– The SSS asked the detained journalist Tony Ezimakor to reveal the sources of his story on ransoms paid by Buhari administration to secure Chibok girls
– Daily Independent, Ezimakor’s employer, demands his immediate release, asking the SSS to charge the matter to court
– The secret police said it will release the journalist when he discloses his sources
The State Security Service (SSS) has demanded that a Nigerian journalist Tony Ezimakor under its detention must disclose his sources as a precondition for his freedom. Source gathered that the secret police detained Ezimakor in Abuja on Wednesday, February 28, after honouring an invitation over a story he wrote.
The story reportedly detailed how the Buhari administration paid millions of dollars as ransom to Boko Haram for the release of some Chibok girls. Ezimakor’s story also revealed how ransom payments have become a lucrative source of extra income for Nigerian and Swiss intelligence officers who participated in the negotiations for Boko Haram.
Recall that in May 2017, Boko Haram released 82 girls said to be amongst the over 270 girls abducted by insurgents in April 2014 at their school in Chibok, Borno state. The Muhammadu Buhari-led administration did not disclose the terms of the girls’ release, despite demands for transparency. Several news reports, first by the BBC and later The Wall Street Journal, reportedly detailed how the Nigerian government paid between two €2-3 million to secure the girls. The government avoided giving details about whether a ransom was paid or not, but admitted a prisoner swap deal with the terrorists. Two days after the latest mass kidnap of schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yobe state, Daily Independent published a story about the release of the 82 Chibok girls which was written by Ezimakor, its bureau chief in Abuja.
The story cited intelligence sources as saying that negotiations with Boko Haram for the release of hostages had become a “cash cow for some officials, working in concert with negotiators to squeeze scarce dollars from the government.” The journalist, who is being locked up for his revelations, might not be released unless he unmasked his sources.
Don Okere, the editor of Daily Independent, said this in a telephone conversation that. “They’re asking him how he got the story and want him to release his source,” Okere reportedly said by telephone based on the ongoing negotiation between their lawyers and the SSS. Okere said the SSS had also demanded that the story be retracted with an apology or the matter would be charged to court.
“We asked them to charge the matter to court” because we’re not retracting our story “but they have refused to do that,” he added. The secret police reportedly first disclosed its displeasure about the story in a letter to Okere seeking the editor’s presence at its headquarters in Abuja.
“They said I should come and see the director of operations at the SSS in Abuja. But when I told them I am based in Lagos where we have our head office, they started looking for me,” he said.
The editor said the SSS sent agents to look for him at the office in Lagos twice, but he was unavailable at both times. “They later asked if we have a reporter in Abuja and I told them yes. I then asked our bureau chief to honour the invitation which he did last Wednesday and was detained,” he said. Okere said based on their exchanges, it was clear that the SSS operatives did not know that the story carried Ezimakor’s byline.
The SSS has reportedly not issued any statement about Ezimakor’s arrest. Okere further said Daily Independent and Ezimakor’s family are worried about his health. He is said to be treating hypertension and ulcer. He, therefore, demanded an immediate release of his colleague.
Meanwhile, The Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights (CASER) said the SSS has violated the Nigerian Constitution by holding Ezimakor in its custody for more than 48 hours without filing charges. If Ezimakor “is not charged to court after four days of detention and a needless raid on his house by armed state security men, it would then be clear that he has become a victim of government tyranny and official intimidation,” the group said in a statement signed by Frank Tietie, its executive director. The group said: “It is in the interest of all Nigerian citizens, including the officials of State Security Service and, a progressive future, to adhere to the clear principles of law and justice as contained in the Nigerian Constitution, in order to guarantee freedom, liberty and a sustained practice of democracy in Nigeria