Nigeria: Detention, harassment of media rights activist appalling

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is appalled by the illegal detention for two hours of Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director of its partner organisation in Nigeria, the International Press Centre, by the State Security Service (SSS). The MFWA urges the state security agency to stop the arbitrary harassment of media rights activists.

The SSS (formerly Department of State Services DSS) detained and queried Mr Arogundade at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos on February 10, 2022, after the media rights activist arrived from a working trip to The Gambia.

“This is me at the DSS office at International Airport Lagos where I’m being held or detained against my wish. I have just returned from Banjul where I went to train Gambian journalists on Conflict sensitive journalism. Ever since the days of military rule I get molested by DSS and Immigration at the airport. This nonsense has to stop!”  Mr. Arogundade posted on his Facebook page

Mr Arogundade was in a queue for arrival formalities when an SSS official collected his passport, took a look, and asked him to step out of the line and follow him. The press freedom activist was kept waiting for two hours without any reason and intermittently queried by different officials regarding his travels.

The media rights activist says he phoned his lawyer and some colleagues to inform them of his ordeal when the formalities turned into harassment.

It took calls from a number of concerned media stakeholders including the president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors for the SSS to release the activist with an apology that it was a case of mistaken identity.

Mr Arogundade however disputes the mistaken identity excuse, insisting that the SSS have always harassed him at the airport ever since the days of military rule.

“On one occasion, at departure, they questioned me for some time before returning my passport, by that time the plane was almost completely boarding,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.

“For as long as I’ve been travelling now, if I get to the airport and I present my passport for normal immigration protocol, once the DSS (another moniker for the SSS) official who normally collects it, their official, they would ask me to hold on, they would take the passport to another official, and sometimes to a third official, converse among themselves,” Mr Arogundade narrated to the PREMIUM TIMES newspaper.

The detention and harassment of the journalist and media rights defender has been condemned by a number of organisations and individuals.

One of them is the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) which issued a statement saying

“We consider his ordeal at the hands of the DSS as part and parcel of the growing incident of egregious attacks on democratic rights and targeting of activists, Socialists and journalists which have become rife under the civilian dictatorial regime of President Muhammadu Buhari.”

It added that “the excuse given by the DSS that his ordeal was a result of mistaken identity is hard to believe. However, if it is true then the most appropriate thing is for the DSS to tender an unreserved public apology to comrade Lanre Arogundade and ensure such does not repeat itself.”

While Mr Arogundade was still being held, Nigeria’s foremost human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, also a Board Member of the MFWA, issued a statement saying “The harassment cannot be justified.”

The MFWA joins the media and human rights community in Nigeria to condemn the arbitrary detention and harassment of Lanre Orogundade. We urge the SSS leadership to issue clear instructions to its agents at the airports in Nigeria to desist from the systematic harassment to which the media rights advocate is often subjected. As a security agency, the SSS must help protect rather than be the source of distress and insecurity to citizens.

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