Over a year after he was beaten to a coma by his attackers, a Nigerian journalist, Yomi Olomofe, has yet to get justice, ARUKAINO UMUKORO writes
Yomi Olomofe is still a troubled man. Most times, he watches his back whenever he is in the public to convince himself that no suspicious persons were on his trail. He also now wears glasses to aid his vision. He still carries the physical traces and psychological scars from an incident that almost cost him his life 14 months ago.These are tell-tale signs of the brutal attack on the 47-year-old journalist and publisher. He was attacked on Thursday, June 25, 2015 at Seme, a border town between Nigeria and Benin.
Olomofe and another journalist, McDominic Nkpemenyie, had gone to the Nigeria Customs Service, Seme Command, Badagry, on a fact-finding mission. Olomofe said the customs officers at Seme had invited them to their offices after Nkpemenyie had sent questions via a text message to the then Customs Area Comptroller, Seme Border Command, Mohammed Ndalati, seeking clarifications about allegations that some customs officials were allegedly involved in smuggling and human trafficking at the border. The NCS is regarded as one of Nigeria’s highest revenue generating agency.
“When they arrived at the premises of the service at Seme border, the journalists got a rude shock instead of a gentlemanly discussion they expected, Olomofe said he was brutally attacked and beaten to a coma inside the premises of the NCS by some men he alleged to be smugglers and paid agents of the service.”
Nkpemenyie was however lucky as he somehow managed to escape. Olomofe also alleged that Ndalati was present at the scene when his attackers descended on him. The journalist told SUNDAY PUNCH that he’s still living with the trauma.
“As I speak to you, my eyes have yet to heal; I cannot read beyond three to four minutes before water begins to come out of the left eye. I’ve done several tests on it and I have just been assured that it would take time, and hopefully it will heal. Also, one year after the incident, the psychological trauma is still there. I never committed a crime. I was just doing my job,” Olomofe said.
He further said:
“The characters who assaulted me are still walking free, and as long as they are walking about free, my safety and that of my family is in danger, being that my house, my family, children and my aged parents are all in Badagry, where the incident happened.
These people have sent some other persons to members of my family. About three Thursdays ago, I got a call from my parents, saying that some suspicious characters were lurking around their residence, and when they made efforts to approach them, they hurriedly drove off.”
The journalist added that such incident was not isolated. He said:
“Some persons have at various times, some of them under the guise of trying to be helpful, told me that if I did not discontinue with the court action, I should know that my life is not safe. That was why I had to leave Badagry for my own personal safety.”
“But as long as other members of the group that meted out physical violence on me with the intention to murder me that fateful day, June, 2015, on the premises of the Nigeria Customs Service, still walk freely, my life and those of my family are still under threat.”
When SUNDAY PUNCH contacted Nkpemenyie, he did not want to speak on the incident, probably out of fright for his life and family.
“That incident is in the past. I don’t want to talk about it, please,” he told our correspondent on the telephone.
The Public Relations Officer of the NCS, Mr. Wale Adeniyi, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the service had no links with those who attacked Olomofe on the premises of the service.
“I take exception to what Olomofe said. The incident happened at the Seme Border area, not on the premises of the Customs office,’’ Adeniyi said.
He further said:
“When we got the report (of his beating), our officials took him to the hospital. After he was discharged, he turned back to say that it was the customs that sponsored the attack. We contributed to his medical bills. But he insisted that he was taking the Nigeria Customs Service to court. We didn’t want to wish the matter away.
We tried to use the instrumentality of the Nigerian Union of Journalists to sort it out but they were adamant. I am among those who made effort to convince him that we don’t know anything about it. The truth about this is that he expected that there would be some kind of hefty settlement because he dragged customs into the matter.
He knows his attackers, why is he dragging the customs into it? We should be asking him what business a journalist has with thugs at the border. Has he dealt with them before? Was it a business that went awry? The matter went to court and the case was struck out. ”
When SUNDAY PUNCH contacted Ndalati on the telephone, he cut off the call when he heard that it was about the case involving Olomofe. He later sent a text message to our correspondent that he was bereaved at the moment and would respond at a later date. But he had yet to do so as of the time of this report.
Our correspondent also contacted one of the alleged sponsors of Olomofe’s attackers, Mr. Sam Madubuike. He described Olomofe’s accusations as lies and fallacies. He said:
“Do you want an interview or you are interrogating me? Come to my office at Seme border, so that I will call other people. You will get other reasons why the information I will give you is authentic.
You have the wrong information and you need to be enlightened properly. Whatever Mr. Olomofe told you is fallacy. Everything he said is a lie. The matter is in court, I don’t think it should be a press issue.”
In January, the Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalist had filed a civil suit against the service on the behalf of Olomofe, seeking N500m compensation for his alleged assault and violations of his rights. Those joined in the suit as respondents are the Ndalati, Deputy Comptroller, Emmanuel Nkemdirim; and Ibrahim Turaki, as well as Olomofe’s alleged attackers.
A copy of the suit which was obtained by our correspondent indicated that Olomofe asked the court to declare that the respondents by beating and causing him internal injuries, infringed on his right to life as guaranteed by Section 33 (1) of the 1999 constitution. He also asked the court to declare that the assault done to him in the course of discharging his professional duties and obligations constituted an infringement on his rights to freedom of expression and the press.
The Federal High Court, Lagos State, has since fixed September 29, 2016 to rule on the application to relist the civil suit which was struck out on June 16 on behalf of counsels to the NCS and Olomofe’s alleged attackers. This is not the first time a Nigerian journalist would be attacked in the discharge of his professional duties.
In September 2009, gunmen shot dead an Assistant Political Editor with The Guardian, Mr. Bayo Ohu, at his house in Lagos, and took away his laptop and cell phone. Also, in October 2010, the editor of a Lagos-based bi-weekly magazine, Mr. Innocent Chukwu, was reportedly attacked on the premises of the Customs at Seme border.
His attack was allegedly precipitated by his published story on illegal arms importation at ports and border post. The customs denied involvement in the attack. The Reporters Without Borders ranks Nigeria 116 out of 180 countries in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index. The West Africa Representative, Committee to Protect Journalists, Mr. Peter Nkanga, also noted that:
“With several unsolved murders, Nigeria ranks 13th on the Committee to Protect Journalists 2015 Global Impunity Index which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and their killers go free.”
He called on the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to take action and address the high rate of impunity in violence against journalists. He said:
“The Presidency’s attention to this matter will send a strong statement that the current government is resolute in fighting crime, corruption and impunity by ensuring that Mr. Olomofe gets the justice he seeks and that his attackers and sponsors are promptly arrested and duly prosecuted.’’
In a telephone interview with our correspondent, the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Bem Angwe, said he was not aware of the case, but that since our correspondent brought it to his attention, the commission would investigate it and take appropriate action. A source at the presidency told SUNDAY PUNCH that the presidency would only be involved in the matter if nothing was done by the relevant agencies.
“The NHRC is empowered constitutionally to deal with such situation and to demand an explanation. They are supposed to open a file on this case and continue to monitor it until justice is done. This government is a constitutional government and is committed to the rule of law,” the source said.
The Chairman, Lagos State chapter of the NUJ, Mr. Deji Elumoye, decried the continued attack on journalists. Elumoye said:
“It took us about six months to take it to court because there had not been any move from the leadership of the NCS to reach out to the NUJ, the professional body of Mr. Olomofe. In the last three months, they have not done anything as regards investigating the issue of his brutalisation.
All the people named in the suit are well known to the customs. These people boasted that nobody could do anything to them. Journalists should be treated fairly and as human beings, not as enemies of society. We believe at the end of the day, justice will prevail.”
Nkanga said the police were also not doing enough to prosecute Olomofe’s attackers. He said:
“I personally believe that impunity thrives when people do nothing. The attack on Mr. Olomofe is an attempt to silence journalists, in order to conceal the truth from the public, on the widespread nefarious activities of those involved in the trafficking of arms and ammunition, persons, hard drugs, fake drugs and other prohibited items along Seme border and across West Africa.”
When SUNDAY PUNCH contacted the Police Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Command, Dolapo Badmos, she said she would reply with a text message. However as of press time she was yet to respond.