Journalist spends over 100 days in prison for republishing article about governor

Olamilekan Hammed, a journalist who was arrested and detained on May 13, 2022, by the State Security Service in Ogun State, Nigeria, has now spent over 100 days in detention.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) gathered that Hammed is being held at the Maximum Correctional Centre in Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State, even as he struggles to meet his bail conditions.

Hammed, who is the publisher of the news website, EaglesForeSight.com, was detained after he republished a report about the “alleged criminal records” of the governor of Ogun State, Dapo Abiodun.

The article, which was originally published by privately owned online newspaper Peoples Gazette, revealed how Abiodun was allegedly arrested for credit card fraud and forgery in the United States in 1986.

The revelation was the focus of a petition written to Abdullah Adamu, the national chairman of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress, seeking to disqualify Abiodun from seeking a second term as governor of the southwestern state because of the fraud allegations.

But, in response to the report, Abiodun, through his legal team, Afe Babalola and Co, argued that his probable arrest was not a conviction, hence he was not answerable to the laws that applied to criminals.

After republishing the article, the SSS invited Hammed for questioning on May 13. On reaching the secret police’s office, the journalist was detained.

Even though Hammed was forced to delete the republished article from the EaglesForeSight website and publicly apologise to the governor, the SSS later arraigned the journalist at the State High Court.

In his bail ruling, Hammed was demanded to provide NGN3 million (US$7,000) and two sureties, who are to provide NGN1 million (US$2,400) each.

The judge ruled that one of the sureties must be a civil servant on Grade Level 15 in the federal, state or local government area within the Abeokuta metropolis and the other an owner of an established business within Abeokuta. According to the ruling, the two sureties must own real estate properties in the area.

Hammed has been unable to meet the bail conditions and has been in prison custody since.

Kunle Somorin, the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, issued a statement on August 22, exonerating his boss from the journalist’s detention.

“Governor Abiodun holds human rights and the rule of law in high esteem and the governor would not at any time act above the law. The matter is already before the court of law and the governor, who has a strong belief in the concept of separation of power, will never hinder or influence the judiciary process,” Somorin said.

“It is strictly a matter among the defendant, security agencies and the court,” he added.

But, Festus Ogun, a human rights lawyer who once represented Hammed, asked to give no credence to the governor’s statement.

Festus provided a document showing that Hammed’s arrest was indeed carried out upon a request by the governor to the SSS [The SSS has yet to respond to enquiries by the MFWA].

“The governor’s aide either lied or is completely misinformed. Tyranny will expire, in the fullness of time,” the lawyer wrote on Twitter.

The MFWA condemns the continued unjust harassment, torture and intimidation meted out to Hammed for merely doing his job as a journalist.

The foundation urges the governor to use his influence to promote press freedom and see to the release of the journalist immediately. His continued detention is a completely illegal and naked abuse of power. Sections 34, 35 and 39 of the Nigerian constitution are clear on this.

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