Nigerian Journalist Damilola Ayeni Freed In Benin After False Jihadist Claim

By Committee to Protect Journalists
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Nigerian journalist Damilola Ayeni was reporting on the environment when he was arrested by Benin police on August 31, 2023. (Photo courtesy Fisayo Soyombo)

Durban, South Africa, September 8, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed Friday’s decision by Beninese authorities to release without charge Nigerian environmental journalist Damilola Ayeni after Benin police detained him incommunicado for nine days on “suspicion of participation in terrorist activities.”

“We are relieved that Beninese authorities have finally freed investigative journalist Damilola Ayeni, who was falsely accused of being a jihadist by police apparently intent on soliciting a bribe for his freedom,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “We hope that Ayeni will be allowed to continue his important reporting without further harassment and that authorities will take firm action against any police officer who has brought Benin into disrepute and wasted resources that should be used to counter real extremism, not journalism.”

Ayeni, the editor of Nigeria’s Foundation for Investigative Journalism, was released on Friday afternoon after appearing before the special prosecutor at the Court for the Repression of Economic Offences and Terrorism (CRIET) in Benin’s capital of Porto-Novo, according to Ayeni’s lawyer, Elie Dovonou, and the journalist himself, who both spoke to CPJ by phone, and a statement by the media outlet.

Ayeni was arrested on August 31 while on the second leg of a cross-border environmental investigation in the north of Benin. In its report announcing the release, the FIJ said Ayeni was handed over to Nigerian authorities but would remain in Benin Republic “for a little longer.”

In a September 5 report announcing Ayeni’s detention, the FIJ said a man who identified himself as the commissioner of the Central Police Station of Parakou in Benin had demanded a bribe of 800,000 CFA (US$1,315) to release the journalist.

FIJ attributed its reporter’s release to the “combined efforts of sustained media pressure, relentless work by the Nigerian Embassy in Benin, and legal representation and advocacy efforts facilitated by the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).”