On Friday, August 25, 2023, at about 5.30 pm, two men who introduced themselves as officers of the Nigerian Police, Enugu State Command, accosted me at Umabor, Eha Alumona Nsukka, in what I saw as a broad daylight kidnap attempt.
We were at Umabor for the burial of the father-in-law of my younger brother, and I had gone out to make a phone call when one of these people walked up to me and started a casual conversation, but soon said he had an order to bring me to Enugu.
I initially thought he was joking, and asked him who he was and why I should follow a total stranger to Enugu. That was when he said he was a police officer, and that somebody had written a petition against me. My inquiry as regards who wrote the petition and what the issue was about did not yield anything, as he was soon joined by another roughly dressed man who also claimed he was a policeman. When I asked them for identification, they refused and instead, tried to herd me to their vehicle, an ash-coloured Toyota Sienna minivan.
I was to later learn from friends who knew them that there were five of them in all at the venue: while two were engaging me, the others milled in the crowd ready to take action, should there be any skirmish that might result in the use of firearms.
Afraid for my life, I extricated myself from their company and went straight to inform my younger brother and a few friends who were with us for the funeral ceremony. Crowds soon began to gather, as more people demanded that they properly identify themselves, to which they refused. I immediately knew I was in danger and, with the help of my friends, I left the place and went into hiding.
My immediate suspicion, and that of many people who are aware of this incident, was that the powers that be in Enugu State may be behind the attempt to compromise my safety and freedom. I felt this way because, on August 3, 2023, the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Enugu State on New Media, Reuben Onyishi, was bragging in a WhatsApp Group that goes by the name, Nsk LGA Political Class, that I and another man, Aniebo Nwamu, would soon be arrested and clamped in detention for what he said was “cybercrime.” I have a screenshot of the comment in question.
It is curious that a government appointee such as Reuben is sharing intelligence with the Nigerian police to the extent that, assuming I was a criminal, which I am not and have never been, he knows the people who are on the police “wanted list” and takes the liberties to brag before his friends about who is being arrested and who isn’t. This has brought the Nigerian police force to a new low and presents them as serving the interest of the few in government while those who have good reasons to not support the government are left at their mercy. This is assuming that I did anything to warrant such a Gestapo method of arrest.
What have I done to even be on the Police wanted list, or any other wanted list for that matter? As an indigene of Enugu State, I have been vocal in pressing for good governance and genuine democracy, particularly in my state.
During the last governorship election, I played an active role in working towards the emergence of Hon. Chijioke Jonathan Edeoga as the governor of Enugu State. Although the Independent National Electoral Commission declared Peter Ndubuisi Mbah of the Peoples Democratic Party as the winner of the election, I remained committed to the struggle to ensure that the real winner of that election emerges.
In doing this, I have had confrontations with a number of PDP supporters in the media; particularly this same Reuben Onyishi whom I mentioned earlier, who, through the stories that he regularly publishes on WhatsApp and other online media platforms, has called me of all manner of unprintable names and accused me of worse, including saying that I was a homosexual and has illicit sodomy with Hon. Chijioke Edeoga.
Since the swearing-in of Peter Mbah as the governor of Enugu State on May 29, 2023, there has been a disconcerting criminalization of free speech and opposition politics. The media have been under severe and dangerous attack from security agencies working on the orders of the state government. It has got so bad that press men in Enugu live in fear, as they are routinely hunted down and clamped into detention under very flimsy excuses.
Some weeks ago, one journalist, Michael Ilediagu, publisher of News Centre, an online newspaper, was arrested, according to police, for cyber terrorism, and detained in one of the police stations in the state capital.
It took the intervention of the President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Comrade Chris Isiguzo to free him from the vice grip of his persecutors. Information had it that the police claimed they had an “order from above” (just like the men who came for me told me) to send him to prison for publishing a story about the upheaval that followed the ban on “sit-at-home” in the state by the government. Although he hurriedly removed the “offending post” from his portal after getting wind of his impending arrest, Ilediagu was still arrested and scheduled for a summary arraignment before a magistrate.
But for Comrade Isiguzo’s intervention, the police were said to have prepared his charge sheet and were about to arraign him at a magistrate court, from where a remand order was going to be obtained. The Enugu State Police Command, it has been reported, uses the magistrate courts to routinely clamp opposition voices into detention. Aware that the magistrate courts would decline jurisdiction, the police authorities would intentionally arraign those that they targeted before the courts and have them remanded in custody pending whenever an order for their release would come from the High Courts.
Many other journalists and perceived opposition voices have been targeted for these incessant arrests and detention, in what constitutes the most sustained and desperate attack on free speech and public commentary in the history of Enugu State by a new government. In the month of July, Ifeanyi Ogenyi, a lawyer and Labour Party supporter was arrested and detained for alleged “cyberstalking.” He was later released. In the same way, a councilor from Eha Amufu, Hon. Maxwell Aluagbo, was similarly arrested and detained on the allegation of diverting palliative funds. But he was quickly arraigned on a charge of advance fee fraud and committed to prison by yet another magistrate court and was left in jail for weeks.
It was against the backdrop of these growing assaults on people’s freedom of expression and public commentary that the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) issued a strongly worded statement, condemning what it described as “the continuous harassment and attacks on journalists in Enugu State.
In the statement, signed by its Deputy Executive Director, Ayode Longe, MRA also called on President Bola Tinubu and the Inspector-General of Police, Olukayode Egbetokun, to order an investigation into abuse of power by police authorities in Enugu State at the behest of the Governor’s Office for the purpose of harassing and intimidating journalists, with the objective of preventing them from performing their constitutional functions.
MRA ended the statement on a note of caution, stating; “If the situation persists, we will be compelled to activate all constitutional means and international mechanisms available to us to challenge this ongoing illegality which constitutes a clear abuse of office and abuse of power.”
Given what nearly happened to me, the attempt to arrest me on obviously trumped-up charges, and perhaps other potentially sinister clandestine reasons, it does not appear as if either the state government or the police authorities in the state have heeded this call.
As a journalist and believer in the inalienable rights of the individual to liberty and free speech, I feel compelled to cry out against these attacks and, more importantly, the latest one which had the semblance of a kidnap attempt. For people who claimed that they were policemen to refuse to identify themselves while executing what they claimed was a lawful arrest, this cannot be anything but a kidnap attempt.
I have never in all my life, had a run-in with the law. This is because I have intentionally conducted myself in ways that make that absolutely unnecessary. My career in journalism has been stainless, excellent, and development-oriented. I have never had any police record anywhere in Nigeria. It was therefore shocking that people who claimed they were policemen could discreetly trail me to where a burial had just taken place to execute a purported arrest order, in pursuit of a petition allegedly written against me. Only people fleeing from the law for committing capital crimes are trailed and arrested this way.
It was not as if any official invitation had been extended to me and I failed to respond. So, what was the point of trying to whisk me away in such a secret manner, if not for purposes that could possibly be sinister?
I want the world to know that my life is in danger. I want the world and Nigerian authorities to know that there are plans being hatched against me by certain people in Enugu State. I do not feel safe anymore. That is why I am crying out to Nigerians to know of the dangers that I face as a practicing journalist and as a law-abiding citizen, a bonafide Nigerian. I have not committed any crime, except practicing my profession and telling the truth.
I should be allowed to enjoy freedom as provided by the law, as a person living in a civilized country, and more importantly, as an indigene of Enugu State.
When the opportunity to salvage the social, moral, and economic decay in Nigeria came with the emergence of Peter Obi as the leader of a new revolution from the conscience, I joined millions of Nigerians who demanded a new order. I was already openly campaigning for the Peter Obi presidency when Chijioke Edeoga was chosen as the Gubernatorial candidate of the Labour Party in Enugu State. Being one who wants the best for my people, I volunteered to support his election and spent months in Enugu mobilizing the grassroots and convincing the people of the overriding importance of putting a fresh and honest face at the helm of affairs in my dear state.
I am not a registered member of the Labour Party, but I got involved because I thought I should work to save my people from bad governance, by working to elect a person who truly desires to work for the people. Hundreds of thousands of Enugu people were involved in this journey as I was, and together, we worked to ensure that the Chijioke Edeoga triumphed in that election. We believe that Chijioke Edeoga won the election as Governor of Enugu State. We believe that the election tribunal would do the right thing by the people and before God. We believe the people’s mandate will be restored.
As you all know, the matter is before the Enugu State Governorship Elections Petitions Tribunal, and Nigerians are waiting for what is expected to be a redefining moment for the elections and justice.
However, it seems that those who have muscled their way to power in Enugu are out to muzzle the press and free speech, long before the Nigerian judiciary delivers judgment on the various election petitions before them. Journalists practicing in Enugu are scared for their lives and the freedom to practice their trade. It has become an unwritten rule that you must have to be a government apologist or you won’t be allowed to practice your trade in Enugu.
I did not understand why the atmosphere in Enugu had been pervaded with rising consternation until that moment when those stern-looking men came for my arrest. Between Nsukka and Enugu, anything could have happened to me. At a period when kidnapping happens routinely along the Nsukka-Opi-Ugwuogo-Enugu Road, I could possibly have been summarily executed along that stretch of increasingly dangerous road and the blame would be placed on the ubiquitous, yet intractable “UNKNOWN GUNMEN” and life would just go on.
This is why I am raising this alarm. I have not done anything wrong except choosing Chijioke Edeoga and the Labour Party over Peter Mbah and the PDP. This is my choice, and I never made any pretension or secret about it. When I decided to campaign for the Labour Party, I made a public post plainly stating the reasons why I made the choice.
Those who supported and still support the PDP are within their rights to do so. I expect the same rights to be extended to supporters of other parties in the state. Assuming that those who came to pick me up were policemen, it is also my considered view that the Nigerian Police should eschew all forms of partisanship and extend the same protection and privileges to all citizens irrespective of position or affiliation in society.
It is also important for the media across the country to begin to resist the worrisomely flagrant abuse of the rights to freedom of speech and expression in Enugu State because if it is allowed to fester, many of us plying the trade in other supposedly “safe” parts of the country might in future find ourselves in similar or even worse circumstances. Freedom for one is freedom for all. And as Martin Niemöllar said:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Thank you very much
CEO, BRANDish Media