One of the two journalists allegedly harassed by operatives of the Department of State Service in Osun State is Toba Adedeji. Adedeji, who writes for Osun Defender, recounts his ordeal in this interview with Femi Makinde
Where were you when you and your colleague were allegedly assaulted by the DSS operatives?
Timothy Agbor and I were part of the procession of Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees seeking local government autonomy. We were there to cover the members’ activities and I joined the procession at Ola Iya area while my colleague started with them at Ayetoro area of Osogbo where they took off. The organisers planned to terminate the procession at the House of Assembly where they would address the lawmakers.
We were in front of the crowd taking pictures with our phones and trouble started when we got to somewhere opposite Federal High Court. A lady wearing a black T-shirt and black trousers accosted Timothy and demanded to know him. He (Timothy) told her that he is a journalist and the lady asked him to identify himself. We also demanded to know who she was before we would show her our identity cards.
Didn’t you have your identity cards with you or why didn’t you show it to her?
First, we wanted to know who she was before we would disclose our identities. We didn’t know her and she didn’t introduce herself to us. Aside, we told her that we are journalists, I think that should suffice but she wanted to know everything about us without disclosing her own identity. The lady said, ‘shut up and show me your ID card.’ So, Timothy insisted that he would not show his identity card unless he knew who was asking for it. Timothy and I also said, ‘Where is your own ID card?’ She said she would slap him ( Timothy) if he asked her that question again. We were shocked by her response and I am sure that Timothy had thought she was joking and he smiled. While we were about leaving the spot, the female DSS operative beckoned to her male colleague standing on the tailboard of a van and that one was coming towards us when she landed a hot slap on Timothy’s face. I was shocked by her violent behaviour and she made another attempt to slap him again but Timothy blocked it and slapped her back in the process. But her male colleague, who was armed with a gun rushed at us and grabbed me but he left me when he saw that Timothy was struggling with the lady. He joined her and started hitting and kicking Timothy. I started shouting that we are journalists and we shouldn’t be assaulted because we were carrying out our lawful duties. But they didn’t listen.
Some of the NULGE officials tried to rescue Timothy but the man held him tight and dragged him along while threatening to shoot him if he resisted.
Were you also beaten?
I was not beaten because I ran from the spot. The lady wanted to grab me and I knew her other colleagues would also batter me if they caught me there. So I went and told a police officer on mufti. The police officer went close to the spot where the DSS guys were beating Timothy and he came back shortly after and I was surprised. I asked him why he didn’t rescue my colleague and he told me that the female DSS operative also slapped him. But I was surprised that the police officer I had relied upon to rescue my colleague couldn’t do anything.
Having realised that we were helpless at that point, I brought out my phone to get some photographs of the assault. I was able to get some though in fear because the armed DSS guy and his female colleague were threatening to shoot me if I took the pictures and I started running backwards and recording the scene at the same time. The NULGE members were able to rescue Timothy from the two of them. Although we felt embarrassed, we decided to continue with the workers and we had to forget about the assault.
Why didn’t you report the assault to the NUJ?
One man came from the crowd and placed a call across to somebody, who he asked to speak with Timothy. Timothy found out that the person on the other side of the telephone is Mr. Abiodun Olalere, the chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists in Osun State. Timothy told him that he is Timothy Agbor and the NUJ chairman asked what happened. The man, who we later knew was one of the DSS operatives, took away the phone. But we could not do anything because he used his phone and he has the right to end the call.
Did she pick you and your colleague out maybe because of the way you dressed?
That is not correct. I think she was just being overzealous. I wore a pair of trousers, shoes, a shirt and put on my jacket. My colleague, Timothy dressed the same way. We are not hoodlums and our dressing was far better than the way the DSS guys dressed. You can find out from the NULGE officials, who were present. Timothy and I cover court proceedings most time and I think that is probably why we dress in suits most times.
If any of them said we didn’t dress well, the person is a liar. Whoever said that is a liar. I heard that that was what the DSS boss later said. That cannot be true because we dressed better than the overzealous guy, who battered us. In fact, the lady appeared dirty.
Is it true that you were attacked again after the first attack along the road?
Yes, they attacked us on the premises of the House of Assembly. We thought the assault was over but they came again. This time, the man who placed a call across to the NUJ chairman to identify us just came from behind and gave me a vicious kick. I fell inside the gutter but he didn’t stop at that. He still gave me kicks right there inside the gutter. I thank God that the gutter was dry.
What do you think was responsible for the second attack?
They knew that I took photographs of the scene of the first assault and they were not comfortable with that. They wanted to collect the phone with which we took the photos and destroy the evidence. So, the third DSS guy attacked me because he knew I was the one who took the pictures. They forcefully collected my phone and the screen suffered cracks, although slightly. They took my phone away and later dropped it. I came out of the gutter and the armed DSS man threatened to shoot me. I initially wanted to dare him because I became angry after the attack but I thank God that I fled because he cocked the gun and I knew anything could happen at that point.
The other DSS guys also went after Timothy. This time, they struggled to seize his phone; they thought I used Timothy’s phone to take the photos. They made sure that they broke Timothy’s phone before they released it. They dropped his phone when they were satisfied that the phone had been damaged.
I gave Timothy my small phone and he called the Secretary of the Correspondents Chapel, Mr. Niyi Ajibola, when the NUJ chairman did not come or call back to know what was happening to us.
The protesting workers could no longer stomach the assault on us and some of them started pelting the DSS guys with pure water sachets, stones and other things and they ran away and took cover at the security post at the gate of the House of Assembly. They also made calls to their office and four more armed DSS operatives came but by that time, the Secretary of the Correspondents Chapel as well as the Chairman, Mr. Hameed Oyegbade, had come. There was a heated argument between the secretary and some of the DSS guys but the argument ended there.
Did you suffer any injury?
No physical injury but I couldn’t walk properly that same night when I got home. I still feel pains on my legs till now but the pain is not enough to stop me from going out.
Did DSS send monetary compensation to you for the repair of your phone?
No. I was not given any money, although the screen of my smartphone was broken. I was not given any money at all and nobody can say that he compensated me. My phone was also not repaired by anybody. I will repair it by myself when I have enough money to do so.
Are you considering filing a suit against the DSS for the alleged assault?
I would have loved to but they said the issue had been resolved. Some of my colleagues said the NUJ had intervened and that the case had been settled amicably but I was not part of the meeting they held with officials of DSS.
However, I will like the DSS to organise training for its operatives on how to relate with journalists as well as other members of the society. They gather information just like journalists do and I don’t think there should be friction but some of them always act beyond their briefs. I believe those of them who cannot relate well in a decent society should be shown the way out because they will keep tarnishing the image of the organisation.
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