Mr. Tony Ezimakor, the Abuja Bureau Chief of the privately-owned Daily Independent newspaper, was detained on February 28, 2018 and released without charge on March 6, 2018 by the Department of State Services (DSS), Nigeria’s domestic intelligence agency.
Tony, who spent seven days in detention, went to DSS Headquarters in Abuja at about 10.30am accompanied by Jide Oyekunle, a photojournalist on the invitation of the agency but they were detained till 3pm when Jide was allowed to leave. Tony was kept incommunicado.
Independent Newspapers’ lawyer, Douglas Ekhator was not allowed to see Tony until 10p.m. The lawyer was the one who brought him food and his prescribed medication to control his high blood as his wife was not allowed access to him.
Don Okere, editor of Daily Independent, later disclosed that Tony was detained after he refused to reveal his source in respect of a report detailing how the federal government allegedly paid Boko Haram millions of dollars to secure the release of 82 of the kidnapped Chibok girls.
The Bureau Chief had written a story that was published on the February 22, 2018 edition of the newspaper about the alleged ransom paid for the release of the abducted Chibok girls and the roles played by a Swiss negotiator as well as his Nigerian collaborators.
Okere said: “They asked him how he got the story as well as his source. We asked them to charge the matter to court because we were not retracting our story but they refused to do that”.
“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. 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 (he) was detained.”
On March 2, DSS officials raided Tony’s residence and took away his laptop, personal and official documents as well as other belongings.
He was released to his lawyer on March 6, 2018 at about 10:30pm without the agency giving reasons for his detention.
Public outrage had trailed his detention with individuals and human rights organisations condemning the action and calling for his immediate release, saying it was an affront on press freedom.
A group led by entertainment maestro, Charly Boy, called #OurMumuDonDo, had planned a protest to occupy the DSS Headquarters on March 7 with the support of Nigerian media.
The protest was however called off after confirmation of the unconditional release of the journalist.
Also, Deji Adeyanju, Convener of Concerned Nigerians group, who had also planned to join other civil society groups to occupy DSS Headquarters, announced in the evening of March 6 that DSS officials had invited him to the DSS headquarters.
Deji disclosed that the DSS pleaded that the protest be put off but that he had replied them that the action would not stop except Ezimakor was released. Adeyanju left after two hours with the DSS.
“They pleaded but I told them there was no going back unless they released Tony”, he told journalists after he left the DSS headquarters.