By Steve Aborisade
Recollecting my personal encounter with #SARS 12 years ago!
As Coordinator of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ), I had pitched a training idea to the British High Commission on investigative journalism training which they graciously supported.
This was a big step from just honouring best practices in the media through awards, to going a step ahead to developing the capacity of practitioners. This training for journalists was part of the foundational efforts that revived the investigative genre of journalism in Nigeria.
Some of the best available hands were recruited including: late Dr. Doyin Mamoud, Mr. Sam Omataeye, who then recently returned from his US base, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari who was then Publisher of Business Eye and who lost her wedding ring to the incident, Mr. Lanre Idowu of DAME, Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi amongst others.
Then came armed robbers who attacked the hotel where we were lodged, just by the Iyaganku police station in Ibadan. They were so particular about Mr. Olorunyomi, then with the EFCC. They stripped a lot of journalists off their personal belongings and left few of us wounded.
We lodged a formal complaints at the station the next morning.
Days later, upon return to base in Lagos, I got a call from the SARS unit at Oshogbo that they found some items belonging to some journalists who were at our training in Ibadan at a robbery scene in Oshogbo and, in fact, that they had picked up a journalist whose ID they claimed to have picked at the scene of that robbery.
The journalist gave them my number to get her out of their hole.
So I travelled down to Oshogbo, from Lagos, enroute Iyaganku police station, Ibadan, where I obtained the report of our own robbery incident. Luckily as I thought, we had documented everyone who lost valuables during the robbery and the items that were lost, which was contained in the report from Iyaganku.
On getting to Oshogbo, I presented documentation to exonerate the lady in their custody. But they had other ideas. Instead of letting her go, they asked me to provide money for further investigation, which I declined, telling them I had no money on me. This prompted them to have me detained. After a while, they brought me out and commanded that I follow a team to the scene of the robbery where they had found her ID card. I had no objection following them since I assumed it was to help their investigation.
What happened next shocked me to the bone - I was simply led to be paraded for inhabitants of the house in case I match the description of any of the robbers! I was in shock! I could not argue with them nor protest because they were all menancingly armed and outrightly unfriendly. I felt so powerless and vulnerable. But I played cool, even though I was so shaken inside.
Luckily for me, the people said I did not match the description of any of the robbers that came to their house. I was still lost! Here was I, to bail out a colleague from their detention and within minutes I had become a robbery suspect being paraded for identification.
What sort of policing was that?
I was totally traumatised. I quickly sent words to Mr. Amitolu Shittu, my friend, Tunde Odesola, who was then the Osun State correspondent of the Punch Newspaper. Also was the NCP chairman in Osun. My elder brother, Comrade Femi Aborisade was also instantly contacted while he drove down to Oshogbo from his Ibadan base.
Thanks to these gentlemen and the contact and leverage they had, I could have been summarily executed for doing nothing and, that is even with the material evidence in my possession which indicates that I was also a victim needing their protection. I shiver at the thought and, the possibility - what if someone at that residence in Oshogbo had mistaken me and said I look like one of the robbers?
Several Nigerians have lost their lives this way. Enough is enough!