Olamilekan Hammed, a journalist who was arrested and detained on May 13, 2022, by the State Security Service in Ogun State, Nigeria, has been released, after spending 138 days in detention.
Hammed confirmed his release to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) via phone.
“I had a bad experience in prison. It was, however, not strange to me that I experienced it because when I entered the field of journalism, I always thought something of this nature could happen. It happens all the time to journalists who expose corruption in government,” he said.
Hammed was held at the Maximum Correctional Centre in Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State in southwestern Nigeria, but gained his freedom on September 27, 2022, after a judge at a federal high court in Abeokuta struck out his case, according to his lawyer, Habeeb Whyte.
The journalist and publisher of news website, EaglesForeSight.com, was detained after he republished a report on the alleged criminal records of the governor of Ogun State, Dapo Abiodun.
Whyte said his client was charged for the “derogatory news on his website that touches on the person of the governor.”
The article was originally published by privately-owned online newspaper Peoples Gazette and revealed how Abiodun was allegedly arrested for credit card fraud and forgery in the United States in 1986.
The revelation was contained in a petition seeking to disqualify Abiodun from running for a second term in office.
But Abiodun, through his legal team, Afe Babalola and Co, stated that his probable arrest was not a conviction and he was not answerable to the laws that applied to criminals.
After republishing the article, the secret police in Ogun State, allegedly on the orders of the governor, invited Hammed for questioning. On reaching the SSS office, the journalist was detained.
Hammed was reportedly forced to delete the republished article from his website and publicly apologise to the governor, which he reportedly did. Thereafter, the SSS arraigned him at the court.
Kunle Somorin, the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, issued a statement on August 22, exonerating his boss from the journalist’s detention.
However, Festus Ogun, who formerly represented Hammed, provided a document proving the journalist’s arrest and detention was indeed carried out on the governor’s orders.
Two weeks after he regained freedom, Hammed said he had moved on past his prison experience and that he would continue to publish stories that speak truth to power.
“It was a traumatic experience, especially because I expected certain people to stand up for me, but they didn’t. They felt intimidated and tired. At a time, some of them told me there was nothing they could do again about my case. I felt bitter, disappointed and betrayed. What kept me going was the fact that I knew I did the right thing and eventually, I would see light at the end of the tunnel,” the journalist told MFWA.
Be that as it may, Hammed said his experience would not stop him from doing his job.
“I am not going to be intimidated. I am always on the truth’s side and I will never stop. The essence of journalism is to expose ills and speak truth to power, so I am not discouraged by my detention,” he said.
Asked if he would sue the governor, on whose alleged orders he was detained, Hammed said no.
“I won’t take any legal action against the governor. All is in the past and I’m ready to let bygones be bygones,” he said.
Upon his arrest, the MFWA condemned his detention and called on Nigeria’s authorities to release him. After he crossed 100 days in prison, we again highlighted his plight and demanded his release. We also run a social media campaign to demand freedom for the journalist.
We, therefore, welcome the release of Hammed and are relieved that the court recognised that the charge against him is baseless. Still, it is great injustice that he spent 138 days in detention before his release, a testament to the fact that Nigerian authorities are keen to abuse judicial systems to the detriment of the press. A repeat of this injustice should not be allowed.