How exposing corruption in present day Nigeria caused my kidnap – A true story, by FirstNEWS Editor

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Segun Olatunji, Editor FirstNews and ex-PUNCH Correspondent.

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By OUR REPORTER

Introduction

In a detailed interview published on Sunday 31st March 2024 by Naija Standard Newspaper titled “My LIFE in Danger for exposing Corruption, Nigeria President’s Chief of Staff, Femi Gbajabiamila ordered my Arrest, Torture by the military”, Segun OLATUNJI, FirstNEWS Editor, ex-PUNCH Correspondent, widely reported to have been recently kidnapped by gunmen although now released, has given a run down details of what actually happened.  By his accounts, he actually abducted by agents of state working for the current administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on order of his Chief of Staff trying hard to gag the press from fulfilling their constitutional responsibility to the nation and his people in the collectively agreed must-do fight against corruption at all levels regardless of who is involved.

Segun Olatunji, FirstNEWS Editor, and family.

According to the journalist in the pubnication, “If relocating Abroad for my safety is the only way to stay alive, I will pursue it vigorously, Agents of the State out to eliminate me”, adding that Nigeria doesn’t have a truly free press.

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Just before the full blown details, the Naija Standard Newspaper made salient points in its riders to the headline for easy grasp of the readers saying: *’I was abducted in my house, brutalized, dragged away in the presence of my crying wife, little children by 20 fully armed military men’, *’Thrown into the back of the military vehicle, blindfolded by hostile-looking armed men like a criminal’, *’I was thrown into an underground cell, disrobed naked, humiliated with my right hand, leg chained in Cell 6 while I groan in pain, my right hand and leg still numb’, *’On four different occasions, the military men changed their movements, re-routed their plans in a bid to release me on bail to the executives of Nigerian Guild of Editors, Nigerian Union of Journalists’, ‘My wife, children and I traumatized, dislocated, hiding in different places daily for fear of attack by the military’ AND ‘My Ulcer disease worsened inside the cell, denied my medication, Nigeria don’t have a truly free press’, plight of the FirstNews Editor was helped pushed to the public against impression that he was kidnapped as put together by GEORGE ELIJAH OTUMU, AMERICA Senior Investigative EDITOR, NAIJA STANDARD NEWSPAPER Inc USA.

About the Editor

HE’S FEARLESS, ready to dive into any terrain, no matter how hard it is to source for news, get exclusives, scoops; even at the dander to his health, life and safety-in a circumstance that most reporters would easily decline media coverage. Twice, he had earlier had a brush briefly with some agents of Department of Security Service, DSS, while reporting some explosive political and business stories. Eventually then, he was left off the hook.

But this time around, in daring to expose the corruption, maladministration and malfeasance in Nigeria’s seat of power as allegedly undertaken by Femi Gbajabiamila, the Chief of Staff to the President of Nigeria, SEGUN OLATUNJI, a soft-spoken Editor of FirstNEWS was pounced upon by 20 hostile-looking armed men in a gestapo operation reminiscent of ‘war’ and dark days of Nigeria under the then iron-clad military oppression of Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida and Sani Abacha, even in this ‘democratic dispensation’ in the 21st century.

The main interview

“At that point, I was rushed blindfolded by the DIA agents into a pickup van and placed in the middle of two of their officers at the back seat while another officer sat in the front seat of the vehicle, which drove roughly through the morning traffic.”

In this Exclusive Interview with GEORGE ELIJAH OTUMU/AMERICA Senior Investigative EDITOR, NAIJA STANDARD NEWSPAPER Inc USA, OLATUNJI , a former Kaduna Correspondent of The PUNCH Newspapers narrated his chilling abduction, torture, humiliation; slavery and horror in the hands of Nigeria military for simply doing his reportorial job of exposing corruption in the nation’s presidency. He confirmed that agents of the Nigeria State are out to eliminate him after his horrible 14 days in the oppressor’s’ dungeon:

NSN: As the Editor of FIRSTNews publication, did you receive any warrant from the Nigerian Police or Army prior to your arrest?
There was no prior warrant of arrest received from either the Nigeria Police or the Military, which carried out my abduction on March 15, 2024. Even at the point of my abduction on March 15th, no warrant of arrest was presented to me by the heavily armed men, who stormed my residence to abduct me. It was more or less a commando operation against a defenceless and armless journalist. The show of force by the armed men numbering over 20 was not only frightening but also embarrassing to me because innocent residents of my neighbourhood were scared stiff seeing such a large number of armed men. Many of the people had to scamper to safety in order not to be caught up in any possible incident of accidental discharge from the guns of the heavily armed men in the course of my arrest.

NSN: Have you ever had a face-off with any law enforcement agency in Nigeria?
Well, yes, twice with the Nigerian secret police organisation known as the Department of State Services (DSS) in 2011 in Kaduna prior to the post-election violence that followed the election of the then President Goodluck Jonathan and then in 2012 in Abeokuta, Ogun State. On both occasions, I was arrested, detained and questioned over some of my published stories government authorities didn’t like and declared offensive. But then on these two occasions, I was released shortly by the DSS after questioning.

NSN: What do you think may have led to your arrest by the Nigerian military?
Well, I was not interrogated until three days after my arrest and detention by the DIA in Abuja in an underground cell and with hand and leg cuffs, which were not loosened until the right part of my body was becoming numb. Up till now, I still feel the numbness on my right hand and leg. Anyway, the three stern-looking DIA Investigators, who grilled me accused me, firstly, of abusing the Agency’s Chief of Defence Intelligence, Maj Gen Emmanuel Undiandeye in a story published on the website of First News as personalising his office; whatever they meant by that, I don’t know.

But they later also questioned me about why we published a story about the Chief of Staff to the President of Nigeria, Rt Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, attempting to corner the sum of $US30billion and 66 landed property traced by President Tinubu’s Special Investigator, Jim Obazee, to one Tunde Sabiu Yusuf, a former aide to the immediate past President Muhammadu Buhari. The story published in January this year has the caption, “How Gbajabiamila attempted to corner $30bn, 66 property Special Investigator traced to Sabiu.” Interestingly, the DIA Investigators didn’t contest the veracity of the Gbajabiamila story, but were mainly concerned about my sources for that particular story.

They insisted I must disclose to them my sources at the Nigerian President’s office at Aso Rock Villa in Abuja for that particular story and even others First News had done on the happenings in the nation’s highest corridors of power. They told me they were sure I had “insiders” in the Nigerian Presidency who had been feeding First News with information. The DIA Investigators also accused me of terrorism. This accusation I don’t understand because i don’t understand how this fits in to the purview of their investigation of my published stories.

I believe they were just trying to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. However, before I was brought in for questioning, the DIA Investigators had already ransacked my two phones earlier seized from me since March 15th when the soldiers arrested me in my house in Lagos, in search of my sources for the Gbajabiamila story and others published by First News. It would interest you to know that my two cell phones seized from me on March 15th were not returned to me until that moment I was released from detention after 14 harrowing days! Earlier, they had forced me to give them the passwords to my cell phones, which enabled to have easy access to searching them throughout my two-week detention in the DIA cell.

NSN: Can you describe how you were arrested at home and how you felt being whisked away in front of your family?
It was an ugly situation, a Gestapo-like operation! On that Friday, March 15th, the well armed military men, comprising Army and Air-Force personnel as well some DIA and Strike Force operatives stormed my residence in Lagos a few minutes after 6pm. I had just finished watching the popular television programme, Journalists Hangout on TVC with my seven-year-old son. The military men had earlier arrested my wife and our 16-month-old baby as well another woman and her two young children who were found with them in her shop nearby, confiscated her two cell phones, bundled all of them into their van and forced them to lead the armed men to our residence. On their arrival in my house, the armed men burst into our living room and their leader immediately confiscated my two phones and announced, “We’re from the military. We’re here to arrest you!”

When I asked him to identify himself and produce a warrant for my arrest, he just insisted they had orders to effect my arrest and they had no time to waste. I then told them they should allow me to go into the bedroom to put on a shirt and trousers, as I was only in my boxer shots when they came in. Some of the armed soldiers then escorted me inside the bedroom where I quickly dressed up and followed them. By the time we got outside the house, I saw more armed men in about three or four military vehicles and on power bikes. The armed men then quickly shoved me inside a van in the middle of their convoy.

Inside the van, I was hemmed on both sides by two stern-looking armed men. Attempt by my wife to ascertain from my abductors where they were taking me was rebuffed by the stern-looking men and their boss, who I later identified as Col. Lawal. My wife and our two young children then started wailing as the armed men drove me away in their vehicles. At this point, I was overwhelmed by emotions seeing my wife and children crying and I too broke into tears inside of me. It was a harrowing experience for me and my family because my wife and children have now become traumatized by this incident. They had never seen such a large number of armed men in their lives, not to talk of the situation where these men actually came and suddenly took away their breadwinner to an unknown destination in such a Gestapo-like manner. Infact, I myself felt dejected seeing my wife and children crying and begging the armed men not to take me away.

NSN: Did the military men tell you where you were being taken to at that time?
None of the armed men who came to arrest me gave any hint about where I was being taken. They had no time for such niceties. They were stern and fierce-looking. At first, I had thought they were taking me to the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) in Apapa, Lagos, a military detention facility notorious for violation of human rights and killing of innocent citizens in the days of Military rule in Nigeria.

But when the convoy got to the Sam Ethan Base of the Nigerian Air-Force in Ikeja, they entered the facility and drove straight to the front of the office of the National Air Defence Corps beside the Base’s hangar, where I was handcuffed and held in the van for more three hours with some of the armed men taking turns to watch over me. That was when it dawned on me that I was about to be flown to Abuja.

NSN: So, what happened after then….
After then, the journey began and I was driven close to the hangar inside the Nigerian Air-Force Base in Ikeja, where I was handcuffed. By then, the day had got dark and shortly afterwards, a light military aircraft landed and one of the armed men suddenly removed my eye glasses and pulled a blindfold over my faced. They then immediately dragged me into the military aircraft, which then took off. I was still handcuffed and blindfolded inside the aircraft and throughout the over one hour fight to where I later learnt was Abuja, where my ordeal became intensified. I guess I was on that flight with only Col Lawal, who led the operation for my abduction and another soldier detailed to keep watch over me.

NSN: Can you narrate your ordeal in the hands of the military, especially chains tied to your right feet and hand?
Yes, immediately the plane landed in Abuja, we hurriedly disembarked and I was thrown into a military vehicle and now placed in the middle of about two armed soldiers and then the journey to their office began. I was still handcuffed and blindfolded! When we got to their office or barracks, I guess at about midnight or so, Col Lawal immediately handed me over to an officer on duty, who quickly stripped me of my trousers and put cuffs on my legs too. The officer then dragged me into a dark underground building, where I was thrown into a dark cell with the hand and leg cuffs still not loosened.

My cell, Cell 6, was immediately locked up with big padlocks. I was then left in the dark cell, groaning from the pains from the hand and leg cuffs. Shortly after, an officer came and even tightened the cuffs on my right hand and leg, causing me very severe pains. I was then left in the cell in that terrible, painful state for about three days. After the officer had left, I heard the other inmates discussing in low tones that for me to have been so chained, I must have been a hardened criminal or committed a heinous crime against the Nigerian Government. That threw great fear into me. Anyway, by the time my hand and leg cuffs were loosened three days after, the right part of my body was already becoming numb due to improper flowing of blood in that part of my body. Up till now, I still have the numbness on my right hand and leg despite having received some medical treatment upon my release from detention.

NSN: Were you at any time harassed by the inmates over there in the cell?
No. I was the only one in my own cell. I was never paired with anyone throughout my incarceration at the DIA.

NSN: Did any of the military men threaten you?
Yes. Of course, some of them did a couple of times. For instance, when I first told them I would not want to be fed in detention with beans because of my ulcer, they said then I would not be given any food anytime beans was to be served the inmates. Inmates, including myself, most of the time, were not allowed to complain or report any inconvenience.
The officers would often shun any inmate with complaints. After few days in detention, my ulcer problem got worse, but my persistent demand to be taken to see the doctor was rebuffed by the officers in charge.

NSN: What role did you think Femi Gbajabiamila, Chief of Staff to President Bola Tinubu played in your harrowing experience since his name was dropped by your military oppressors?
It was during my interrogation by the DIA Investigators that I learnt that the Nigerian President’s Chief of Staff, Gbajabiamila ordered my arrest and detention by the military over the story we did on him, which I mentioned earlier. So, he decided to use the military to take his own pound of flesh from me for having the audacity and daring to publish such a story on him.

NSN: Do you presently think your life is in danger in Nigeria after the ordeal?
Honestly, my life is no longer safe! I said this at a world press conference jointly addressed in Abuja by the International Press Institute (IPI), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) shortly after my release from detention by the DIA. My family too is not safe. Before I was released, some of the soldiers warned me that I should know they have all my information and know where I could be picked up again if I should say anything after my freedom. Since the day of my arrest, my wife and children left our residence out of fear that the soldiers may come back or anything untoward may happen to them. And their fear is genuine. Since my release from detention, I have avoided the house too.
I now live like a refugee. Currently, my family is scattered and dislocated as we all now live in separate places for fear of being harmed by those who sent the armed men to arrest me on March 15th. Moreso, given the warnings to me by the DIA Investigators before I was set free from detention, I no longer feel secure as a citizen of the Nigerian state. I now frequently look behind my shoulders whenever I’m on the streets for fear of being abducted again by these armed men or their agents.

NSN: For your safety, are you considering leaving Nigeria to seek Asylum Overseas (e.g. United States, United Kingdom or Canada) since the developed nations make adequate provisions for asylum to be offered to members of the press who are being persecuted?
In my case now, safety of my life is key. Of course, I’ve been advised by many of my colleagues, who fear for my safety, to immediately begin to consider my security as top priority, if I cherish my life. Ordinarily, I would prefer to stay back home in Nigeria because there’s no place like home. But with the threats by these state armed agents, right now, I’m thinking seriously of the best way to secure my life and leaving Nigeria to seek asylum in a foreign country cannot be ruled out.

My life is the most important to me and my family and I have to be alive to cater to their needs. But my precarious situation now caused by my illegal arrest from my home on March 15th by some heavily armed men and the horrendous experience of my two-week detention in an underground military dungeon have seriously shaken my confidence in the Nigerian security system to guarantee the safety of my life. As I said earlier, I have to be alive to serve my society as a journalist and also take care of my family. And so, I have to take every necessary security measure to guarantee my continued existence.
If seeking asylum outside Nigeria is the utmost or best option, I have no other choice than to go for that option, at least, to remain alive. Legendary Bob Marley says in one of his songs that he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day. There are still many life’s battles ahead of me and so I must take every necessary measure to secure my life at all times until God says I’ve done enough on this side.

NSN: The military men when handing you over to the representative of Nigeria Guild of Editors and the Nigerian Union of Journalists extract assurances from them that you will be made available whenever you are invited by them. Do you now live in fear or anxiety?
Just as I said earlier, my life is not safe anymore. I’ve become an endangered species due to my recent ordeal in the hands of the military and their civilian/political masters, who, it’s now very clear from my recent detention experience, can order them to do and undo using even scarce state resources and machinery. My heart is no longer settled. I’m now being haunted by the fear of being abducted again and detained or even eliminated outright by these armed state agents.

The manner the DIA released me to the representatives of the journalists’ associations has even created more fears in my heart. I was released to them like kidnappers would release their victim to their family members who have brought them ransom in exchange for the victim. I was released to the associations’ representatives not in the DIA office or facility. No. On Thursday, March 28, 2024, the DIA had earlier agreed to release me to my friend and brother, Yomi Odunuga, who is a senior journalist, around the ECOWAS Secretariat in Abuja. Yomi got to the agreed venue early in company with the Secretary General of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Dr Iyorbosa Uwughiaren to await the arrival of the DIA agents, who were bringing me to them for my release. He called to inform them he was already at the agreed venue. At that point, I was rushed blindfolded by the DIA agents into a pickup van and placed in the middle of two of their officers at the back seat while another officer sat in the front seat of the vehicle, which drove roughly through the morning traffic.

After driving for a while, the DIA officers called Yomi and asked him to leave the ECOWAS Secretariat area and now drive towards the DSS Abuja office, where he’ll find us. As he was doing that, the DIA officers called him again and asked him to change course and to now drive towards a particular road, where he would now see the van they were conveying me in.
A few minutes after, they called him again to change his movement towards a particular bridge. At this point, I was gripped with a fresh fear due to the manner they kept changing the spot where they would release me. Eventually, the van stopped and parked under a bridge along the lonely road. Shortly, Yomi’s car was ordered by the DIA officers to park behind their own van. It was at this point the DIA officers quickly pulled off the blindfold on my face to prevent those who had come to secure my release from seeing this. They, however, eventually released me to Yomi and the NGE Secretary General after they had signed my bail bond. This is still unnerving to me! Each time I recall this particular incident, I’m gripped with serious fears about these armed state agents. They can do and undo, especially with anyone in their custody.

NSN: How has this unwholesome experience affected your family members?
My family members have since been living in fear. As I said earlier, we all no longer live together in one place or in our home since the incident of March 15th and my detention saga. Now, my family is dislocated.

NSN: Do you think Nigeria is receptive to good journalism devoid of fear and oppression from the military or people in the corridor of power?
Journalism in Nigeria is still being practiced with the fear of the oppressors such as the military and their civilian counterparts, who are top politicians in government, at the back of the minds of the practitioners. A truly free press is still a mirage in Nigeria. Given the example of my own recent experience, it’s clear that my country still has a long way to go regarding freedom of the press. May God help my country Nigeria.

SOURCE: NAIJA STANDARD NEWSPAPER
(31/3/2024) with short introduction by The DEFENDER


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