When death stares you in the face, they say, at that moment you have a fleeting but panoramic view of how you spent your life till that moment. I never believed such theory until I saw what the powerful sentence meant.
On Saturday, March 9, 2019, a day I will never forget for I had an ordeal that nearly took my life. In the heat of the ordeal I’d thought that would be all for me. I started contemplating being with the angels in an environment suffused with bliss. My blood thinned with fear, and within a twinkling of an eye I thought the end had come to my mortal existence. Numb with fear, my mind started entertaining loony notions; I thought I would soon be turned into organic manure feeding trees, the earth, and grasses.
We Set Forth At Dawn
On a lovely election morning, I and my colleague, Adeyera Damilola, left our hotel (Moakland Hotel) in Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State where we lodged a day before the election, to cover and report situations at various polling units in the state.
We started our coverage from Abeokuta South, where we interviewed domestic observers, and residents concerning their expectations at their polling units.
It was around 9:45 am, the Governor of Ogun State left his White house located at GRA, Ibara. We didn't know where he was going, but we knew he would head to vote somewhere. We searched online for his Polling Unit and we saw ‘Obafemi-Owode, where he voted at the 2015 Presidential election. However, we decided to cover other polling units first knowing full well that the Governor would not likely be one of the early voters.
While covering and reporting other polling units, the convoy of 8-Vehicles of Governor Ibinkunle Amosun passed by, at 10:00 am. He was driving a Range Rover. This debunked rumour circulating online that Governor Ibinkunle Amosu was under house arrest. There and then, we decided to follow the Governor.
While following him at a discreet distance, he got to his Polling Unit, ‘Itagbangba', at exactly 10:10 am with a convoy of 4 vehicles. He personally drove a Black Land Cruiser and held a Walkie-Talkie. He walked leisurely up and down the polling unit as if on inspection and afterward, he addressed the press.
We quickly rounded off our coverage, reports and interviews. We continued to keep tabs on the movement of the Governor from a safe and even reverential distance. We ensured that we were not too close to the last vehicle—a bullion van—in the Governor’s convoy. Mind you, we didn’t leave anything to chance; we were fully kitted with INEC’s official ‘obtrusive’ lemon jacket, a white cap, and an accredited tag.
We noticed that the governor was not heading to his polling unit directly, so we got more interested in where he was headed, apparently, he was strutting the whole capital city, perhaps to show to his political opponents that he was the real man in charge. And we wanted to report this.
Impunity Bared Its Fang
At 10:39am, one of the Convoy, a blue Toyota Hilux laid an ambush for us at Totoro. And like naïve and unwary insects we got entangled in that web of trap laid for us. Before we could say Jack Robinson we were challenged by three hooded fully-armed police officers and a man wearing mufti, which we later got to know as THUNDER. They asked us to identify ourselves.
We humbly responded to this challenge and presented our media tags accredited by INEC. This made them so sad and disappointed; they had thought we would fail that very first test: The test of identification. However, realizing that we were genuine journalists did not deter them from executing their evil plot; it only forced them to change the method of execution. Perhaps they had initially thought of shooting us on that very spot but showing them proof of being professional journalists called for a more decent manner of execution. So, they hauled us into their vehicle and drove off . My mind—initially—could not process what had just happened. It took some moments for me to understand what was happening. We had been kidnapped by Governor Amosun’s “kill and go” thugs!
Once in the vehicle they threw decency and decorum into the wind. A voice pelted us with a pointed but vague statement: “We noticed you guys two weeks ago, and thank God we caught you now", the voice belonged to Leye,one of the governor’s photographers. And as if on a cue Leye’s statement was followed by a flurry of vicious slaps, pernicious punches, and callous kicks on various parts of our bodies by Thunder and the hooded Police Security. Leye, Amosun's field photographer snapped our pictures and promised to assist Thunder in killing us quickly.
Thunder, living up to his name, bellowed and barked his questions at us.
On our way to the Governor’s polling unit,Thunder bellowed:
“Who sent you?”
“Where do you work?”
“Why did you decide to report Ogun state?”
“Why do you want to kill the Governor?”.
We were expected to answer all the questions without hesitation. Each answer offered-- the plausibility or otherwise notwithstanding—attracted a couple of slaps, .
We finally got to ‘Itagbangba', Gov. Amosu's polling unit. We were keenly watched over like bags of money and transferred to the Attack Van, a black Toyota Hilux vehicle, where intense interrogation continued.
The attack van and other vehicles awaited the Governor outside the Polling unit and immediately he finished voting, the convoy took off, but not after he had shared close to 10 wads of crisp 500 Naira notes to thugs and other people around.
The sharing of money continued as he was driving around the whole state; doling out and throwing money to people, the same brazen manner he threw his weight around.
He drove off with some of his security details. However, no sooner had he left than he called the other group of thugs and security details holding us hostage.
[Radio In, Amosu's Voice: “Attack Van! Attack Van, go to Sapon Bridge , close to where they sell ram, they are currently fighting over the money we gave them".
Response: “We are en route sir".]
[Interrogation continued by Thunder: “Why do you want to bomb Ogun state?”]
The Mufti security man then cleaned my colleague’s bloodied mouth with tissue paper and said: “ You will be wasted in a second today, I promise you, you'll be sacrificed for his excellency’s triumph, I will kill you like a chicken and no one will know your whereabouts or find your dead body".
At this stage, things got worse and I had thought that I was going to die.
Thunder: Your last chance, Who sent you?, he removed his shades. His eyes were glowering; his lips quivering with intense anger
In my mind, I asked myself: is this how I die?. I have witnessed automobile accident. I have heard of boat mishap and plane crash but to be struck by the fury of thunder and dispatched to the other world in a blaze of leaden colour would be strange; stranger than fiction
At that very moment I became paralyzed with the weight of anticipated death.
My mind became a home to terrible contemplation:
How would thunder end my mortal existence, suddenly or piecemeal?
“Will it be a shot to my head or a lethal substance injected into my bloodstream?”, I continued to wonder.
My colleague began to say his last prayer. He called on “the blood of Jesus" non-stop. He was frantic and restless. He must have been hallucinating because he reacted as if he was jolted from a terrible reverie back to life, frequently. I was not faring anyway better. I thought the train of my life was at its terminus.
Our Saving Grace
[Radio In, Amosu calls: Thunder! Thunder! Go to Ake round about , there are two important polling units there, APC are planning to steal and hijack ballot boxes there, I know them, they are very clever, I don't need anyone at home you guys should split, especially this time that voting is ending, goodbye].
That was a slight saving grace for us as Thunder obeyed the clarion call and headed straight to the described tense area.
We were left in the vehicle and the car key was right there, staring at us. A thousand thoughts came to my head of driving the vehicle off, but I don't really know the map of Abeokuta. I came back to my senses and realized that if I took this action, my death will come quickly. So I woke up from imaginations.
We looked so tired and I can assure you that we only got a half life each while the remaining half had been beaten to stupor. Quickly, I remembered that I am a Serving NYSC Corp member in Nigeria, so I brought out my NYSC ID card and showed the security guys standing outside that we are currently serving NYSC members. This approach gave us a 50/50 negotiation of our lives, as the ADC gave us audience.
Being a reporter or a journalist, sometimes it is good to go the manual way . What saved us after the NYSC approach was that we wrote all the Polling Units we'd covered before we got caught up in the vortex of violence unleashed by Amosun’s hired thugs. We had also interviewed the Ogun state Commissioner of Works, and Former Ogun state Governor, Osoba; again, we presented all these as proof of the legitimacy of our business.
The time was 4:00pm and we were still waiting for a certain man that went on an errand for Governor Ibinkunle Amosu, to distribute money to their party leaders, and immediately he arrived, we left the spot.
Resuming the journey, we realized that the vehicle we were held hostage in and one Toyota Hiace where the ADC was sitting in the front , was heading to the Governor Amosu's white house . On getting to his house, the ADC came to us and asked us some questions before the decision whether to be killed or released would be made.
“Why do you want to Kill the Governor?”, he said.
“We are NYSC Corp members and we work for a media house to cover the Ogun state governorship elections,” we replied.
“So why didn’t you stay in Lagos and cover your Lagos?,” he continued
“We were deployed to Ogun state by our Organization”, I replied.
We both made sure that we didn't mention that we work for Sahara Reporters as this might speed up our execution.
So apparently, I was doing the talking and response, while my colleague was getting most of the beating, in fact he got his balls squeezed by Thunder.
“Okay show me your Identities,” the ADC requested.
At this point we gave him all our IDs, accredited media tags, and showed him the video recording of the interviews we had been making since morning, though our phones were with them.
They went into the palatial white house and came out at exactly 5:30 pm, we checked time from the vehicle and we noted every time at all point intervals. Thunder wasn't satisfied with the decision by the ADC to release us and pleaded with the ADC to keep us till tomorrow or till after election results have been known. So he continued beating us and finally agreed to let us go, only when the ADC intervened again. They left us with souvenir of excruciating pain and aches.
The ADC took the Blue Toyota Hilux Van and dropped us at exactly 5:45pm close to the government house in Abeokuta, which was very far from the location we had earlier been kidnapped.
After our release, I couldn't stand properly because I was ‘lapping’ my colleague all along the interminable death trip and the effect of his massive weight on my lap had spread and became palpable all over my body; taking its toll on me.
Down but not out. The unquenchable passion we have for our profession made us to visit the Ogun state INEC collation Centre at Magbon, Abeokuta to report the results of the election.We slept over at the INEC State Collation Centre with pains and aches. Nothing arrived the center until 8:00am the next day.
We successfully covered and reported the final result collation in Ogun State INEC Collation Centre.
We live to die another day. We live to tell the story.