Nigerian journalist Benjamin Anaja was recently attacked by Environmental Sanitation Corps officers while filming them. (Photo: Guild Press)

Nigerian journalist Benjamin Anaja beaten, detained by security forces

On February 3, 2021, in Ikeja, the capital of Nigeria’s southwestern Lagos state, nine officers from the state Environmental Sanitation Corps assaulted and detained Benjamin Anaja, a reporter with the privately owned The Guild news website, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview, and a statement by the International Press Centre, a local press freedom group.

Anaja said that the officers were attempting to clear a group of traders from the roadside when a fight broke out between the officers and a group of unidentified people at the Meiran bus stop, a commercial hub in the city’s Alimosho council area. He said he filmed the confrontation as part of a documentary on transportation problems in Lagos.

Shortly after he began filming, an officer approached Anaja and began beating him while asking if he was a journalist, Anaja told CPJ. After he identified himself as a reporter, the officer pulled Anaja by the waist to meet other officers near their vehicle, and eight other officers joined in beating him with their hands, boots, and wooden sticks, while demanding his phone and identity card, the journalist said.

Anaja told CPJ that one of the officers held his penis, squeezed it hard, and used it to drag him into the officers’ van. The officers tried unsuccessfully to confiscate his phone, and briefly seized his press ID, which they damaged and then returned, he said. Once inside the van, an officer pinned Anaja to the floor as other officers continued to beat him; some of the officers tried to smash bottles on Anaja’s head, but were stopped by one of their colleagues, the journalist told CPJ.

After being beaten for about five minutes, Anaja said the officers locked him in the van and left; while inside, Anaja used his phone to film himself describing the attack, which The Guild included in their report about the incident.

Soon after, the officers returned to the van and proceeded to drive around the city for about an hour with Anaja in the back, and then released him onto the street, he said. The leader of the officers, who identified himself with the initials “I.P.O.” apologized to Anaja as they released him, but accused the journalist of provoking the attack by filming without their permission.

Anaja told CPJ on February 10 that his elbow, buttocks, and face were swollen from the attack and a pharmacist had given him pain relievers.

He said he identified at least three of the attacking officers—Tidjani Mustapha, Elegbede Samson, and Razaq Ismaila—from the tags on their uniforms.

Anaja told CPJ that the spokesperson of the Environmental Sanitation Corps, Kehinde Adebayo, called him on February 11 and asked him and members of The Guild’s management to attend a meeting at the corps’ office on February 12. That meeting was then postponed until February 15, was held but did not reach any conclusions, and was adjourned until February 17, Anaja said. 

Adebayo told CPJ in phone interviews that the corps was in touch with Anaja and The Guild, and that investigations were ongoing into the attack. He said he could not discuss the specifics of the case, including the officers identified by Anaja, over the phone because it was under investigation.

On February 4, the day after the attack, the Lagos state government posted a statement from State Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources Tunji Bello condemning the attack and pledging a thorough investigation. The statement said “the incident will be thoroughly investigated and punitive measures will be taken” against those who attacked Anaja.

CPJ’s calls and messages sent to Bello’s spokesperson, Kunle Adesina, went unanswered.