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Journalist assaulted by government-owned oil company manager and security personnel

(MRA/IFEX) - On 20 August 2008, at about 2:50 p.m. (local time), Luka Binniyat, energy beat reporter with the Lagos-based independent daily newspaper, "Vanguard", was beaten and repeatedly struck with gun butts by security personnel of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in Abuja on the orders of Dr. Levi Ajuonuma, its corporate affairs group general manager. Binniyat sustained injuries to his ribs and a sprained left elbow.

Binniyat was at the NNPC office to cover the visit of the UK Secretary for Energy; Rt. Hon. Malcolm Wicks to the NNPC.

Dr. Ajuonuma personally assaulted and insulted Binniyat after the journalist presented his ID card to show he was on an official assignment. Ajuonuma snatched the card, flung it away and shouted: "Luka! I don't want to see you here again. Leave this place now." Then he turned to the security men, still shouting: "Look! Security! Take this man away", as he pushed the reporter repeatedly about.

Ajounoma then ordered the guards to beat up the journalist.

On 16 August, during a press conference marking the first year in office of the group managing director of the NNPC, Engr. Abubakar Yar'Adua Luka, Binniyat had asked him about accountability and transparency in the management of the corporation.

Unbeknownst to the reporter, his questions had irked Ajuonuma, who reportedly vowed to deal with the reporter for daring to ask such a question. He also said that any journalist criticising the corporation will be denied entry to the corporate headquarters of the NNPC as long as he is the corporate affairs group general manager of the company.

Ajuonuma ignored the pleas by Alhaji Mohammed Sanusi Barkindo, NNPC director of special projects, for the journalist to be allowed to cover the event. Instead he ordered the security personnel, composed of policemen and plain-clothed detectives, to remove the reporter.

Binniyat said, "After Levi and Barkindo took the lift downstairs, the overzealous security men stopped me from making any call to my editors. When I asked why, they swooped on me with some of them hitting me with their gun butts, while the rest pummelled me into the lift and took me down the lobby, 11 floors below. Dr. Ajuonoma was there again, and asked them to throw me out immediately, an order they carried out swiftly."

"By the time I was out of the NNPC building, I had pains around my ribs and a sprained left elbow, from the twisting it received. I strongly believe that there is something very uncanny and sinister that the NNPC is desperately trying to conceal by intimidating those who dare to ask (questions)," he added.

Ajuonuma is coincidentally a former journalist.

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