When Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, echoed ‘Double wahala for dead body‘, little did I know he was prophesying about what I would go through as a journalist at the Igbosere High Court, Lagos, on August 4, 2021. From pursuing a news story to being pursued by the story, my attempts to cover the court proceedings for the day were marred by the presence of uniformed men.
The time was barely 8am when my colleague, Damilola Adeyera, and I walked past the court security officials, greeted them, and identified ourselves as men of the fourth estate of the realm. There was no problem. A few minutes after that, Damilola and I were unofficially welcomed by the stench of the problem that would accompany us throughout the day.
As the inmates walked in, alongside some staff of Ikoyi Prison, we immediately attempted to make videos of them on the grounds that we had already introduced ourselves as journalists, but were warned to desist from the act. We stopped as instructed.
Minutes later, I entered a courtroom and stayed there till 11 am before I stepped out to see how my colleague was fairing. Not too long after I stepped out of the courtroom, some uniformed men seized my phone from me. That was when my ordeal began.
At first, I was shocked because I had a game application running on my phone to ease myself from the boredom of the court room, but I remained calm until I saw my colleague in a much grimmer situation. Apparently, he was caught trying to make videos of a particular inmate but the prison official who seized his phone would not agree that he meant no harm. And since they saw us together in the morning, even when they did not see me make any attempt to make videos of them, they believed I deserved to share in my colleague’s fate.
By 3pm, seeing that we were hell-bent on not opening our phones for them to view, the staff of the Ikoyi Prison left the court premises with the phones, telling us that if we really needed our phones, we would come to meet them at their office in Ikoyi.
At that point, we were left with two options – retrieve the phones with the videos intact or forget the phones. Damilola and I then agreed to go to their prison in Ikoyi to get our phones. On getting there, a particular prison official spoke to us calmly, as the FBI would. He told us we had two options – to open our phones and delete whatever videos we may have taken. But just like we insisted at the court, we told him we would not open it.
“I don’t have any business with you as you guys don’t intend to open your phones, but if you really don’t want to open them, then you can go,” he said. Seeing that the atmosphere was not tolerable anymore, we stood up to leave, but he said, “Wait, my oga is coming.”
When the oga came in, we immediately knew something not in our favour would play out. A tall man with a mean face, oga’s first question was psychological, meant to throw us off balance and give him any power we had left. If we had explained, it would have been worse.
“They said you were videoing them. Why were you videoing them?” he asked.
Damilola replied with a question, “Videoing who?”
In the blink of an eye, oga’s countenance communicated anger; he had asked two young men a question only for one of them to respond by asking him a question of his own.
“Take them to the police station,” he ordered.
In the midst of all of this, neither my colleague nor I showed cowardice and that baffled everyone who was present. A bus that belonged to the prison service drove us to the Headquaters, Onikan Police Station. At this point, we lost track of time.
On getting to the police station, the DPO, whose name I couldn’t get, asked who our employer was. “’Fisayo Soyombo sir,” I told him.
He was shocked and immediately asked that we open our phones to delete the videos on our phones, but we refused to open them. The DPO then told IPO Rotimi to follow up our case.
When the DPO learnt we were colleagues of Soyombo, he was stunned and careful because Soyombo’s 2019 undercover investigation on the rot in the Nigerian justice system focused on the prison and the police, which slightly involved his station.
Minutes before the IPO met us, a young lady at the counter had asked us to pull our shoes and use our belts to tie them. All the while, we were behind the counter where we met their people.
It was time to write our statement. IPO Rotimi called me in first. When I entered, he didn’t allow me to start writing my statement. He first preached the gospel of why I should open my phone. But like those who deliberately misunderstood the gospel the apostles preached, I chose to ignore him. After two attempts, I wrote my statements as I would, without any pressure.
But I was irritated by the bundles and the fabrication of lies the IPO told me as the reasons given by the prison officers as reason for wanting us detained. According to him, the officers said we followed them to many places that day to make videos of them, which didn’t happen. It was a blatant lie.
As it was getting late, one inspector, Olubunmi Michael, was caring enough to ask if we had eaten. When she learnt that we were yet to eat, she immediately called someone to get us food while she argued that we should be allowed to go home due to the uncomfortable situation in the cell.
Not too long, our Editor called and spoke with the IPO. We did not know what they discussed, but the IPO, after the call ended, took our bail bond where we indicated we would be there by 9am the following morning. All the while, our offence was “conduct likely”. He also collected our ID cards before letting us go. That was exactly 9:32 pm.
Thankfully, as morally bankrupt as a nation we largely are, people like Ridwan Olayemi, better known as ‘Lawyer of Hoodlums’, still exist. When we got to the station the following morning, we were with him. IPO Rotimi told him he had two options – to either delete the videos we took or have the prison staff charge us to court. After enough merry-go-round, we opened our phones and the officials had possession of them. When they glanced through our videos, they decided to send all of the videos we took to a laptop of theirs.
We only got our phones after we wrote an undertaking that we didn’t take any of the videos for the purpose of ruining their lives. The time was 12:29pm.
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