Justice for Olomofe: One Year On, When Is The Change?


Peter Nkanga
With several unsolved murders, Nigeria ranks 13th on the Committee to Protect Journalists 2015 Global Impunity Index which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and their killers go free.

Since a return to civil rule in 1999, attacks on the press in Nigeria have been carried out with absolute impunity and downright indifference by successive governments, CPJ findings over the years show.

The inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo of the ruling All Progressives Congress political party on May 29, 2015 brought with it a hope of change. But the current government is yet to truly demonstrate its commitment to upholding press freedom and freedom of expression by ensuring that attacks on the press don’t go unpunished.

Of the numerous attacks to have occurred in the past one year under Buhari’s administration, the most emblematic case CPJ has investigated is the attempted murder of Yomi Olomofe, the publisher of the Badagry-based community monthly Prime Magazine, on June 25, 2015, at the premises of the Nigeria Customs Service at Seme border in Lagos State, a boundary between Nigeria and Benin Republic.

Senior ranking Customs officers had invited Olomofe and McDominic Nkpemenyie, a correspondent with the Rivers State-funded Tide Newspaper, to their offices at Seme to discuss allegations that customs officers were complicit in corruption and smuggling activities at the border. There, in the full view of the public, over a dozen men beat Olomofe into a coma while armed Customs personnel looked on, CPJ documented at the time.
The attack on both journalists came the same month that CPJ on June 3, 2015 wrote a letter to President Buhari calling on him to take action and address the high rate of impunity in violence against journalists. Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina, media aides to Buhari, acknowledged receipt of the letter, but the government, over one year later, is yet to respond.

While Nkpemenyie has repeatedly declined to speak publicly on his attack out of fear for his life and family, Olomofe has remained dogged in seeking justice against people he identified to the Police as being part of a deadly smuggling syndicate operating at Seme border and across West Africa.

“These hoodlums threatened to kill me to serve as a warning to all journalists from reporting on their illegal activities with the Nigeria Customs,” Olomofe told CPJ. “These guys told me they have killed before and nothing has come out of it. That they will kill me and never be prosecuted.”

On June 30, 2015, Mohammed Ndalati, then Area Comptroller at Seme (now retired), denied ordering the attack to CPJ but said he did not arrest Olomofe’s attackers because “the situation was too rowdy”. In July 2015, Wale Adeniyi, Customs national spokesman, in a telephone conversation, told CPJ the leadership of Customs “saw, know, and identified” Mr. Olomofe’s attackers. He promised Customs would cooperate with Police investigations.

Following widespread media condemnation, Olomofe told CPJ that days after his assault, Abdullahi Dikko Inde, the Comptroller-General of Customs at the time, called him on July 1, 2015 using Adeniyi’s phone, to request a stop to further media reports on the attack which he said were embarrassing him and the Customs service. But Dikko Inde did not ensure the arrest and prosecution of Olomofe’s attackers nor the Customs officers involved.

By October 2015, Shaibu Aminu, the Investigating Police Officer who handled Olomofe’s case at the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Panti, in Lagos State, told CPJ that the leadership of the Customs was blocking Police investigations. CPJ sighted acknowledged copies of letters of invitation showing the Police since July had invited the Customs officers whom Olomofe had identified as been involved in his attack.

“I personally went to Seme and invited the Customs officers. The Customs did not honour the invitations. Instead (Wale Adeniyi) their spokesman from Abuja said he would come and settle the matter. He didn’t come,” Inspector Aminu said. “And being Service officers I cannot just arrest them.”

On several occasions since June 27, 2015, Olomofe, personally and through lawyers, petitioned Solomon Arase, the immediate past Inspector General of Police, to arrest and prosecute his attackers and their sponsors. Instead, the police quashed all of Mr. Olomofe’s petitions and made him a suspect.

On March 10, 2016, Inspector Aminu lured Olomofe to the Police Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) Alagbon, Lagos State, where he was arrested and detained overnight based on a counter-petition from his assailants to IGP Arase, which accused Olomofe of assaulting and attempting to extort the men who attempted to kill him in June 2015, Olomofe, his lawyer, and the leadership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) who secured his bail, told CPJ. Olomofe has not been charged to court but remains under threat of arrest by the Police FCID.

CPJ’s findings reveal there exists a pattern of cover-ups amidst grievous attacks on journalists and media outlets for their critical reporting on Customs, which is Nigeria’s third highest revenue generating agency after oil and taxes, according to news reports.

In early September 2009, Customs seized and burned thousands of copies of newspapers which reported on the alleged forgery of the educational qualifications of Dikko Inde at the time when he was newly appointed Comptroller-General of Customs, according to media reports.

In the same month, on September 20, six unidentified assailants shot dead Bayo Ohu, an assistant Political editor with the private daily The Guardian at his house in Lagos, and took away his laptop and cell phone, according to the journalist’s relatives and media reports. The reports state Ohu was working on stories about the alleged certificate forgery of Dikko Inde. This was confirmed by his widow who told CPJ that this information had been passed on to her by senior journalists at The Guardian. Nigerian authorities are yet to find Ohu’s killers. A court in 2012 discharged the three suspects accused of killing Ohu upon observing that the Police “abandoned the case and did not turn up”, according to news reports.

In October 2010, Innocent Chukwu, the editor of the Lagos-based bi-weekly Tentacle Magazine, was savagely attacked in the premises of the Customs at Seme border after he honoured the invitation of the Area Comptroller for an interview, according to media reports. His attack followed Tentacle Magazine’s latest story on illegal arms importation at ports and border posts under the leadership of Customs boss Dikko Inde. The Customs denied involvement in the attack, news reports said.

In both cases of Chukwu and Olomofe, the hierarchy of the Customs and Police ensured their attackers were not brought to justice, both journalists told CPJ. Chukwu told CPJ that the findings of the investigation into his attack by Solomon Arase, then Deputy Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, are not known. He said Police inaction contributed to him losing the will to continue seeking justice.

In March 2016, CPJ wrote to former IGP Solomon Arase calling on him to reverse the ongoing course of injustice against Mr. Olomofe. CPJ approached Arase twice in public, prompting him to reluctantly get Idowu Owohunwa, his Principal Staff Officer, to refer CPJ to Kakwe Christopher Katso, then Deputy Inspector General of Police in-charge of the FCID, the department persecuting Olomofe in favour of his attackers.

All through April and May 2016, CPJ sought audience but was not allowed to meet with Katso. Despite repeated phone calls, text messages and meeting with staff of the DIG, including Stanley Kwaphoor, a Deputy Superintendent of Police and personal assistant to Katso, no response was given on the merit of the FCID’s actions against Olomofe. The Police has also not made known the status of Olomofe’s initial petition against his attackers which were received on July 1, 2015 at both the offices of IGP Arase and DIG Katso, according to acknowledgement copies in CPJ’s possession.

In over a year, CPJ has directly and through diplomatic channels reached out to some of the highest authorities in the Police, Customs, including Presidential media aides Shehu and Adesina, and the duo of Adeola Ipaye and Laolu Akande, chief of staff and media aide respectively to Vice President Osinbajo, calling on them to impress on the Police to reverse Olomofe’s status from suspect back to complainant and to ensure his attackers and their sponsors are arrested and prosecuted. Despite requesting and receiving comprehensive details with unimpeachable evidence to support Olomofe’s case, there has been no change in Olomofe’s status.

Nigerian journalists told CPJ that they believe there is a grand conspiracy by Nigerian authorities to cover up many highly placed individuals. A journalist covering security institutions told CPJ in confidence of several petitions sent to past Nigerian presidents, Attorney-Generals, ministers, and heads of security agencies, against the hierarchy of Customs which were at best never diligently investigated. One of such petitions was from the Nigerian Customs Transparency Initiative group to the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) in July 2015. Amongst several allegations, the group accused the Police FCID of persecuting the whistleblower who reported the case of Dikko Inde’s alleged certificate forgery, according to media reports.

“This is a grand case of corruption and criminal activities that cuts across Nigeria’s borders. And bringing Olomofe’s attackers to justice would mean that they could spill the beans on their Customs collaborators who have over the years shared their illegal financial proceeds with so many people in the present and past governments.”

CPJ believes Olomofe faces serious threat to his life as his attackers, who know where he and his family live, have recurrently sent people to deflate his will to continue seeking justice. CPJ is in possession of a written request from Olomofe seeking Police protection for himself and his family which was acknowledged by the Lagos State Commissioner of Police on June 30, 2015. The Police did not honour the request, Olomofe said.

Nigerian authorities need to realise that their action or inaction in failing to prosecute Olomofe’s attackers and their sponsors is aiding and abetting a smuggling syndicate involved in the illegal trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons, persons, hard drugs, fake pharmaceuticals, and other prohibited items along Seme border and across West Africa.

Emmanuel Osita Okereke, the director general of the National Taskforce against illegal importation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NATFORCE), at a press briefing in December 2015, revealed how Samuel Madubuike, a licenced Customs clearing agent and owner of Sam Express Cargo Services Ltd, cleared over 22 trucks of arms and ammunition which were illegally imported into the country in collaboration with Dikko Inde and Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), a former National Security Adviser, and subsequently delivered to the Islamist terror group Boko Haram, according to news reports. Okereke confirmed this to CPJ in May 2016.

Dasuki is currently facing trial for allegedly looting $2.1 billion in funds meant to fight Boko Haram, the reports said. Anti-graft agencies are currently investigating Dikko Inde over allegations bordering on criminal conspiracy, diversion of public funds, theft, abuse of office and living above legitimate means, according to media reports.

Olomofe told CPJ he identified Madubuike to the Police as one of the men behind the attempt on his life. In CPJ’s possession are court documents of a civil law suit Olomofe filed against his attackers which state that Madubuike was present during the meeting Olomofe and Nkpemenyie held with Customs, and who witnessed their assault on June 25. Others implicated in the court documents are Emmanuel Nkemdirim, a deputy Customs comptroller (now retired); Ernest Olottah, Seme Customs Command spokesman (now retired), and Ibrahim Turaki, an Assistant Customs Comptroller in charge of imports at Seme border.

Justice Abdulazeez Anka of the Federal High Court, Lagos State, has fixed September 29, 2016 to rule on the application to relist the civil suit which was struck out on June 16, 2016 on behalf of counsels to Customs and Olomofe’s alleged attackers, according to media reports. Olomofe is praying the court to declare that Madubuike alongside his identified attackers and Customs collaborators infringed on his rights to life, freedom of expression and the press, and award special and exemplary damages against them.

On July 4, 2016, CPJ held a meeting with Waheed Odusile, the president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, and Deji Elumoye, the chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the NUJ. It was resolved that the NUJ would deliver a written petition to Ibrahim Idris, the newly appointed Inspector General of Police, calling on him to depart from his predecessor’s antecedent and ensure justice for Olomofe.

“We will seek audience with the IGP to personally deliver the letter to him,” said Odusile, who is also the president of the Federation of African Journalists. “We will stand in solidarity with Olomofe because a threat or attack to one is a threat to all.”

CPJ believes that as the current Nigeria government strives to tackle the country’s socio-economic and political challenges, it can send a strong statement that it is resolute in fighting crime, corruption and ending acts of impunity against journalists by ensuring Olomofe gets the justice he seeks and that his attackers and sponsors are promptly arrested and duly prosecuted.

Anything other than this would sadly re-affirm that Nigeria remains a dangerous place where journalists can be killed and their killers go free, a repugnant record Nigeria currently holds for the third year in a row on CPJ’s Impunity Index.

Nkanga, is the West Africa Representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists. He can be reached at pnkanga@cpj.org. Follow him on Twitter @nkanga_p and @africamedia_CPJ