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Three days behind bars for the ‘crime’ of journalism: Diary of a Nigerian journalist

Samuel Ogundipe. Photo by PREMIUM TIMES, used with permission.

On August 14, 2018, Nigerian investigative journalist Samuel Ogundipe was detained by Nigeria’s Special Tactical Squad after refusing to name his sources for a story concerning the Nigerian security service's involvement in preventing officials from entering the Nigerian National Assembly in early August 2018.

Ogundipe, who works for the privately-owned Premium Times online newspaper, spent three nights in detention and was then arraigned without his lawyers present. He was released on bail on August 17 at his lawyers’ urging. The following is an abridged first-person account of the incident, written by Samuel Ogundipe and originally published by Premium Times. This version was edited and published by Global Voices as part of a republishing agreement with Premium Times.

For three days, I lay on a rough blanket in a cell inside the police Special Tactical Squad (STS) detention centre in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

I sweated profusely as I read an old copy of a Christian daily guide, printed by Paul Enenche’s Dunamis Gospel Centre—a book precisely written to prevent people from finding themselves in a spot like this. But for three days, this mouldy, fetid cage — shared with dozens of violent crime suspects — was my reading, eating and sleeping corner.

The book, which had been smuggled in by a Dunamis devotee, was my first encounter with the work of Mr. Enenche and his ministry, and I tried to savour it. I read a passage that preached about the value of freedom, and what believers must do to avoid any form of incarceration. Where individuals find themselves in custody through no fault of their own, it recommended holding on strongly to faith.

It was a striking sermon, one which bore relevance to my case, and gave me confidence that justice would ultimately prevail.

I spent three days behind bars for the crime of journalism. During that time, I heard from several others how people had been in and out of STS detention due to sloppy investigation by the police. Their tales provided mental fodder that helped me endure my first experience in custody.

My experience with STS left me with a sense of a police unit more restrained than others, although some of its tactics still mirror the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The STS facility is housed in a bungalow inside the larger SARS compound for hardened criminals — gives the impression that it is only for temporary custody, but this does not seem entirely true.

As with SARS, STS detainees are condemned from day one, starting with the archaic prejudicial method of interrogation and unbearable living conditions. And also like SARS, the STS seeks to psychologically torture detainees, to make them give in by isolating them in an attempt to crush their spirit and weaken their will. Many succumb. The only difference is that STS personnel appear more tidy, educated and less crude than their SARS colleagues, whose notoriety has made Abuja residents dub their premises an “abattoir” or “slaughterhouse.”

 

How it began

My journey through police detention began on August 11 when my colleague, Premium Times’ reporter Azeezat Adedigba, received a call from a police superintendent telling her she was being investigated for criminal offences. She alerted our office, and our managers advised that she proceed with caution.

Two days later, at her request, police delivered to our office a formal letter alledging that Ms. Adedigba had committed criminal conspiracy, cyber crime, attempted kidnapping and fraud, and ordering that she turn herself in by 10:00 a.m. on August 14.

My colleague honoured the invitation that Monday as instructed, accompanied by our Editor-in-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed. As they waited to speak with police superintendent Emmanuel Onyeneho, a fully armed junior officer confiscated Ms. Adedigba’s mobile phone and then  detained her.

Hours later, Mr. Oyeneho appeared, returned Ms. Adedigba’s phone and asked her to dial a number on it. The number turned out to be mine. The detective then asked that I join them. I was halfway through a piece of choco pie when the call came in. I devoured the rest before reaching for my keys.

I was halfway through a piece of choco pie when the call came in. I devoured the rest before reaching for my keys.

I arrived at about 2:30 p.m. to a barrage of questions from Mr. Oyeneho, all aiming to find out the source of our story about Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris’ interim report to then-acting President Yemi Osinbajo on the State Security Service’s siege on the National Assembly on August 7.

I’d written the piece on the night of August 9, after receiving the report from a trustworthy source and getting it authenticated by two high-ranking police officers. The police had no complaints about the accuracy of the story. They only assumed it was not meant for public consumption. In fairness to the police chief, the five-page document, aside from being clumsy, contained too many errors that cast him in a bad light.

On my arrival, Mr. Oyeneho released Ms. Adedigba. “We only used you as a soft target to get our main suspect,” the officer told her.

 

‘Mr. Oyeneho could not get me to reveal my sources on the spot’

It soon became clear that Mr. Mojeed and I were going to be detained. An officer in jeans and a t-shirt suddenly took a seat beside us, blocking all pathways The officer was slightly dreadlocked and wore a yellow jungle boot. He kept a straight face and was completely attentive to our conversation.

Mr. Onyeneho demanded my phone when he came to collect me at the entrance, but I told him I didn’t have it. He was curious, and ambled around me to make sure. My editors had advised I should never take my phone if I was called  in for questioning, because the operatives might end up finding details unconnected with their investigation, and also bugging the device.

Just before Mr. Oyeneho started interrogating me, he boasted that my salary account with Ecobank had been frozen hours earlier. My mind immediately dashed to a transfer that failed to go through on my bank’s mobile app, just before I received the call to turn up at the station. Before I could ask whether he procured a court order before taking this measure, he started growing increasingly furious about the source of my story.

When Mr. Oyeneho could not get me to reveal my sources on the spot, the police superintendent informed his superior at the STS and sought the next move. The administrative officer in charge of the STS detention centre said we should proceed to the Force Headquarters for further interrogation.

 

‘He tried many times to tell me what to write’

Four plainclothes officers, the administrative officer and Oyeneho drove us into the bowels of the Force Headquarters.

We arrived at the office of Sani Ahmadu, the police commissioner overseeing the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Monitoring Unit, of which the STS is a department.

As we took our seats, Mr. Oyeneho tried to boast about the “intelligence operation” they executed to arrest me, but Mr. Ahmadu interjected, apparently feeling it was too much information for Mr. Mojeed and me.

Mr. Ahmadu told us the story Premium Times published had violated the law, but assured us his men would be civil in handling the matter. They gave me a pen and two sheets of paper to write a statement.

Nigerian police officers complete their training in 2015. Photo by AMISOM, released to public domain.

As I wrote, Mr. Oyeneho was interrupting. He tried many times to tell me what to write, but I declined each time. He insisted I state the number of times I had written unfavourable stories about Mr. Idris, Nigeria’s police chief, or the police as an institution, or even the Nigerian government in general. I paid no heed.

While I was writing my statement, an officer assisting Mr. Oyeneho whispered that I was “in trouble”.

After about one and a half hours of back and forth with the officers, I turned in my statement, just as Mr. Ahmadu’s early evening meal was delivered. We would have to wait, I signaled to Mr. Mojeed, who was seated about a metre away.

 

‘Everyone brought in for interrogation is a “prime” suspect’

As we waited, I saw Mr. Ahmadu working the keypad of his Samsung phone. He was shopping for a warrant to keep me in custody. Another officer also could be heard  discussing efforts to convince a magistrate to issue a warrant. About 45 minutes later, a police prosecutor attached to the STS arrived with some paperwork.

He pulled out a document and showed it to Mr. Ahmadu and other officers. Mr. Mojeed signaled to me that it was a warrant, and asked me to stay calm nonetheless.

We heard the officers saying the warrant would be valid from August 15 until August 25. By then, Mr. Ahmadu was through with his meal. He had also read my statement, and was  ready to conclude the session.

Then Mr. Mojeed’s phones  started buzzing non-stop. Apparently, Azeezat and Tosin Omoniyi, another colleague who was also at STS before Azeezat was freed, had broken the news to other colleagues at the office. Halfway into my statement, Mr. Oyeneho had already started receiving calls from our lawyers and other concerned persons.

Just before I was returned to the STS by my minders, Mr. Ahmadu asked for the last time if I could reveal my sources. I turned him down yet again. As we made for the exit, Mr. Mojeed turned and told him:

“I just want to let you know that this action you are taking, this attempt to lock up a reporter for writing a story, would embarrass this country seriously.”

“I do not care,” Mr. Ahmadu said meekly before snapping: “Go and tell that to those who are afraid of the media. We are not!”

“I do not care,” Mr. Ahmadu said meekly before snapping: “Go and tell that to those who are afraid of the media. We are not!”

As we made our way down the stairway from Mr. Ahmadu’s office, the officers were asking Mr. Mojeed how detaining a journalist for publishing a confidential document would embarrass the country.

“Your question shows that you people do not understand the implication of the assignment you were given,” Mr. Mojeed answered.

Before they were able to give any coherent response we reached the car park. The same Hiace bus did a pirouette to take us back to the STS detention centre.

Within minutes, we were back at the detention centre. Mr. Oyeneho quickly prepared a docket for my detention.

He asked me to remove my wrist watch, belt and shoes as he prepared to move me into the cell. Though obviously angry and disturbed, Mr. Mojeed remained level headed, and he admonished Mr. Oyeneho on the need to ensure I was not physically tortured or hurt in detention.

“Okay, I will tell the guys in cell not to touch him,” the officer responded, to my relief. “That would go a long way,” I said.

“Okay, I will tell the guys in cell not to touch him,” the officer responded, to my relief. “That would go a long way,” I said.

A female officer taking records of inmates gave Mr. Oyeneho the key to the cell and pointed me in the direction of the cell. “Follow him,” she ordered.

Everyone brought in for interrogation is a “prime” suspect in this centre and treated with disdain, and it is even worse if you are being detained.

 

‘I will tell the guys in cell not to touch him’

Around 5:30 p.m., I was escorted into the cell. As the iron bar door opened, a musty odour oozed from the room. Mr. Mojeed was asked to step back while the officers pushed me in. For nearly a minute, Mr. Onyeneho called out the leaders of the cell and warned each of them to ensure my safety.

“President, IG, OC Torture,” he said, addressing various prisoners by their “roles” in the cell, “this person is a journalist and a visitor of the Inspector General, (referring to Nigeria’s police chief, Mr. Idris ), he did not come in here the same way the rest of you came here,” Mr. Oyeneho said.

“If he complains about any of you, the person will pay seriously for the offence, is that clear?”

“Very clear,” they chorused.

He then pointed to a blanket in a corner of the cell and said a space should be created for me there. Before I could whisper my appreciation, the officer had disappeared and the cell door slammed shut.

I had been told how new prisoners are usually tortured, especially those who came in with nothing. It is a form of ritual aimed at weakening a newcomer into submission to the existing authority in the cell.

“Who be that?” a sleepy voice mumbled from a mound of filthy football jerseys.

“Na one oga oh and dem don talk say make we no touch am,” the cell president responded. He’s a big man and we were told not to touch him.

“So person wey just come today now go dey siddon for president side, they sleep for president bed and e no bring anytin for president?” So this person that just arrived today will sit by the president’s side, sleep on the president’s bed and he did not bring anything for the president? another guy fumed.

“My people wan know whether you bring bread come, oga?” My people want to know if you came with some bread, boss, the president asked me.

“No, I no carry bread come but I get small change for my pocket if una wan buy anytin.” No, I did not come with bread but I have some small change in my pocket, in case you need to buy anything.

The whole cell erupted in ecstasy.

“This our new journalist e weigh so?” Is this our new journalist up to the task?, the president asked rhythmically.

“E weigh!” He’s weighty! He is up to the task.

“If una sure say e weigh make una give am seven gbosas!” If you’re convinced he’s weighty, then give him seven gbosa (greetings), the president said.

“Gbosa! Gbosa! Gbosa! Gbosa! Gbosa! Gbosa! Gbosa!”

I’d had about N6,000 (about USD $17) crammed in my pockets. Mr. Mojeed had advised that I should take only half into the cell. Even if I’d had no cash on me when I entered, the president would still have covered me from harm strictly on the basis of Mr. Oyeneho’s warning.

I learnt there are worse cells in the facility where people could be moved to. The president asked that I hold on to my cash until the next morning, when they would need to place an order for food.

I had barely spent 15 minutes in the cell and my head was already hot. 34 of us were packed in the 12×12 room. Inside the bare concrete cell, dozens of young men sat in rows, some with unshaved beards and dusty heads, laid out like an orchard plantation in the harmattan. It was difficult to imagine how they sleep at night in such a compressed setting.

Amongst the 34 men I met in the cell were kidnapping, armed robbery and even Boko Haram suspects. They had not been moved to the “condemned” suspects’ jail because they were providing intelligence to the police, and some were already negotiating their way out.

“I have been in this situation since February ending,” the president told me. “The former president smuggled this blanket in May and I inherited it from him when he was moved out.”

It was at this point that I realised the blanket I was sitting on had not been laundered for three months.

It was at this point that I realised the blanket I was sitting on had not been laundered for three months.

“I go bring clothes now make you use am do pillow, dem dirty small but you fit manage am.” I’ll bring some clothes that you can roll up and us as a pillow, they’re a little bit dirty but you can manage it, the president said in a bid to help me adjust to my new reality.

He was here on car-jacking allegations. An accomplice with whom he was arrested had since left after ‘bailing’ himself. But the president had no resources to extricate himself from the charges.

“Dem no even gree carry me go court again,” They don’t want to take me to court again, he said. “My mama and brother no get enough money wey dem fit use fight for me.” My mother and brother don’t have enough money to use in fighting for me.

 

Just add 18 minutes

It was already 7:30 p.m., and we were being called for Christian prayers; Muslim inmates had already concluded theirs. A digital wristwatch owned by the president read 7:12.

“We know say e no correct, but e get as we dey use am.” We know it’s not correct, but we use it like that.

“Why you no fit correct am?” Why can’t you correct it? I asked. He threw the watch at me, and I immediately noticed the crown was broken.

“Just add 18 minutes to anytin wey you see for the screen,” Just add 18 minutes to anything you see on the screen, he said.

After prayers, which lasted about an hour with songs of praise, it was time for dinner. And strong vexation rent the air. The cell president had ordered food at 4:40 p.m., but the vendor was yet to deliver.

“Cell guard!” he called out, trying to get the police officer on duty to look for the food vendor.

“Oga journalist, na so dem dey treat us for here.” Boss journalist, that’s how we are treated here.

The guys knew exactly which officers behaved well and which are unkind. They were taking mental notes.

The guys knew exactly which officers behaved well and which are unkind. They were taking mental notes.

At about 9:00 p.m., dinner arrived. The president, assisted by the IG and OC torture, served packs of food to 26 cellmates. Some had noodles, while others had ordered porridge beans. The food was divided, with each person getting not more than a small portion.

More than a dozen had only garri (cassava flour cereal) and kulikuli (a peanut-based snack) for the night. I was told these were inmates who had run out of money and had no family or associates that cared enough to visit them in jail, much less replenish their pockets.

As the others were eating, I quickly fell asleep. Luckily—and strangely—there were no mosquitoes. It was 5:00 a.m. before I woke up. By 6:40 a.m., both Muslim and Christian brothers had concluded prayers.

At 7:00 a.m., the cell guard came in for his routine counting of inmates. The others knew the officer was coming, so they were already standing.

“Who dey sit like chief for there?” Who is sitting like a chief there?, the officer said as he flashed a powerful torchlight into my eyes.

Of all the inmates, I was the only one the cell guard, who resumed shift that morning, was meeting for the first time. He asked that I join others on one end of the open concrete. One after the other, we were asked to move to the opposite side and given numbers as we obliged.

At some point, I pushed the OC Torture forward. “Na your turn,” It’s your turn, I said.

“Na you dey sleep for Aso Rock, make you go first.” You are the one sleeps in Aso Rock, so you have to go first, he replied. Aso Rock is what inmates call the cell president’s blanket area—a tongue-in-cheek reference to Nigeria’s presidential villa, which bears the same name.

Aso Rock is what inmates call the cell president’s blanket area—a tongue-in-cheek reference to Nigeria’s presidential villa, which bears the same name.

Before the counting session was over, I was already blending in with my fellow inmates, my remarks frequently eliciting cheers from many of them.

The impression I had  of prison cells was one of violence and exploitation. But I realised within one day that inmates, no matter how long they had been behind bars, could also be persons of candour.

We fraternised and discussed our individual ordeals without fear. Some talked openly about their offences in the cell, admitting things about which they had kept  investigators in the dark. An unwritten convention says cell mates should not divulge confessions shared, and flouting it could be costly.

Some said they had already confessed to the police and were waiting to be arraigned. The police often promise to help them through trial if they confess, but since such arrangements are seldom done before a lawyer, they are difficult to enforce. Yet the court continues to admit verbal confession of suspects as evidence.

I had a slight share of this one-sided practice in my own case, when I was secretly and hurriedly driven to court on the afternoon of August 15. The prosecutor and officers promised to let me call the office or our lawyers if I cooperated with them but this turned out to be a ruse.

 

Alone in the courtroom

Mr. Ahmadu, came to the detention centre to interrogate me a second time.

The commissioner’s expectation was that I would divulge the source of my story because I had become isolated from Mr. Mojeed. He also promised that I would be released immediately, and receive some unspecified benefits. But I dug my heels in, and it ended up being a wasted 40 minutes for both of us, or mostly for him.

Around 11:00 a.m., my breakfast arrived, brought in by Premium Times’ Administrative Manager, Williams Obase-Ota. He came in with one of our lawyers, and the two ensured I started eating before they left around noon.

By 1:00 p.m., I was being told preparations were underway to take me to court, and I started asking that I be allowed to call Mr. Mojeed or our lawyers. They declined. By 1:30 p.m., I was ordered into a Nissan light truck that would take me to court in Kubwa, about 25 minutes away. I insisted on being permitted to make calls, but I was denied yet again.

Abuja at night. Photo by Jeff Attaway via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The prosecutor called me aside, saying I should not resist because he would allow me to make a call along the way, and he had no plans of submitting any application to further detain me, anyway.

I got into the vehicle with three officers. The prosecutor went ahead in his own car.  We arrived at the magistrate’s court in Kubwa around 2:30 p.m. The prosecutor asked that we wait inside the car, and went into the chambers to meet the magistrate.

We were eventually called in around 3:45 p.m., after the discussion between prosecutor and the magistrate had dragged on for well over an hour. As we stepped into the courtroom, I was immediately put in the dock. While we were waiting outside, I repeatedly asked the prosecutor to live up to his words and allow me just a telephone call, but he declined repeatedly.

I was alone in the courtroom. The prosecution side had the prosecutor, another lawyer whom he had called to meet him at the court, and two of the three police personnel who had accompanied me. The charges were read: violation of sections 352, 288 and 319A of the Nigerian penal code, offences related to sexual assault and murder, not trespassing and obtaining police document, as the police officers had originally accused.

Even though I had not studied the charges closely, I entered a not guilty plea. The prosecutor who had promised not to seek my further remand demanded that the magistrate keep me in custody so officers could continue their investigation.

The magistrate immediately granted the relief, saying I should be kept in custody for five more days and returned to court on August 20.

Having listened to the charges and after the curious meeting the two held in camera, the prosecutor had stripped my identity and I needed to clarify this before the magistrate.

Just before the magistrate hit the gavel and retreated into his chambers, I quickly informed him that I was a journalist with Premium Times. I told him I did not burgle the Force Headquarters to steal documents from the IGP’s office, as the prosecutor implied in the first information report.

The magistrate was stunned, and looked right into the eyes of the prosecutor, apparently feeling a sense of manipulation. I needed to make a call, I told him. I had been denied access to my office and lawyers.

The magistrate was stunned, and looked right into the eyes of the prosecutor, apparently feeling a sense of manipulation. I needed to make a call, I told him. I had been denied access to my office and lawyers.

The magistrate initially said the prosecutor should allow me to make a phone call later. Then he changed his mind on the spot, demanding that the court registrar bring his cell phone to me so I could call whoever I wanted.

The entire court proceeding lasted about 10 minutes. I called Mr. Mojeed to brief him about it afterwards, passing across enough information before I was whisked back to detention.

I returned to detention devastated, unnerved at the thought of staying through the weekend. I wondered  why I was denied access to my office or lawyers.

‘They want to break your spirit as much as they can’

The next day Mr. Mojeed visited and urged patience, saying I would soon be out. It was at that time that he first hinted that my arrest had sparked even bigger anger amongst freedom lovers in and out of Nigeria.

“You will be very proud of yourself when you come out,” Mr. Mojeed said. “Just be patient and continue to endure whatever treatment you get in here, because you will soon be out.”

Just before Mr. Mojeed came in, an officer had denied me a chance to brush my teeth outside the cell, to say nothing of having a shower. I had now spent two full days without bathing, and brushed only once.

I whispered this to Mr. Mojeed inside Mr. Agu’s office. “I understand everything, it is all part of their tactics,” he responded. “They want to break your spirit as much as they can. Just hold on and do not let them succeed.”

Some minutes later, just before Mr. Mojeed turned to Mr. Agu to discuss my welfare, the senior officer offered both of us akara and water. That was my first meal for the day.

After discussing with Mr. Agu for about half an hour, Mr. Mojeed was ready to go. Mr. Agu asked that I remain at his office for some fresh air, but this was only a face-saving gesture. A few seconds after Mr. Mojeed exited the building, a personnel officer was called in to usher me back to the cell.

That was already past 7:00 p.m., and the president was preparing Christian inmates for prayer. The akara I had was too heavy in my stomach, knocking me straight to sleep in the middle of the evening prayer.

When the cell guard arrived for the routine count of inmates at 7:00 a.m. on Friday, he asked me to step outside and gave me a seat at the front desk.

“If you get anything for inside, make you go carry am.” If you have anything inside, go and collect it, he said.

I had nothing in there — I had been wearing the same clothes since Tuesday.

“Call that your oga make he come sign for your bail.” Call your boss, let him come and sign your bail, the officer said.

I called Mr. Mojeed, who was already on his way to the station. I later learnt that my release had been concluded the night before, but it was too late to take me to court at that time. I had to be taken before the magistrate who ordered my remand until Monday before I could be released on Friday.

“What if the magistrate denied me bail again?” I asked an officer.

“No be him put you for cell, e no fit talk say make we no release you.” He is not the one that ordered your detention, so he has no right to tell us not to release you.

Adding my experience before the magistrate two days earlier, I began to appreciate the domineering influence police and other law enforcement agencies wield over magistrates across the country. Magistrates are often said to cluck under police officers like hens, but I did not know much about this until now.

Just before Mr. Mojeed stepped in, the cell guard asked me to go and take a shower. There had been an order from above that I should not be allowed to leave the station in the tattered way I had been for days. Some of the kidnapping suspects in my cell were called out to fetch water from a nearby well.

I had my shower and put on new clothes my colleague brought the day before, but which I was denied from putting on because I could not shower.

 

Free on bail

I met Mr. Mojeed at the front desk as I emerged from the bathroom. “You are free now,” he said to me gleefully. “Amen, thank you sir!” I responded reservedly.

At about 10:00 a.m., we arrived at the court. Our lawyers were already present, and it was not long before the magistrate arrived.

The seats and the floor were filthy. A dirty quilt was abandoned on the floor between the dock and the wall. Not a single computer or clock in the room. The ornamental bulbs and blinds were also broken.

Magistrate Abdulwahab Mohammed took his seat around 10:15 a.m. My case was listed at number four, but the magistrate moved it to number one, seconds after the registrar had already called the first case on the list.

I entered the dock before being prompted. It was a bail hearing, so our lawyers were called on first. The application for my bail was moved and the prosecutor raised no objection. It was already a done deal.

The prosecutor even sought lenient bail terms for me, even on self-recognisance, he said.

The suave magistrate, likely in his thirties, found this funny, and he first concealed his chuckle with his pen before using the sleeve of his jacket.

“Is he the acting president?” he asked the prosecutor. “He is a known journalist, your lordship,” he responded.

The magistrate approved the November 7 adjournment sought by the prosecutor and agreed to the motion by our lawyers and the hearing quickly wrapped up. In less than half an hour I was a free man. The entire hearing and tidying of paperwork for my bail were concluded within 20 minutes.

The officers who brought me to court were the first to request selfies with me. I was reluctant at first, then one said the picture was only an innocuous way of showing that I had no personal reservations towards them. I obliged.

I also posed for photographs with our lawyers and Mr. Obase-Ota who was in court to drive me to the office. But just as we were about driving away, I saw a news item pop up on his phone, saying the police had accused me of violating the official secrets law.

Why would they charge me with violating official secrets when I am not a public official? What I could immediately think of was that the government was out to muzzle the press, and it would stop at nothing, no matter how ridiculous. Even then, it would be difficult to describe the document as secret because nothing in it warned it was, a fact widely observed.

Moreover, Premium Times later learnt separately, days after my release, that Mr. Idris was angry about some of my stories in the past. This is understandable, especially as the factual bases of my work were not in dispute. But this was not enough grounds to lock me up for days, one would imagine. Then again, there have been several cases of journalists being hounded in the past three years, some of which I chronicled here only last year.

 

The precarious work of journalism, with elections on the horizon

With the 2019 elections in view, there are fears that journalists may be deliberately targeted, or, like me, made scapegoats. It was in the car that my colleague informed me that another journalist, Jones Abiri, had been released after two years in custody. He was freed on August 15, a day after my arrest.

I also began noticing the magnitude of support and how big the story of my arrest was, when my colleague at the digital strategy desk would not allow me to get to the office before taking new pictures of me to upload with the breaking story of my release. Mr. Obase-Ota quickly parked at a safe compound and took pictures in the specified resolutions. The picture was everywhere before I got to the office, and both the management and I had to put together separate statements of gratitude.

The Buhari administration understands the critical role the media will play in the upcoming election, just like those before it, including the one that brought him to power three years ago. And, as The Punch noted in an August 24 editorial, Premium Times has been playing a leading role in unearthing the missteps of this administration, making the investigative newspaper a prime target for harassment.

Babajide Otitoju, a political analyst, also saw my arrest as part of a desperate strategy by state actors to instill fears in journalists ahead of 2019, describing it as an “elevated exaggeration.”

Babajide Otitoju, a political analyst, also saw my arrest as part of a desperate strategy by state actors to instill fears in journalists ahead of 2019, describing it as an “elevated exaggeration.”

Early last year, it was the leadership of the Nigerian Army that was uncomfortable with our journalism and goaded the police into arresting publisher Dapo Olorunyomi and Evelyn Okakwu, my colleague at the judiciary desk. They were released the same day and the matter was never brought to court, apparently because, as with my case, they had no serious complaint at the time.

I spent three days in detention. But it was enough time for me to appreciate the precarious fate of journalism in Nigeria, despite nearly two decades of uninterrupted civil rule.

I felt terrible to have been incarcerated and isolated and accused of crimes that were clearly unfounded.

But I remain eternally grateful to everyone around the world who pushed for my release. The unbelievable magnitude of support my organisation and I enjoyed during this episode has strengthened my resolve to always be a voice for the voiceless, while also pushing for the people’s right to know and holding our leaders accountable.

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