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Editor Akin Orimolade detained and charged with "criminal defamation" after newspaper publishes story about state governor

(MRA/IFEX) - On 18 March 2009, Akin Orimolade, the Abuja Bureau Chief for the Lagos-based weekly newspaper "National Life", who disappeared mysteriously from Abuja on 17 March, was arraigned at Yenagoa Magistrate Court 4 in the Niger-delta state of Bayelsa. He was charged, along with two others who are still at large, with criminal defamation against Governor Timipre Sylva in the newspaper's 31 January edition.

Orimolade, in narrating his ordeal, said he was lured into a trap when he was invited to pick up a copy of an advertisement for the newspaper. He said that when he went to pick up the advertisement he was abducted. He added that, upon realising that he had been deceived, he demanded to see a warrant for his arrest but he was ignored and forcibly transported from Abuja to Yenogoa.

Doifie Ola, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor of Bayelsa State, denied the abduction claim and the culpability of the state governor in the saga, saying the Bayelsa State Police Command went through the normal channels to arrest Orimolade. He claimed that the Bayelsa Police obtained an arrest warrant from a Magistrate Court in Bayelsa, through which they also received the assistance of the Abuja Police Command and an Abuja Magistrate Court before Orimolade was arrested and taken to Yenogoa.

According to Orimolade, however, "I was somewhere in Abuja when I received a phone call that I should come and pick up a copy of an advert to be published in my paper. Not sensing any danger, I headed for the place only to discover that they only used the advert as bait to arrest me as I was surrounded by two heavily armed security operatives. My request for the warrant of arrest was rebuffed. I was later taken to one of the police stations in Abuja where I was told that I would soon be on my way to Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. I was locked together in the same cell with hardened criminals. I did not appear before any Magistrate Court as was rumoured."

Orimolade, along with two other persons said to be at large, were alleged to have published a defamatory story against Governor Sylva in the newspaper's 31 January - 6 February edition, titled "Gov Sylva Tyson! Drama as Bayelsa chief exec beats up PDP chief".

In a show of solidarity, the Bayelsa State Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), led by its chairman, Siyefa Uzaka, stormed the court premises where Orimolade was to appear, though the court session was not held as scheduled.

Orimolade was again taken to court on 19 March, but again the court session failed to proceed. He was returned to detention and not allowed to talk to anyone. He is still wearing the same clothes he had on when he was arrested.

Media Rights Agenda visited the Lagos office of the weekly newspaper and spoke with Waheed Odusile, its managing editor, who disclosed that nobody would have known what had happened to Orimolade but for the fact that he had his mobile phone with him and managed to call the office. He added that they suspect the Bayelsa State Government expects the newspaper to apologize and retract the story or they will unduly keep Orimolade in detention over the weekend in retaliation. He said that the newspaper's lawyer is handling the matter.

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