Reporters Without Borders protested today against the violent beating that Ayodele Ale of the privately-owned weekly The Saturday Punch received on 4 March when he was detained by paramilitaries recruited by Lagos state to defend the environment.
"Violence against journalists is definitely too frequent for a country that holds the chairmanship of the African Union," the press freedom organization said. "When agents of the State Security Service (SSS) are not raiding newspapers, policemen are attacking journalists in the middle of an electoral meeting. President Olusegun Obasanjo should investigate the abuse of authority by state agents. The violence against Ayodele Ale is unacceptable in a country that boasts of being a regional giant and peacemaker."
Ale, whose newspaper has a big circulation, was detained and beaten by members of the Kick Against Indiscipline (KIA) paramilitary brigade in Sabo, in the Yaba district of Lagos. He had gone to the side of a highway to watch how KIA agents detained people crossing without using the pedestrian bridge. As taking photos, he was surrounded by KIA members who grabbed him and dragged him as far as Customary Court in the Akerele district of Surulere, Lagos.
He said he objected when one of the KIA members, called Lefo, started to break his camera, whereupon Lefo got angry and called several colleagues with sticks who beat him badly and then, despite his injuries, threw him in a cell with other detainees. He was released several hours later and called his newspaper.
The Saturday Punch carried a report the next day about Ale’s arrest and beating, with photos of his injuries. The KIA acknowledged the incident but said Ale was beaten by an individual called Rotimi who did not belong to the brigade.
Lagos state commissioner for the environment Tunji Bello said Lagos launched the KIA programme with the support of the armed forces at the end of 2003 with the aim of "restoring the city’s environmental sanity and lost glory." Specific goals included removing illicit street vendors, demolishing illegal buildings, combatting ecological abuses and cleaning the streets of one of Africa’s most populous cities. KIA members have often been accused of corruption.