Nigerian Army personnel and operatives of the State Security Service on Wednesday attacked a news crew putting up at a hotel in downtown Benin, the Edo State capital, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
The crew, which comprised reporters, producers and a driver, arrived in Benin on Tuesday evening and subsequently checked in at Douban Hotel along Airport Road, Taiye Garick, the editor of Watchdog Media, told PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday.
“At approximately 1:45 a.m. soldiers and SSS agents stormed the hotel and demanded the whereabouts of our reporters,” Mr. Garrick said quoting witnesses. “They went from room to room dragging them out and brutalising them.”
Mr. Garrick said his staff were then dragged into a waiting van and taken to the SSS field office in Benin, where they remained locked as at 7:00 p.m.Wednesday.
Mr. Garrick said the soldiers were attached to “Operation Thunderstorm” which is being coordinated by the Army’s 4th Mechanised Brigade in Benin.
The affected journalists and their designations as listed by Mr. Garrick in an email to PREMIUM TIMES are as follows:
Tony Abulu (Production Manager); Richard Hasley (Reporter); Opara Uche (Reporter); Handy Romeo Eze (Reporter); Kelvin Toryila (Video Editor) and Lanre Ogunleye, an IT associate.
Others include: Balogun Ehigie (IT ); Kenneth Danpome (Head IT), Mathew (Logistics Manager) and Joe Epi (Driver).
“The journalists were taken away, wearing only boxers after they were brutalised and their properties including identity cards, laptops and mobile phones were seized from them,” Mr. Garrick said.
Mr. Garrick said they were in Benin to carry out survey of voters and report on early preparations of INEC and other stakeholders ahead of the gubernatorial election holding there on September 28.
Army spokesman, Sani Usman, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ request for comment.
The management of Douban Hotel declined comments Wednesday evening.
But Edo State Police Public Relations Officer, Theodore Okafor, confirmed the development to PREMIUM TIMES.
“Some agents of the SSS and soldiers from the 4th Mechanised Brigade went to the hotel around 10 p.m.,” Mr. Okafor, a DSP, said. “They searched the hotel and some people were taken away. They’re being interrogated at the 4th Brigade now.”
Mr. Garrick condemned rising “cases of attacks against free speech” and demanded an immediate release of his staff.
“I am deeply saddened to see that the rising cases of attacks against journalists, bloggers and other free speech advocates have gotten to my turn,” Mr. Garrick said. “I never knew it would get to this extent or to me.”
The onslaught against Watchdog Media crew comes exactly two weeks after SSS operatives stormed the residence of Emenike Iroegbu, a political blogger based in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital.