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Police assault, arrest journalist at ECOWAS summit

(MRA/IFEX) - On 16 February 2010, Mr. Jude Opara, the foreign correspondent for the private daily "Champion" newspaper, was arrested, assaulted, detained and charged in a magistrate court for obstructing traffic in Abuja, Nigeria's federal capital territory.

Opara had gone to the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja to cover the 37th Ordinary Summit of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government. As he was driving around a corner at the entrance to the hotel, the Area Commander and Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Mr. Sunday Odukoya, hit the bonnet of his car, which forced Opara to stop and get out of the vehicle. The ACP and his men immediately pounced on Opara: they beat him up, arrested him and took him to the Maitama Police Station in Abuja.

When Opara asked what his offences were, Odukoya said that Opara was trying to get him sacked from his job.

When Opara tried to identify himself as a journalist going to cover the ECOWAS summit, Odukoya grabbed his official ECOWAS media accreditation tag and tore it off his clothes. He confiscated the card and impounded Opara's vehicle, along with other official and personal items in the vehicle. Odukoya boasted that he was going to "set an example with this bastard."

The Abuja Bureau Chief of the "Champion" newspaper, Mr. Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu, and the Deputy News Editor and Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Abuja Council, Mr. Malachy Uzendu, tried to persuade Odukoya to abstain from pressing charges against Opara, but he immediately charged the journalist and took him to the Wuse Senior Magistrate Court, claiming he was "causing an obstruction on the highway by failing to obey hand signals" contrary to sections 390 and 15 of the Road Traffic Act.

ACP Odukoya claimed that Opara committed the offence by obstructing the convoy of acting President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who later arrived for the meeting being hosted by Nigeria.

Presiding Magistrate Mr. Bashir Alkali granted bail to Opara with one surety, who is resident within the court's jurisdiction, and adjourned the matter to 8 March.


RECOMMENDED ACTION:

Send appeals to authorities:
- demanding the immediate withdrawal of the charges against Opara
- asking for an investigation into the matter in order to resolve whatever complaint ACP Odukoya might have against Opara
- calling on the Nigerian Police to compensate Opara for the the assault, as well as his arrest and detention


APPEALS TO:

Mr. Ogbonnaya Onovo
Inspector General of Police
Force Headquarters
Loius Edet House
Shehu Shagari Way
Area 11 Garki,
Abuja, Nigeria
Tel: +234 9 234 0633/0422
Fax: +234 9 234 0422
E-mail: [email protected]

Prof. Dora Akunyili
Hon. Minister for Information and National Orientation
Federal Ministry of Information Radio House
Abuja, Nigeria
Tel: +234 9 234 6350/6351/4107; +234 9 523 7183/8232
E-mail: [email protected]

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