Ahmadu Abdulrhaman Nasiru, the Beninese who exposed the arrest and possible arraignment of Damilola Ayeni, editor of FIJ, consequently triggering the media and diplomatic pressure that culminated in his release from detention, has been arrested by the Benin Republic police.
Nasiru had communicated with Ayeni in a smattering of Yoruba while sharing a cell with him at the Commisseriat Central, Parakou Police Station, Parakou, Republic of Benin, and promised to contact his relatives to forestall looming trial and imprisonment without access to family, colleagues or legal representation. He then memorised the phone number of one of Ayeni’s friends and, upon regaining freedom, did as promised.
Ayeni had been detained in the Republic of Benin while on a trip to the country for the second leg of a Nigeria-Benin environmental journalism report. On Thursday, August 31, FIJ received a distress text from him, but the police in Benin deleted it within seconds of delivery on one of FIJ’s communication channels. The text read: “I have just been arrested.”
FIJ subsequently lost touch with Ayeni until Monday, when Nasiru sent a voice note detailing his ordeal in the country. Following Nasiru’s voice note, a man who identified himself as the ‘Commissioner of the Central Police Station of Parakou in Benin’ called in the early hours of Tuesday and said that Ayeni was being held at Commisseriat Central, Parakou Police Station. The police in Benin have since told FIJ that the person was impersonating the police commissioner.
However, Ayeni maintains he gave phone numbers to only two people — Nasiru and one other policeman who repeatedly demanded his mother’s phone number. He adds that the person claiming to be the police commissioner was either the policeman who took his mother’s number or someone else the policeman personally passed it on to.
A RANSOM-LIKE BRIBERY DEMAND
“Hello sir, I am the Commissioner of the Central Police Station of Parakou in Benin. Do you know Mr. Damilola of Nigerian nationality?” he asked in his opening text, before adding: “He is arrested in Penjari [sic] Park in northern Benin for jihadist [sic]. He would [sic] be presented to the prosecutor and sent to prison. He risks 10 to 20 years in prison. What do you think of his situation, sir?”
The said officer communicated with FIJ on WhatsApp with the number +22946066050 and the profile name ‘Agnisso Lounko’.
When FIJ insisted — and sent evidence — that the person being held was a journalist and not a jihadist, Lounko replied: “Where are you now sir?”
After securing an answer, he continued: “I am the Central Commissioner of Parakou in Benin. Jihadist case in Benin is complicated, what do you think of his current situation?”
When he was asked to give options from which a decision could be made, he replied: “I ask you to send a lawyer for his defence, I will ask the OPJ (Judicial Police Officer) to listen to him again before presenting him to the CRIET Prosecutor in Porto-Novo. Thank you.”
FIJ’s response was: “How did a Nigerian journalist become a jihadist in Benin? Did you find a gun, sword, knife, grenade, bomb or any other arm or ammunition on him?”
But ‘Lounko’ doubled down on his claims, saying: “Do you want his release? If so, reconsider your reaction or send a lawyer to defend him.
“We are all human beings, and I also have relatives in Nigeria. Send 800,000 CFA to my number allowing me to see my colleagues again and the released [sic].”
FIJ’s contacts in Benin Republic said 800,000 CFA was the equivalent of N1.2 million.
“We are in the fight against the jihadists,” ‘Lounko’ reiterated, insisting on the 800,000 CFA compensation.
NASIRU’S BELOW-BASIC ENGLISH KNOWDLEDGE
The Benin police were infuriated by FIJ’s publication on ‘Lounko’s’ demand for a bribe in their name and vowed to apprehend the person behind the act. Their moves, however, suggest that Nasiru will be made a sacrificial lamb.
‘Fisayo Soyombo, FIJ’s founder, whom ‘Lounko’ contacted directly to demand the bribe, believes he’s indeed a police officer, as Nasiru, an illiterate, could not have displayed that level of intelligence.
“I listened to three voice notes from Nasiru and I spoke with him on the phone once,” he said. “I am a million percent sure that he does not have the intellectual wherewithal to hold that WhatsApp chat with me. His command of the English Language is beneath basic.”
While being questioned by the police in Cotonou after his release on Friday, Ayeni was shown a picture of Nasiru and asked to identify him. A check on Monday also revealed that Nasiru was last seen on WhatsApp on Thursday, suggesting that the Good Samaritan might have been picked up and detained for an offence he likely knows nothing about.
BENIN POLICE DIDNN’T DENY ARRESTING NASIRU
In subsequent interactions with the Beninese police after Ayeni regained freedom, Soyombo brought it to their notice that Nasiru had been wrongfully arrested. At no point did they deny his arrest.
Olumide Ogunmiluyi, Ayeni’s friend who received Nasiru’s voice messages, said the poor man made no monetary demands.
“He didn’t demand for N1.2 million,” said Olumide. “It was another guy who did.”
Ayeni also said he was sure Nasiru could not have played a role in the demand for 800,000 CFA.
“Nasiru is a godly man, and I’m sure he didn’t have a hand in the offence for which he’s now being troubled. On the day Lounko reached out asking for money, Nasiru had returned to the cell very early in the morning to tell me he had called home,” Ayeni added.
“He also told me clearly that he had now linked up my relatives with the police officer who was with him at the cell’s entrance. Nasiru, an illiterate, could not have typed in English. The police should look within and refrain from keeping an innocent man in custody.”
FIJ called an officer at the Brigade Criminelle, Cotonou, the police department investigating Nasiru, for updates, but his number was unavailable at press time.
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