On January 20, 2021, the Foundation for Investigative Journalism and Social Justice (FIJ) kicked off editorial operations with the first part of Portraits of Blood, a series of detailed enquiries into the shooting at Lekki Tollgate on the night of October 20, 2020. Eleven months later, a Lagos judicial panel confirmed the findings, amid public opprobrium and negative emotions.
While most of our publications during the last year were intended for justice for unheard citizens and as such were all great, ‘Portraits of Blood’ and other stories on this list unsettled social and political institutions and ignited conversations within and outside Nigeria.
As FIJ celebrates its first ‘birthday’ today, we present you 10 of our biggest stories yet, carefully selected from over 1,800 compelling works.
- PORTRAITS OF BLOOD
In this three-part investigation, FIJ detailed death threats, intimidation and reported incidents of murder that hampered the flow of information on the number and identity of victims of the Lekki Massacre.
“If you need your life…, if your life is any valuable to you, stop all these things,” a caller suspected of working for the government tells a protester in an audio attached to the first part of the story, which deals with threats to life and attempts by the government to cover up the mass killing of young people in Lagos.
Dabiraoluwa Adeyinka, the recipient of the call, and others supporting conversations about the killing had been told to “back off” or die. At the time of publishing the piece, some of them had fled their homes. “You have to stay alive first to be able to fight for others,” Adeyinka told FIJ.
The second part of Portraits of Blood documents 20 deaths from the massacre and the pain of victims’ relatives. Some of the names on FIJ’s death list would appear on the Lagos judicial panel’s casualty table. But youths not only died at Lekki, some suffered serious gunshot wounds. Lekan Faleye and a couple of other protesters had their legs amputated. “Your son will not be able to walk again,” a doctor told Lekan’s mother at Grandville Trauma Centre, Lekki. She would cry her eyes out. It was to Lekan, Abdulrahmon Razak, who was shot on the scrotum, and others who had a close shave with death that the third part is dedicated.
2. BENUE STATE UNIVERSITY TEACHING HOSPITAL CUT OFF HER BREAST ONLY TO DISCOVER SHE DIDN’T HAVE CANCER
Twelve days after Portraits of Blood, FIJ told the story of a victim of Nigeria’s deficient health care system. Sarah Yugh had undergone eight chemotherapy sessions, 25 radiotherapy sessions and a left breast mastectomy before realising she had no breast cancer. But it was not the amputation, which would not have happened if the Benue State Teaching Hospital had not embarked on a four-month industrial strike, that bothered Yugh. Until December 2019, two years after his mastectomy, she still believed she had cancer. The doctors at Benue State University Teaching Hospital kept her misdiagnosis a secret, and by the time she found out, she had already been weighed down by chemotherapy, radiotherapy and drugs.
She recalled how weak her bones were and how inconsistent her periods had become. She could not walk or travel great distances and often had headaches to manage. Speaking to FIJ, she had trouble remembering things as her memory was failing.
“When they told me I had cancer, it didn’t affect me this much,” she told FIJ. “But it’s the battle of fighting the error that has taken more from me. When I think about it, eating becomes a problem.”
3. A BELGIAN HOSPITAL CUT OFF AJIMA OGBOLE’S CERVIX. THEN THEY PARALYSED HER SISTER-IN-LAW SUSAN
After her cervix was amputated by doctors at the Gynecology unit of AZ Sint-Jan Hospital in Bruges, Belgium, during a surgery to remove fibroids from her uterus, Ajima Ogbole’s desire to have a baby despite the odds made her consider surrogacy, but her sister-in-law, who agreed to be her surrogate, would also be paralysed by the same hospital. It is a story of two Nigerians tossed around in a foreign land, where doctors do not take responsibilities for errors and dereliction.
Instead of giving the two sisters an explanation for the fatal outcomes of their treatment, the hospital asked them to talk to its insurance company. “I never believed that this was what my life had turned into,” Ogbole told FIJ, recalling the moment she learned she could not get pregnant naturally or artificially because the connection between her cervix and her vagina was gone after a surgery went wrong. “I knew I wanted kids more than I wanted to get married.”
When Ogbole spoke with FIJ, it was four months after Susan had given her a baby boy and four months since she had been condemned to the wheel chair over delivery complications caused by Belgian health workers.
4. HOW OONI OGUNWUSI’S COMPANIES EXECUTED THE BIGGEST INVESTMENT FRAUD IN NIGERIA’S REAL ESTATE HISTORY – AND GOT AWAY WITH IT
Shortly before Eniitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi, the Ooni of Ife, ascended the throne, companies belonging to him robbed several home buyers of millions through fraudulent real estate schemes in Lagos. Among the victims was Offiong, a retiree who paid over 17 million for an apartment but got nothing.
“On the day Mrs Offiong made the final deposit of N8,983,500 million, she received a letter from another staff member of Metropole Limited, Nnamdi Ukpabi, notifying her of the allotment of ‘Block F Unit 1,’’’ the story reads. “But on the delivery date of August 2015, Mrs Offiong and hundreds of other subscribers found out that what they had were buildings and land on paper.”
Enitan’s Gran Imperio Group’s subsidiary companies, Howard Roark Ltd. and Metropole Interproject Ltd., had promised to build and deliver 1,000 affordable bungalows for middle and low-income earners by the end of 2015. Many believed them and the companies raked in billions of naira. By the time the fraud became evident and some victims headed to court, Ogunwusi had become one of the most influential kings in Africa, and he could choose the judgment to comply with.
5. EXCLUSIVE: PRESIDENCY MEETS WITH CHINA’S CYBER REGULATOR TO BUILD NIGERIAN INTERNET FIREWALL
When Nigerian internet service providers blocked access to Twitter in June 2021 on the orders of the federal government, people began downloading VPNs to bypass the restriction, but the government had another plan.
A team of officials, including Ibrahim Gambari, the Chief of Staff to the President, and Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, contacted the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) to discuss plans to build an internet firewall that would give them control over social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. With a firewall, the government could block VPNs, monitor the flow of information and track down critics.
The move was a secret until FIJ revealed it, triggering global conversations about citizens’ right to freedom of speech. Reactions from local and international communities probably forced the government to reverse its plan, which it had desperately wanted to carry out since the EndSARS demonstration in October 2020.
6. EXCLUSIVE: EGBUNIKE, HEAD OF ABBA KYARI PROBE PANEL, JOINED OTHERS TO APPROVE N1BN FOR FAKE POLICE CAMP PROJECT
FIJ visited the sites of a one billion-naira fake police transit camp project approved by Joseph Egbunike, a Deputy Inspector General of Police, and other top officers at the headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force, Abuja, and found that nothing or little had been done.
In the Falgore Forest in Kano, where a police transit camp of N175 million police was to be erected, nothing was found. The police officers in the forest said there was neither a site for the structure nor a plan for such. The only police station in Falgore was an old bungalow without a ceiling.
Two uncompleted bungalows and a few mobile buildings were found on an expanse of land in Riyom, Plateau State. It was the site of a N245, 263,725 police transit camp project. “Look at that building in red roof which happens to be a police station in the camp,” a real estate expert told FIJ. “With N9 million or N10 million, you can raise that building up to that level”.
Few months after FIJ revealed that the project approved by police chiefs was false, the police invited ‘Fisayo Soyombo, our founder and editor-in-chief, asked how he came about the story and detained him for several hours.
7. UNDERCOVER: FROM IKEJA TO LEKKI, LASTMA OFFICIALS OPERATE LIKE A CRIMINAL GANG
Kadiri Rotimi was driving on the Third Mainland Bridge around 8am when he received a call from the hospital. A patient was dying, and he needed to give first-aid instructions right away. So he slowed his car and put on the hazard light.
LASTMA officials who saw him receive a call waylaid him. They said he had committed an offence and the official fine was N100,000, but he could give N50,000 in bribes unless he wanted his car towed away. Kadiri protested. He was only helping to save someone’s life, after all. In the end, Kadiri told FIJ, they drove him to a nearby ATM and purged his account of the N20,000 left in it.
Stories like this prompted FIJ to embark on an undercover investigation from Ikeja to Lekki in Lagos State, and we found out that both on the Mainland and the Island, LASTMA officials are more interested in extorting motorists than ensuring free flow of traffic, maintaining traffic order, or helping people in life-threatening situations escape danger. The officers were caught on camera, extorting our reporters even when they pretended they were going to rescue a sick person.
8. EXPOSED: MIZWANNEKA, FRAUDULENT ONLINE VENDOR WHO ‘ATTRACTS CUSTOMERS WITH KAYAN MATA’ BUT DOESN’T DELIVER THEIR ORDERS
Until four months after paying N528,800 for 18 pieces of hair from Mizwanneka, a popular online vendor, Stella Okoye did not receive her order, and when she eventually did, they were substandard products, a case of ‘what I ordered versus what I got’.
Okoye was just one of tens of Mizwanneka’s victims. Grace, who had waited several months but got neither her hair nor the N121,500 she paid, told FIJ the vendor used Kanyan Mata, a popular business-boom oil, to lure her victims.
FIJ’s investigation revealed a pattern of operations involving advertisement of high-quality products, delivery of substandard variants and organised bullying of dissatisfied customers. “I stumbled on her page and saw a 30 under 30 promo advert. The hair she put up looked quality and nice, so I placed an order anticipating the delivery of the hair,” Okoye told FIJ. “I, in fact, had customers who booked the hair down after I showed them pictures, with the mindset that what was in the picture was what I would get.”
Following the publication, fifty more victims of Mizwanneka’s fraud opened up on social media.
9. EXPOSED: HOW IRETI DOYLE’S DAUGHTER, KACHI ONYELUO, DUPED ENTHUSIASTS OF OVER N40 MILLION
Ezeobor Mary-Ann was under the weight of pressing financial obligations when she caught the sight of Kachi Hair Beauty, a business belonging to one Abimbola Onyeluo, a.k.a. Kachi, daughter of Ireti Doyle, a popular actress and TV presenter.
Mary-Ann, a 200-level student at the University of Calabar, had been working during the holiday to pay her tuition and also save up for her mother’s knee surgery. Kachi, on the other hand, had been going about with a promise to make hardworking women millionaires. “Join the Kachi hair beauty wholesale distribution scheme and become a millionaire before the end of the year,” her advert read on Instagram. She had also been praised by numerous newspapers for empowering women and entrepreneurs.
Mary-Ann ordered for 30 pieces of hair for N303,000 from the money she had saved up for her mother’s surgery, hoping to sell them and make profit. She also burrowed a million naira to register for Kachi’s platinum distribution scheme. By the time FIJ reported the story, Mary-Ann had waited for two months to take delivery of her hair. Kachi had stopped answering her calls and blocked her on Instagram, and she and her family were about to be sent out of their apartment for owing rent. “I am depressed, tired and about to give up on everything,” Mary-Ann told FIJ.
FIJ’s investigation revealed that Kachi had scammed over N40 million from people like Mary-Ann, who trusted her with all they had because of her mother.
10. EBEDEI, DELTA STATE. GAS FLARING VILLAGE WHERE THE PEOPLE EAT POISONS AND ARE OFTEN TERMINALLY SICK
In Ebedei, a village in Delta State, people were eating food, drinking water and breathing air poisoned by flares from oil companies and they were dying. When our reporter visited, obituaries of young people littered the street. One, he revealed, had images of two boys standing side by side, and a quote, ‘Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal’.
When oil was discovered in their soil, the people were happy, but rather than the wealth they had hoped for, they got a high death toll, because PNG Gas Ltd. and other oil companies in the village would not toe the more expensive path of trapping unwanted gases for commercialization. Instead, they burnt them into the atmosphere from where they got into the people’s food, air and water.
FIJ carried out a chemical analysis of food and water samples obtained from the community and found dangerous chemicals which could have exposed the inhabitants to the cancer, internal heat and difficulty breathing they had complained of.
Every birthday, they say, is a like a new year. On this note, we welcome you to a new FIJ year, which, to us, is a chance to tell more compelling stories about social injustice on the streets of Nigeria.
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