At 9:44 am on June 12, Editor ‘Fisayo Soyombo dropped a rather unusual message checking up on my colleague Adeola, with whom I was covering the protest ground, via FIJ’s internal communication channel.
“Adeola, are you okay?” he had asked, interrupting our field reporting. I guess the daredevil editor had already intuitively sensed Adeola had been passive on the channel for some 10 minutes.
I was not with him at the time, so I could not speak for him. We were together but the Police had begun firing tear gas canisters and all journalists had taken cover. I quickly ran to the Gani Fawehinmi Park at Ojota to take shots of the thick smoke billowing from one of the canisters.
Back on October 20, 2020, the Army first denied that soldiers were at the Lekki Toll Plaza and it took multiple pieces of evidence to shut them up. So, gathering every picture/video of all occurrences at the June 12 protest was necessary.
Five minutes later, a video of Oladipupo shouting “I’m a journalist! I’m a journalist!” dropped on the FIJ internal channel. That time, he was being whisked away into the van by policemen but the rugged journalist was able to film himself before they seized it.
Another canister dropped next to me. I quickly ducked into the grass to become invisible to the angry officers. One of them was shooting and at the same time screaming: “Arrest them! Shoot them!”
The run began! I sighted a block of three toilets behind him and ran in the direction. Some street urchins (loosely called ‘area boys’) manning the decrepit toilets scared panicky protesters away but they graciously allowed me to hide there. They later explained they sent people away because they did not want to draw the attention of the Police.
A FOOT SOLDIER MUST STAY FIGHTING
Protest is no war but Nigerian security operatives have made it so. No conscientious Nigerian — home or abroad — will forget #EndSARS nationwide protests in a hurry.
A colleague from another newspaper joked that Oladipupo and I were foot soldiers. That simple nomenclature of a ‘foot soldier’ motivated me to leave hiding and return to work 15 minutes after when the shooting subsided.
It was a shared responsibility for Oladipupo and I to look out for each other. We did so by exchanging calls every 15 minutes. Now that he was in police custody, the burden was solely on me.
I dashed out again. I saw two policemen on the other side of the road beating a protester with a rod. Intuition told me if I tried to film that, I would be arrested by onlooking policemen. I bottled my emotions and moved on.
A few steps ahead, I saw some other protesters fleeing from the Police. They tried to enter a house in the neighborhood but were rejected by residents.
The unwelcoming gesture was a lesson that would replay itself before the end of the protest. The resistance of Ojota residents showed that some people were not happy about the protest; they didn’t want to associate with the protest so they don’t suffer the same fate as residents of Marokor or the Lekki Toll Plaza neighbourhood, where a shanty settlement opposite the plaza was evicted by the Police because of their support for the #EndSARS protest.
This experience further established how Nigerian citizens can be easily compromised, constantly sabotaging our common interest for good governance. Another example was how the hoodlums and commercial drivers at Ojota prevented the Channels TV vehicle from parking in front of their garage.
An ‘area boy’ popularly known as CEO was delegated to be an enemy to the journalists. Meanwhile, his actions were in stark contrast to the goodwill I enjoyed from the ‘area boys’ at the toilet side.
Indeed, the few Nigerians who still desire a purified country must first begin their divine mission from each family, especially the poor.
While unemployment forced some people into thuggery, others refused to lose their sense of humanity despite the failures of the government.
THE CHEEKY ‘RASCAL’
Even if I manage to exclude OIadipupo, the ‘cheeky rascal’ — he went on to report the heart-wrenching story of young protester Mayowa, after his release by the Police — from this diary, it will be hard to ignore the heroics of the ‘area boys’ who saved me.
If you still think Nigeria has not sunk enough for the public to demand an overhaul of the system, ask yourself: what were Counter-Terrorist Unit (CTU) policemen doing at the protest ground? To defuse a Boko Haram bomb or apprehend bandits?
“You are playing with your lives. Better go home,” Ugo Nnakwe, their team lead, told journalists at the protest.
I just hope somebody got to tell Nnakwe that he was ‘playing with his job’; he was debasing the war against terrorism, which his job supposedly represents.
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