Benin Republic Police Detain Editor Of Nigeria’s FIJ And Label Him ‘Jihadist’, Demand 800,000CFA Bribe

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The police in Benin Republic, an adjoining country to Nigeria, have detained the Editor of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), Damilola Ayeni.

Ayeni was accused by the authorities in the West African country of being a jihadist.

According to FIJ, they are demanding a bribe of 800,000 CFA to free Ayeni, whose arrest last week became public knowledge only early on Tuesday.

The newspaper reported that Ayeni was in the Republic of Benin for the second leg of fieldwork on a Nigeria-Benin environmental journalism report when the Beninese authorities arrested him.

A man who identified himself as the ‘Commissioner of the Central Police Station of Parakou in Benin’ subsequently reached out to FIJ, announcing that Ayeni was being held at Commissariat Central, Parakou Police Station.

In a message sent via WhatsApp number +22946066050, with profile name ‘Agnisso Lounko’, the man reportedly said: “Hello sir, I am the Commissioner of the Central Police Station of Parakou in Benin. Do you know Mr. Damilola of Nigerian nationality?

“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 man told FIJ that he was “the Central Commissioner of Parakou in Benin,” adding “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 defense, 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.”

When the news organisation asked, “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?” Lounko replied with: “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 is the equivalent of N1.2 million.

“We are in the fight against the jihadists,” Lounko reportedly said, insisting on being paid 800,000 CFA.

Apart from being FIJ’s editor, Ayeni is also an environmental expert and activist.

He was on the longlist for the 2023 edition of the One World Media Awards’ International Journalist of the Year category. He was also shortlisted for the environment category of the 2021 Thomson Foundation Young Journalists (FPA) Award.

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