Today, Friday, May 27 marks exactly two weeks since the State Security Service (SSS) in Ogun state, Nigeria arrested Olamilekan Hammed, a journalist and publisher of online outlet EaglesForeSight, on undisclosed charges.
The arrest came after Hammed’s outlet republished a report about the “alleged criminal records” of Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun.
The article, which was originally published by the privately-owned online newspaper Peoples Gazette, alleged that the Nigerian Governor was arrested for credit card fraud and forgery in the United States in 1986.
The allegation was the substance of a petition written to Abdullah Adamu, the national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress political party, seeking to disqualify Abiodun from seeking a second term as governor of the southwestern state.
In response to the report, Abiodun, through his legal team, Afe Babalola and Co, argued that his possible arrest was not a conviction, hence he was not answerable to the laws that applied to criminals.
After republishing the article, the SSS in Ogun state invited Hammed for questioning on May 13. On reaching the secret police’s office, the journalist was detained and transferred to the state police headquarters, where he is still held without charge.
Hammed’s lawyer, Festus Ogun, said he was initially denied access to his client, alleging that the authorities on April 29 forced the journalist to delete the republished article from the EaglesForeSight website and publicly apologise to the governor, which the journalist did.
The MFWA observed that the article is missing from the website and that the latest stories on the news platform were dated 13 May, the day Hammed was arrested.
Festus said he had not been told when his client would be released, adding that the continued detention of his client was “worrisome” and that the situation would make him approach the state high court to compel the journalist’s release.
“Mr Hammed, since arrested, has continued to face unjust harassment, torture, and intimidation for merely doing his job as a citizen journalist after being forced to pull down the story from his website,” Festus said.
“Given that journalism is not a crime in this country, the earlier invitations, recent arrest and subsequent detention of Olamilekan Hammed by the SSS is a completely illegal and naked abuse of power. Sections 34, 35, and 39 of the 1999 Constitution are clear on this.”
Festus said he believes the governor is abusing his powers to silence his client who only did his job by “amplifying publicly available records.”
Some Nigerians have since been speaking out against Hammed’s detention under the hashtag #FreeLahbash on Twitter (Lahbash is Hammed’s nickname).
Speaking on the governor’s behalf, the Ogun state commissioner for information, Waheed Odusile, exonerated his boss from Hammed’s arrest.
“Go and ask those who detained him. Was he detained by the governor? Who detained him? Go and find out. Why was he detained? Go and find out. Definitely, it’s not from us. We are not a party to this matter, it has nothing to do with the state governor,” Odusile told the MFWA by phone.
However, the SSS has not responded to enquiries by the MFWA.
The MFWA calls on the Nigerian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Hammed from arbitrary detention and allow him to work without fear and intimidation.
The continued arbitrary detention of the journalist without charge is a malicious attempt to gag him, which is totally at variance with the provisions of the Nigerian constitution.