FirstNews Editor, Segun Olatunji, Released After 14 Days in Military Detention

Mr. Segun Olatunji, Editor of FirstNews newspaper

Mr. Segun Olatunji, Editor of FirstNews newspaper, was on March 28, 2024, released from military custody after spending 14 days in a Defence Intelligence Agency detention facility, where he was held incommunicado.

Mr. Olatunji was abducted by a team of armed military men on March 15, 2024. Prior to his release, the military had denied any knowledge of his abduction, leaving his family members, friends and colleagues in fear and confusion about his whereabouts and the reasons behind his abduction. The release came amid mounting pressure and public outcry calling for his release.

He was released to Mr. Yomi Odunuga, a deputy editor with the Nation Newspaper, and Dr. Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Secretary of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), who received him from the military at an agreed meeting point in Abuja. They were made to sign some documents and give assurance that they will produce the editor whenever he is required in court.

According to Olatunji’s wife, armed military men in uniform stormed her shop and forced her to lead them to their residence in Iyana Odo, Abule Egba, in Lagos. The armed men arrived at their home around 6 pm, seized Olatunji’s phone, and took him away without providing any explanation as to why he was being taken away or where they were taking him.

Efforts made to locate him by the media community, associations, and concerned parties met a brick wall as the military authorities denied knowledge of his abduction and whereabouts until the evening of March 27, 2024, when they admitted that the editor was in their custody.

In response to mounting pressure, Minister of Information, Mohammed Idris, disclosed that the military had confirmed Mr. Olatunji’s detention, citing unspecified charges against him.

Recounted his traumatic experience at a joint press conference organized by the International Press Institute (IPI) Nigeria, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Abuja, he described how armed military personnel stormed his home while he was watching a television programme with his son and arrested him in a Gestapo-style operation.

Mr. Olatunji said on that day, he was at home watching a television programme: “Journalists’ Hangout” with his seven-year-old son, when suddenly, armed soldiers burst into his sitting room.

He said he saw his wife carrying their one-year-old son in their midst crying and when he asked what happened, his wife responded saying the military personnel arrested her from her shop and forced her to take them to where he was.

The editor said he asked an officer, whom he identified as Colonel Lawal if he could know why they were looking for him, and he said no, that they were from the military and were there to arrest him.

He said Col. Lawal immediately seized his phones and he had to plead to be allowed to go into his room to dress up since he was wearing only a pair of boxers. He said he was obliged but some of the armed military men were detailed to go with him into his room where he took and wore a shirt and a pair of trousers and was then driven handcuffed from his home to a military facility in Apapa.

According to the editor, “They handcuffed me and put me into the vehicle. At first, I thought they were taking me to the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) in Apapa (Lagos), but then we made a detour to the Air Force Base and straight to the office of the National Air Defence Corps (NADC) where we waited for about three hours.” They were waiting the arrival of a military aircraft that would fly him to Abuja.

Detailing his journey from Lagos to Abuja, he said when the aircraft arrived, someone came to him, asked him to hand over his recommended eye glasses, and then blindfolded him.

He said they moved him, blindfolded and handcuffed, into the aircraft, and then took off. He was flown in that condition into Abuja in the military aircraft and from Abuja airport to an underground military detention facility where he was subjected to ill-treatment and torture.

He revealed that when they got to the Abuja military detention facility, they made him take off all his clothes leaving him with only his pair of boxers and, in addition to the handcuffs, they also chained his legs.

He said they interrogated him about some stories published by FirstNews and accused him of terrorism, based on some stories published by FirstNews.

He disclosed that: “At a point, one of the officers came and tightened the cuffs on my right hand and leg. I was there groaning in pain, and it was that way for three days. When they released it all, the right side of my body felt numb. As I’m talking to you, I can still feel the numbness in my right hand and leg.”

After thoroughly going through his phone and obtaining a statement from him, he was finally released to Mr. Odunuga and Dr. Uwugiaren.

Expressing concerns about his safety, Mr. Olatunji disclosed that he had been under surveillance for weeks before his abduction, raising fears for his safety and that of his family.

He said the military’s baseless allegation of terrorism against him further fuelled his worry about his family’s safety.