Friday, 29 March 2024 04:48

Top military chiefs abducted, detained senior journalist for 14 days. Here’s the heart wrenching account of what the editor went through

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FirstNews editor Segun Olatunji, who regained his freedom on Thursday after 14 days in military detention, has recounted his ordeals in the hands of his abductors.

Olatunji was abducted from his Lagos home on 15 March by the military, taken to Abuja and held incommunicado until his release.

While in detention, the journalists’ unions and his organisation relentlessly demanded his freedom.

His colleagues at FirstNews also went spiritual in the quest to get him released.

Shortly after his release, Olatunji gave a vivid account of his ordeals at a joint presser organised by the International Press Institute (IPI), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Abuja.

He said at dusk of Friday, 15 March, he and his seven-year-old son were watching a popular television programme on TVC, ‘Journalists Hangout,’ at home when armed military personnel broke into his living room in a Gestapo way.

He said the men were accompanied by his wife, whom they had taken from her shop and forced to take them to his home.

He said he was immediately arrested and whisked away to an air force base, also in Lagos.

“On March 15, I was at my house in Lagos, watching ‘Journalists’ Hangout’ with my seven-year-old son, when suddenly, soldiers burst into the sitting room.

“I saw my wife and one-year-old son amongst them, crying. I asked what happened, and she said they arrested her from her shop and asked her to take them to where I was,” Olatunji described how the soldiers used his wife as bait to arrest.

He would later learn while being incarcerated by the military that intelligence officers had lodged at a hotel near Olatunji’s wife’s shop days before the arrest.

Giving further insights into the event of 15 March, Olatunji said he identified a top military officer amongst the menacing soldiers simply called Colonel Lawal, whom he sought to know why he was being arrested.

“I asked an officer, whom I identified as Colonel Lawal if I could know why they were looking for me, and he said no, that they were from the military and they were there to arrest me.

“Immediately, he seized my phones as he had earlier seized my wife’s phones. I said okay, let me go in and dress up since I was only in my boxer shorts; some of them (soldiers) even followed me to my room as I took my shirt and trousers.”

The embattled journalist said he stepped out of his house into a waiting crowd of armed military personnel comprising the army, Air Force and Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA).

“They handcuffed me and put me into the vehicle. At first, I thought they were taking me to the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) in Apapa (Lagos), but then we made a detour to the Air Force Base and straight to the office of the National Air Defense Corps (NADC) where we waited for about three hours. I didn’t know we were waiting for a military aircraft to come pick me up.

Journey to Abuja, cuffed and blindfolded

“After a while, when the aircraft came, someone came to me and asked me to hand over my glasses and then put a blindfold on me.

“They moved me into the aircraft, and we took off; when we landed, they took all my clothes. I was left with my boxer shorts. They also put leg cuffs on me in addition to the handcuffs and put me in a cell,” Olatunji narrated his perilous journey from Lagos to Abuja.

The pain of torture

Upon arrival in Abuja, the journalist was driven from the airport to a detention facility.

“At a point, one of the officers came and tightened the cuffs on my right hand and leg. I was there groaning in pain, and it was that way for three days. When they released it all, the right side of my body felt numb. As I’m talking to you, I can still feel the numbness in my right hand and leg,” Olatunji said as he tried clutching a microphone he was using to address journalists.

The next day, the journalist was presented at a military clinic where a doctor examined him, and his urine and blood samples were taken.

Allegations

Days after he was thrown into the dungeon, Olatunji was called into the interrogation room.

“They were asking me about certain stories that FirstNews had carried. One of them told me that I was one of those abusing the chief of defence intelligence. I said how? He said we did a story, and I replied that it was a general story. They didn’t say much on that.

“He also asked me about a story we carried about the chief of staff to the president, I think that was the major thing,” Olatunji said, attributing his ordeal “people in the corridors of power who are not happy with what FirstNews is doing and they are bent on taking their own pound of flesh.”

The military authorities equally accused Olatunji of terrorism.

Freedom at last

But talks about Olatunji’s release only began after a thorough search on his phone to ascertain the sources of his outlet’s stories and obtaining a statement from him.

“On Tuesday, they asked me to write a statement, they went through my phone and checked my source, then they left me in the cell till last night (Wednesday) when they asked me to call someone in Abuja who can guarantee my release. So, I called Mr Yomi Odunuga, a good friend and brother who brought me into journalism some 27 years ago when I joined ‘The Punch.'”

After that, the military authorities phoned Odunuga, a deputy editor at the Nations Newspaper, directing him to somewhere around the ECOWAS secretariat in the Asokoro area of Abuja.

Odunuga was accompanied by Iyobosa Uwugiaren, the general secretary of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), to secure Olatunji’s release from the military on Thursday.

“After lots of back and forth, they eventually took me somewhere under the bridge in Abuja here, where he was also asked to come, and he came. I was happy when he came. They asked him to sign some files, and when he did, they released me to him.”

‘My life no longer safe’

After his release, Olatunji expressed concerns about his safety.

The journalist said he had been trailed for weeks before his eventual abduction by the Military.

“I would like to say something. Given the series of events, I want to say that my life is not safe because they have everything about me, they know my house.

“I was even made to understand that they would have arrested me in my hometown on 8 March, I was there for an ICT programme by Olamilekun Adeola Yayi, my senator. One of them told me how they had been trailing me and watching me for about two or three weeks. They even lodged in a hotel close to my wife’s shop, and it was from there they arrested her and my one-year-old son,” he said.

Olatunji said the military’s baseless allegation of terrorism against him further fuelled his worry about his family’s safety.

He, however, expressed gratitude to individuals and organisations who relentlessly demanded for his release from the Gulag

“I want to thank everybody once again. I’m very grateful for being steadfast in asking for my release. God will bless you all, thank you.”

Journalists must unite to fight oppression

While speaking at the presser on Thursday, the Editor-in-Chief of PREMIUM TIMES and President IPI, Musikilu Mojeed, urged journalists to unite and be each other’s keepers.

He praised Nigerian journalists for standing up and demanding Olatunji’s release from the military.

Mojeed emphasised that journalism remains an essential component of every democratic society.

Earlier, Uwugiaren, while reading a press statement at the event, said the military’s initial denial of Olatunji’s abduction portends danger for the country’s democracy.

“The DIA’s action is a direct attack on press freedom. Without freedom of the press, our democracy is endangered.”

Uwugiaren said Olatunji’s release by the military was not the end of the matter.

“The Nigerian media community shall consult further in the next few days on the actions to take against the Chief of Defence Staff (Christopher Musa), the Chief Defence Intelligence (Emmanuel Undiandeye), and the military regarding this matter.”

He said Nigerians and the international community were horrified by the “lawlessness and fear-provoking” action of the Director of the Intelligence Agency.

 

PT

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