by Sikiru Obarayese
It was a feverish experience from the protest ground to the police cell, down to the court. All these happened within an hour. Although I have been victimized before as a journalist, this particular ordeal is the first of its kind and has been a vivid example of how journalists have been disappearing in Nigeria.
Journalism is a demanding profession, however, travail for those who ply the dreaded route of investigative journalism.
On October 20, 2021, Nigerian woke up to uncertainty over the planning of an EndSARS memorial protest to mark the remembrance of some Nigerian youths who were allegedly killed by soldiers at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos. The police also forbade the move.
But as a journalist, I knew it would be another busy day. On my WhatsApp status, I briefly documented with pictures how the 2020 EndSARS protest in Osun started on the 12th of October till it was hijacked by hoodlums.
Earlier on Tuesday, from Lagos, I received a colleague and friend Ibrahim Adeyemi of Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) for a report. After consulting my source and agreeing to meet us on Wednesday 20th of October, the same day the EndSARS Memorial protest will be held, I had the intention of covering the protest till 11 am or noon before proceeding to our journey.
Around 11 am on Wednesday, I got to Ola-Iya, a possible place for protesters to converge in Osogbo, however, Security operatives had taken over the place. I met with Toba Adedeji of The Nation Newspaper at Ola-Iya and we agreed on surveying some strategic areas in Osogbo where protesters or security operatives might huddle.
We took a minibus to Old-garage; while on the bus, I called a friend in Abuja who is working with a mainstream media house to be wary of the Police. Getting to our destination, fortunately, we met the Osun State Commissioner of Police, Wale Olokode addressing the police officers at the point.
We had an interview with the CP on the update on the protest in Osun. Then Toba got a call that some protesters had gathered at Ita-Olookan area in Osogbo. We took a motorcycle to the location and met other reporters. Then, I called the friend that came from Lagos to meet me at the protest ground with the aim to embark on our course around noon.
“Don’t worry sir, let me also use the opportunity to cover this event too,” Mr Adeyemi replied after I pleaded with him to permit me little time to cover the protest.
Chanting solidarity songs, the protesters who were numbered about 15 to 20 plied Oja-Oba and stopped at Gbeemu junction to address the public. They went through Station road where other journalists left for another event – to Old Garage. The transport that I had arranged to take me and Mr Adeyemi to our journey met us at Old-Garage but the source promised to get back before we took off, this made me stay with the protesters.
It was around a few minutes to 1 pm, we were mulling on postponing the journey due to the nature of the assignment, then I sighted a white bus containing some police officers approaching the protesters. Already there are tenths of police officers stationed at Old-garage. I quickly followed to continue my job and left Mr Adeyemi where he was buying Newspaper.
Encounter with police
“Who are you? The Divisional Police Officer of Dugbe division, Oyegade Akinloye asked me and I identified myself as a journalist, then he asked me to leave where I was. I was calling Mr Ibrahim when a police officer pushed me. I asked him “Why are you harassing me? The DPO, Akinloye, ordered his men to take me away. I received many slaps and was hit with butt of gun.
I was taken to Dugbe Divisional police station. On my arrival, I was welcomed by about 12 officers – they beat me with anger – one L. Yakubu punched me several times in the face while one officer forcefully took my phone. Meanwhile, an officer in mufti approached me with a paper and asked me to write a statement. I declined and requested for my phone in order to inform someone about my whereabouts.
“You better write the statement now,” one Inspector Richard ordered me.
I was taken to another room in the station with one Inspector Richard and one other officer. The Inspector wrote the statement and asked me to sign; I refused to sign the statement. He later came in with my phone and asked me to unlock it for him – then I knew they were looking for something on my phone to charge me with.
He held the phone without releasing it to me and said, “unlock your phone” and I replied, “give me the phone and let me make a call first”. He kept the phone in his pocket and went out of the room, after some minutes, he came in and told me we were going to court.
I was brought from Dugbe to High Court, Oke-fia, Osogbo with a motorcycle with IPO Richard and one other officer who was driving the motorcycle both in mufti. He, even drove against traffic using ‘one-way’.
In the court
When they were going to file the case, I sighted a colleague who was covering court proceedings in a Magistrate Court. I quickly called him and told him to inform other journalists that I was arrested while covering the End SARS protest and inform them about my location.
In a brief moment, journalists from various media houses stormed the court. That was when the IPO returned my phone back to me. It was 2:10 pm — I was arrested at exactly 1:11 pm — this shows that I have been in the court before 2 pm. I was charged on two frivolous count charges.
I was docked on two counts bordering on breach of peace, by making video of the DPO and assault, contrary to Sections 249(5) and 356 of the Criminal Code Cap 34. Laws of Osun State. However, I pleaded not guilty to the count pressed against me, while the police prosecutor, Inspector Adeoye Kayode, informed the magistrate that the police were withdrawing the charge against me as ordered by the state’s Commissioner of Police, Wale Olokode.
The Magistrate, A. O. Daramola who queried the prosecutor on what prevents a journalist from videoing the DPO if he was not doing anything negative, ordered that the matter be struck out and discharged me.
What is the Constitutional function of media/ journalists
Speaking on the role of the media, the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, described the mass media as a more important arm of society than the government itself. “Were it left for me to choose whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I shall not hesitate to choose the latter,” he said.
Likewise in the Nigerian constitution like other countries, it recognizes the role of the mass media and has gone to the extent of giving constitutional backing to it. The 1999 Constitution gave obligations to the media to monitor governance and hold the government accountable to the people.
Section 39(1) of the Constitution states: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” It goes further to state in 39(2) that: ”Without prejudice to the generality of Subsection(1) of this Section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas, and opinions.
“Provided that no person other than the government of the Federation or of a State or any other person or body authorized by the President on the fulfillment of the conditions laid down by an Act of the National Assembly, shall own, establish or operate a television or a wireless broadcasting station for any purpose whatsoever”.
Section 22 of the Constitution states: “The press, radio, television and other agencies of mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter (i.e. Chapter 2 of the Constitution) and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.”