That the Niger State Government is the most corrupt in the whole of Northern Nigeria would have been argued by anybody, including myself until I came across documents that revealed that the indigenes have been living in poverty in the midst of plenty, while the State Governor, Babangida Muazu Aliyu as well as the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) Ndako milked the treasury. In continuation of my story on how why and how I was kidnapped and locked up for two weeks, I present the moment that shaped my mindset on the kind of men investigative journalists daily fight against. If the documents available with me on the Niger State Government is finally released in full, there is no escaping jail for Muazu and Ndako
HORROR IN SSS CELL
Inside the Niger State SSS cell where I was kept was just a small opening, not enough to even see the daylight. Chained and lying down on the bed, many things which I won’t disclose now ran through my mind. But one thing was clear in me that I was never going to be the same way again the moment I walk of out their capture. It was either going to make or mar my career as an investigative journalist, but at this time; my mind was made up for the worst. In the morning, I was led out by one of the very junior staff, with two of the SSS men carrying their heavy guns pointed at me. At gun point, I was stripped naked and some snap shots of me taken.
Argument ensued among us when the short one among them (probably a cultist while in the University), as I found out that he was envious of me being a Pyrate member, which I suspected as it made his superiors treated me gently; when he insisted that I tie on my head in bandana form my Pyrate tie. At this point I insisted that I will tie it the way I want and not as he wanted. It was obvious to me that he wanted to make it look like I was a cultist if I had tied it. Not yielding to his threat, I tied it on my neck and the pictures were taken. Under duress, the same short one demanded for my Facebook and email password to log in to my account, which he did. Whatever it was that they wanted to see, they must have been disappointed as the exclusive chats I had with sources in the course of investigating the governor had all been deleted by me.
I was taken to one of their wet rooms where the interrogation began, but was discontinued as an order came that I am not a criminal who should be kept in such unkept area and I was taken to another place. The SSS who conducted the interrogation, whose name I found out to be Jerry was so civil and friendly, the type best fit to work in foreign security bodies, not the Nigeria beastly SSS.
On the third day, a material worn on condemned armed robbers face was worn on me and led away with guns pointed at me to one of their offices where the proper interrogation began. They demanded to know the source of my documents and why I picked interest in Niger State. The short one again stated categorically clear that they had a name in mind given to them by the State government as my source and I must write the name down if I want to leave there alive.
I was given a pen and literally dictated what to write, while punches were rain at my face by short one, as soon as the command boss who was with us before left. I will be lying if I say that the boss, Larry was not friendly for he truly was but his hands were tied by the government, as I got to know later.
N50 MILLION BLACKMAIL SHOCKER
Contrary to the SSS style of bring suspects before Press men where they were embarrassed, I was led to the conference hall to address the over 30 journalists gathered, and give them the true picture of what truly transpired. In the course of my speech, one of them asked, “Fejiro, are you aware that the State government is saying that you demanded N50 million to kill the story”. That was the first time I was hearing that money was involved in this whole saga, and I flared up. It was that moment I queried my colleagues interviewing me if I am a Priest that collects 10% as tithe from a government I said has squandered close to N50 billion. Then they knew that Gov. Aliyu pays himself house rent worth over 200 million Naira annually for staying in his own house, as he seldom stayed in the Government House. It was then they knew that the State Commissioners collected various loans running into millions from the state government without any form of collateral. It was then they knew that the governor had just gone to Zenith Bank to collect a bond of N30 billion, which had wings and flew away from the state coffers. As the revelations from me began to hit my colleagues, I could see rage in their eyes, with some of them giving me glances to keep on exposing all that I knew.
Then the bubble busted as the journalists began to shout that I should be set free and not hunted for doing my legitimate job of holding elected official accountable. The Channels TV correspondent out of anger stopped his recording. One of the governor’s aides sensing that my colleagues were already angry and protesting against my forceful kidnap rushed inside the hall and with the aid of the SSS officials dragged me away and shoved me into a waiting hilux vehicle. The journalists kept protesting outside, telling me that they will be defending me. Only three of them were in support of the governor’s action and by their ID cards, they work for the State Government.
A WALK INTO THE PRISON DOOR
In mafia way, like the convoy of a reckless governor, the SSS officials drove while taking me away. 30 minutes later, we were at the Minna High Court where I was taken to an office. Whoever he was, I don’t know, but he read three charges of Extortion, Intimidating the state government and cheating, which I pleaded not guilty to. Without trial and in a single room, he directed the SSS to take me to Minna Medium Prison pending October 13th when I will appear for trial. From there, I was driven straight to prison around 4pm.
After documentation in prison, I was taken to a cell. Whatever happened there will be documented in my memoir someday. The next day, my name was all over the prison as the warders who had closed for the day came looking for me. According to them, the news in town was that a young man who was bold enough to challenge Talba (Muazu traditional title) was kidnapped by him and thrown in prison. They immediately became my friends. I was given a good space with new blanket, pillow and exonerated from carrying out any duty. I was a political prisoner they knew will leave so soon.
For some reasons, I won’t disclose how I kept in touch with friends and families as well as activists who had already taken up the case, while there, I was aware that it had become a global issue, while I was also receiving information from the prison staff on how the case was generating attention in Niger, Nigeria and beyond. It was in the prison I knew that one of the prayers of Nigerlites is that Muazu should die for impoverishing them. It was then I knew that Barr, David Umaru truly won the Niger East Senatorial by-election, which I reported but was rigged for the PDP. It was there I knew that Muazu political career will be dead in 2015, all through my interactions with prison staff and Nigerlites who came to see the political prisoner.
THE GOVERNMENT PLEAD
My dad had sent a lawyer from Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) chambers to secure my release, and each time he met with the SSG, he told him to plead that I agree that I will stop every form of report against the State Government and then I will be set free. The darling Niger State Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) were solidly behind me, with the State Chairman coming to see me in prison and assuring me that my case is just and right and thus will leave the prison. Other things said are for the memoir.
Again and again, the prison staff reported how the government viewed me as being stubborn despite pleadings to let things go. I was not in a hurry to leave the prison any longer as the news report both was 95% in my favor and with world press and world journalists union getting involved; I knew the government was on heat. My not being in a hurry was also because I had made good friends, especially those jailed wrongly by the Niger State courts, and I was also not locked up like other inmates but free to walk around the prison yard without limitation and only go in when it’s time for the warders to lock up for the day. If I wanted to escape, I could have, but I was not weeping as the government expected.
A WALK TO FREEDOM
Days later, the State Government through the SSG confessed to my lawyers that I never demanded any money from them, but according to him “since it has become this way and it’s now a case, we have to find a way out to keep him and stop the negative publication. He is young enough to be my son, so why is he b ringing governments down. Has he finished with his governor Uduaghan that he will now focus on Niger”. As various calls began to come in from various parts of the country, pleading that I let go, I held on to my stand to nail the government. “Leave the prison doors and fight from outside”, came one of the advice from a man I respect so much.
A form was brought for me to sign, saying that I should not write against the State Government again, now and in the future. It also stated that what I am signing must not be published or caused to be reported. This was on October 2nd 2014 and haven signed alongside my lawyers, on the 3rd of October 2014, I was taken out of the prison doors and taken to the Pen House, the office of the NUJ, Minna Council, where I met the Chairman and other pen pushers. At this point, the CPS, Israel Ebije came over to see me. After pleasantries and talk between us which is not for the public, we had a photo shot and I was taken to Abuja that day.
THE TURNING POINT
Like I envisaged while in prison that the episode may make or mar my career; it became the turning point in my career. Sani Tukur and the Premium Times team, News Rescue, Sahara Reporters, Abusidiqu, Paradigm, Universal Reporters, 247ureports, Laila blog, Stella Dimorkoku, Media Rights Agenda, Reporters Without Borders, Centre for the Protection of Journalists, Naija Centre, Elombah,com, Abuja Voice, Leadership, Daily Sun, Advocate, Daily Trust, Punch, News Express, Bella Naija, Oderaigbo, and hundreds of news medium that will consume the whole space if penned down provided the pedal for me to leap from the walls of the prison to a humble media ‘star’, with the able activism of Inibehe Effiong who blew the kidnap whistle and thousands of social media fans and friends who saw in me the oppressed Nigerian.
This is the whole story of how the N50 million blackmail was cooked up. Meanwhile my lawyer, Festus Keyamo has gone to court to challenge the illegalities starting with the SSS and the case is coming up for hearing on June 11th 2015, at the Abuja High Court, such a date that coincide with a historic moment in our landscape.
*** Fejiro Oliver is an investigative journalist who was abducted by the government of Niger State in 2014 for exposing the rots in the State and the corrupt governance style of Governor Babangida Muazu Aliyu.