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was handcuffed, in leg chains for 3 days, Olatunji, FirstNews editor recounts ordeal

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  • Regains freedom after 15 days in DIA cell
  • As NGE, NUJ condemn detention 

Editor of FirstNews, Segun Olatunji on Thursday said he was blindfolded and flown to the Federal Capital Territory where he was moved to a cell in handcuffs and leg chains for almost three days.

Narrating his ordeal after his release, from 15 days detention by the Directorate of Intelligence Agency, DIA, at a press briefing organised by the leaderships of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ and International Press Institute, IPI, in Abuja, said  “Someone came claiming to be from the military. He identified himself as Colonel Lawal. Immediately, he seized my phones.

“I went to the room to dress up. By the time I got downstairs, I saw soldiers inside the compound taking positions. Outside the gate, I saw about three vehicles with Air Force personnel, Army, Defence Intelligence Agency, and others all fully armed.

“I was handcuffed and taken straight to the office of the National Air Defence Corps where we waited for three hours. I did not know that they were waiting for an aircraft to pick me up to Abuja.

“When the aircraft landed, I was blindfolded and moved to the aircraft, and we landed in Abuja shortly. I was leg cuffed also. They removed my clothes and I was left with my boxers. I was taken to Cell 9.

“There, I was left with leg and handcuffs. And at a point, one of the officers came and tightened the right leg and the right hand, and I was there groaning in pain. They did not loosen it until about two or three days after.

“Up till now, I could still feel the pains in my hands and legs.”

He said the masterminds of his ordeal were close to the government based on the questions he was asked.

“They were asking me questions about certain stories that FirstNews had published.

“They first told me that I was one of those abusing the Chief of Defence Intelligence (Major General Emmanuel Undiandeye). They did not say much about that,” he revealed.

According to him, they also asked him about a story FirstNews had published about the Chief of Staff to President Bola Tinubu ( Femi Gbajabiamila), which he described as a “major thing”.

“That is why I told some people earlier that those behind my arrest are people in the corridors of power who are not happy with FirstNews is doing and are bent on taking their own pound of flesh”.

The General Secretary of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, Dr.

Iyobosa Uwugiaren had yesterday announced the release of the detained editor of FirstNews, Olatunji in Abuja after about 15 days in the captivity of military officials for yet to be disclosed reasons.

Disclosing this to newsmen, he also appealed to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to call to order operatives of the Defence Intelligence Agency, DIA and members of other security agencies, who insist on operating above the law.

He made the call while addressing a joint press conference organized by the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, the NGE and the International Press Institute (IPI) in Abuja on Thursday. Uwugiaren, stated that the officials acted like kidnappers both during the arrest of the journalist and during his release, which was done under the bridge at Asokoro, Abuja.

He condemned the arrest and detention of Segun Olatunji by the security agents for carrying out his lawful duties and warned that gagging the media will not be in the interest of the present administration nor serve to improve the image of the President.

He stated that in a democracy, the freedom of the media must be held paramount but warned that certain unscrupulous individuals within the security community are doing everything possible to undermine the freedom of the press to create bad name for the administration at home and abroad.

He reiterated that the NGE will not tolerate any attempt by institutions of government to intimidate or harass its members who are legitimately doing their jobs.

Reading a statement titled,

“Let’s Protect Free Press, Let’s Protect Our Democracy against military misconduct” Dr. Uwugiaren said “Gentlemen of the press. We thank you so much for honouring our invitation in spite of the short notice. The invitation by the leaderships of the International Press Institute (IPI), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) was sent out late last night. And we are encouraged by your turnout and solidarity.

The IPI, the NGE and the NUJ called this joint press conference to update members of the public on the ordeal of our colleague – the Editor of FirstNews, Segun Olatunji, who armed people we earlier thought were non-state actors abducted from his home in Lagos on March 15.

“In a statement issued by the management of FirstNews, Mr Olatunji’s abduction was linked to a recent story published by the media organization titled, “Revealed: Defence Chief running office like family business – Public Interest Lawyers.”

Narrating the ugly incident, Mr Olatunji’s wife, who witnessed the abduction of her husband, said the armed men stormed their residence a few minutes after 6 pm that day. She said on their arrival, the abductors immediately confiscated her husband’s telephone before shoving him into a van. She said she asked the abductors what her husband’s offence was and where they were taking him. The stern-looking men rebuffed her enquiries.

“For days, the Publisher of FirstNews, Mr Daniel Iworiso-Markson, as well as Mr Olatunji’s colleagues and family members, tried in vain to locate him. But those who abducted him ensured he was incommunicado. They also ensured that no one knew his whereabouts, a development that further traumatised his family, employers and colleagues.

“For days, the leaderships of the IPI, the NGE and the NUJ frantically searched for Mr Olatunji. We interacted with the Presidency, the Nigeria Police Force (Lagos and Abuja), the Nigerian Army, the Defence Intelligence Agency, the Ministry of Interior, the Defence Headquarters, the Office of the National Security Adviser, the Ministry of Information and National Orientation, and the State Security Services (SSS). Other security agencies were also contacted. But all the efforts failed until last night. The military claimed the journalist was not in their custody. They lied to us and top government officials whose interventions we sought.

“However, on Monday, IPI Nigeria was able to determine (without doubt) that the journalist was being detained and tortured by the Defence Intelligence Agency in Abuja. The IPI then informed the Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Musa and the Chief of Defence Intelligence, Major General  Emmanuel Undiandeye, of its finding and asked them to release our colleague immediately. We also provided that information to top government officials who also reached out to Generals Musa and Undiandeye. Again, they lied that the journalist was not in their custody. Yet our sources were telling us we needed to act fast to save our colleague from being killed.

“That was what culminated in the IPI Nigeria’s press statement of Wednesday, which clearly accused the DIA of abducting and detaining Mr Olatunji. Once that statement circulated in the media, the anti-democratic officers became jittery. They became even more confused after they became aware that the NGE, the NUJ, and the IPI had scheduled a follow-up press conference for this morning.

“Knowing the game was up, they admitted their crime last night. They confessed to the Honourable Minister of Information and National Orientation, Alhaji Mohammed Idris, that our colleague was in their custody and that they would release him immediately.

“At this point, we want to put on record the important role played by the minister of information and other top officials of government towards the resolution of this matter. These reckless and anti-media officers, who apparently have no respect for civilian authorities, lied to and disobeyed officials of the federal government who intervened.

“We are sure that many right-thinking members of society, including the international community, are both amazed and shocked by the lawlessness and fear-provoking action of the DIA – an agency under the command of Major General Undiandeye, who reports directly to the Chief of Defence Staff, General Musa.

“The DIA’s action makes us wonder about its real intention. Our suspicion is that they planned to secretly eliminate Mr Olatunji so that members of the public could attribute his disappearance to unknown gunmen. But we are glad they failed.

“For us, this vicious, uncivilized, unlawful and criminal action of the DIA is unacceptable. The action is alien to Nigeria’s democratic space. It is now clear that there are some officers in our military who are still finding it difficult to subject themselves to civil authority 24 years after our country returned to representative governance.

“We do not think this kind of attitude should be condoned by President Bola Tinubu, particularly, and Nigerians, in general. If officers in a military institution like DIA could hack a journalist’s telephone, mishandle his wife, abduct him, detain him secretly for 12 days and disobey senior officials of the federal government, then our democracy cannot be said to be safe.

“Although our colleague has now been released, we are calling on President Tinubu to ensure that these officers are punished for their bad behaviour. By all standards, the actions of the DIA, General Musa and Major General Undiandeye are against the provisions of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution and other international instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory – which forbid the detention of any citizen or resident beyond 48 hours, except with a valid court order.

“More so, the DIA’s action is a direct attack on press freedom. One of the core missions of the free press is to serve as a watchdog on power. The press, as we all know, is the connection between the people and the government. If the press is not allowed to carry out its social and constitutional responsibilities but instead obligated to power, it simply serves as an extension of power.

“Without freedom of the press, our democracy is endangered. In the case of corruption, a free press is critical to exposing abuses of power. For sure, the media is not above the law, but in a democracy, the only way to determine wrong or right is through the legal process.

“This is not the end of this matter. The Nigerian media community shall consult further in the next few days on the actions to take against the CDS, the CDI, and the military regarding this matter.”

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