill him unless he promised not to criticize the government of the southern Nigerian state. The attack took place on June 2, the same day that two men shot Samuel Nweze, the publisher of the People’s Leader tabloid newspaper, in a drive-by shooting, according to news reports.

“I narrowly escaped death,” Nweze told the Nigerian news agency NAN. “I was lucky the assailants who came on a motorcycle missed the target…I heard a bang and I felt sharp pains and blood gushing out from my back.”

Otu told CPJ that his office is directly next to Nweze’s office, and that he believes the gunmen shot Nweze, who did not answer CPJ’s phone calls, in a case of mistaken identity. Otu said that Nweze’s newspaper, the People’s Leader, was generally not critical of the state government.

Otu told CPJ that a group of young men first beat him on the street, then dragged him into a bus which took him to the Cabinet House in Abakaliki, where the men continued beating him with iron bars, canes, and stones while reading a lengthy Facebook post Otu had written arguing that Ebonyi Governor David Umahi Nweze had failed to live up to his campaign promises.

Otu said the men continued to beat him at a nearby police station in an effort to get him to sign a document saying he would leave Ebonyi and not write anything further about the state government. Otu told CPJ that he collapsed before he was able to sign, and that he was taken to the emergency ward of the Federal Teaching Hospital. He told CPJ that he expects to leave the hospital tomorrow.

Nigerian authorities should show that journalists cannot be viciously abducted, attacked, or shot with impunity,” CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal said from Durban, South Africa. “We call on police and prosecutors to swiftly bring to justice those who abducted and badly beat Charles Otu and those who shot Samuel Nweze.”

Gov. Nweze did not respond to CPJ’s phone calls seeking comment, but told The Guardian that the attackers should be “arrested and prosecuted.”

Titus Lamorde, commissioner of police for Ebonyi, told CPJ that police had opened an investigation into Otu’s beating. “We want the intimate details of what happened,” he said. Lamorde said that he was unaware that Nweze, the publisher, had been shot.