New York, April 18, 2023—Nigerian authorities should investigate the recent harassment of journalist Benedict Uwalaka by a police officer and ensure members of the press can work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
On the morning of Monday, April 17, an unidentified police officer attacked Uwalaka, a freelance photojournalist working with the privately owned Daily Trust newspaper, while he covered a protest at an airport in Lagos, according to a report by the Daily Trust and Uwalaka, who spoke to CPJ by phone.
Uwalaka said that the officer injured his hand, which was still painful the following day, and damaged his camera, breaking its screen and preventing its lens from reattaching.
“Nigerian authorities should swiftly and transparently investigate the recent assault of journalist Benedict Uwalaka by a police officer,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Police in Nigeria too often arrest and harass journalists for their work. Authorities should ensure recourse and restitution for those who face such abuses.”
Uwalaka told CPJ that he was covering a protest by aviation workers at the airport when an officer sitting in a police vehicle with two other officers summoned him and criticized the journalist for taking a woman’s photo without her permission.
“He asked me to delete the picture. I said no,” Uwalaka told CPJ, saying the officer then grabbed his camera and punched him in the hand about 10 times.
The officer took Uwalaka to the airport’s police station and left, saying he would return. When he did not come back after about 40 minutes, officers at the station told Uwalaka that he was free to leave.
Uwalaka said he then waited at the station for more than two hours hoping to speak to a supervisor, but left when they did not arrive. Officers at the airport station told Uwalaka that they did not know the officer who had brought him in.
“The police said that unless the person who brought me is available, there is nothing they can do about it,” Uwalaka said. “They do not know him and there is no way they can trace him.”
Lagos police spokesperson Benjamin Hundeyin told CPJ via messaging app that questions should be directed to the airport’s police command.
When CPJ called that office’s spokesperson, Olayinka Ojelade, he said he was not available to comment and would provide contact details for another spokesperson; he had not done so by the time of publication.
Previously, in 2012, hospital workers in Lagos beat Uwalaka with their fists and hit him with bottles and sticks while he covered the aftermath of a plane crash, as CPJ documented at the time. Uwalaka took his attackers to court, but the case was dismissed in September 2019, he told CPJ.