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Nigerian journalist Damilola Ayeni. (Supplied)

The police in Benin have detained Nigerian journalist Damilola Ayeni.

In a disquieting infringement on press freedom, police in Benin have detained journalist Damilola Ayeni, an editor for the Nigerian-based Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ).

Ayeni was visiting the French-speaking West African nation for a follow-up on a cross-border assignment when he found himself in custody. FIJ, a linchpin in Nigeria’s investigative journalism scene, was initially unable to contact Ayeni until early Tuesday morning. At that point, a Benin police official reached out to inform them that Ayeni had been detained on suspicions of being a jihadist.

Fisayo Soyombo, FIJ’s Editor-in-Chief, took to Twitter to rally for Ayeni’s release, perplexed by the accusation of violent extremism—especially when Ayeni had not been found in possession of any weapons. “He is a journalist — not a jihadist,” Soyombo forcefully stated on the social media platform.

Eager to expedite Ayeni’s release, the police blatantly solicited a $1,300 bribe. The request came via WhatsApp from a contact identifying as Agnisso Lounko, purportedly the Commissioner of the Central Police Station of Parakou in Benin.

In a message ripe with disconcerting implications, the alleged commissioner wrote: “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?”

Displaying unsettling audacity, the message continued, “We are all human beings, and I also have relatives in Nigeria. Send [$1,300] to my number allowing me to see my colleagues again and the released [sic].”

The man behind the byline: Who is Damilola Ayeni?

Damilola Ayeni is no stranger to impactful journalism. Besides serving as an editor for FIJ, he has also been an environmental activist. Ayeni’s caliber is underscored by his inclusion in the longlist for the 2023 One World Media Awards’ International Journalist of the Year category. Furthermore, in 2021, he found himself shortlisted for the environment category of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalists Award. His career has been marked by numerous influential pieces that speak to the depth of his commitment.

Editor’s note: We publish this story as a firm declaration of our unyielding commitment to upholding press freedom across Africa and as a stark reminder of the obstacles journalists around the continent still face.

Mohammed Taoheed is a freelance journalist based in northwest Nigeria where he studies Law at the Usmanu Danfodiyyo University, Sokoto State. Taoheed is interested in development, conflict, politics, and social justice.